Hours and Numbers

November 17, 2010 at 9:17 am (Uncategorized)

When we were doing our pre-natal classes, the midwife, Sharon, spoke about something a wee bit frightening called the Witching Hour. This is the time of day or night a baby generally tends to go pretty psycho, when nothing will work, there’s nothing to be done, and everyone just has to punch through the pain until it’s over. She said the Witching Hour often strikes around 6 pm at night, or 4 am in the morning, depending on your draw, and I have a growing sense of foreboding that I know exactly which preferred hour Baby J’s will be. You see, Baby J has taken quite a liking to going ballistic at about 3 am, sometimes a little later. This is apparently an excellent time for calisthenics class if you’re living upside down in a wildly inflated uterus. Baby J seems to like nothing more than pummelling the walls with every limb and lump at his or her disposal. You rang? What can I get you? Nothing? Right, then. I’d best get up anyway and go to the loo.

Usually I’m able to go back to sleep reasonably promptly, but not last night. Baby J was going for some kind of personal best, and once my brain joined him or her in a traitorous taunting, I was pretty well done for. And then the alarm went off: time to look lively, transcribe, write, and file by midday. A bumper morning after a literally bumpy night, so it’s with growing excitement that I contemplate an early collapse this evening.

Anyway, miracle of miracles, my local newsagency-cum-bookstore actually has a plump pile of The Best Australian Stories (and Essays, and Poems) sitting right by the shelves, box fresh and apparently still waiting for a more prominent home. I scooped the top of the tower and brought it home toot sweet, and having been snout-in for the past couple of hours, I have this to say about cracking the Australian anthology market: fuck a duck, it’s hard yakka.

Let’s consider the numbers. Cate Kennedy received hundreds of submissions. Hundreds. Just take a moment to picture all those hopefuls in your mind’s eye, perhaps standing in formation, singing on the beach like in the Qantas ad (and what would these scores of unpublished Australian fiction writers sing, I wonder…? AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell,’ perhaps?). I’m sure the thought of them all but tortured Cate as she made her selection; she intimates as much in her lovely Introduction.

But back to the number crunch.

There are 29 stories in this collection. Of these, 21 have been previously published, in collections (including Charlotte’s Brothers and Sisters, so let’s give her a bit of a wolf whistle for a spunky volume that’s still turning the other editors’ heads) and journals over the past year. A couple more previously unpublished stories have won competitions and prizes. None of this year’s 29 authors were having their fiction published for the very first time – or at least, where there were no references to prior fiction publications, there seemed to be forthcoming novels about to tumble off the press. As one would expect of a volume entitled BEST Australian Stories, not middling or early career or pretty bloody ordinary, there are some dauntingly familiar names: Robert Drewe, Paddy O’Reilly, Nam Le, Louise D’Arcy. Basically, this is a tough nut to crack.

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15 Comments

  1. litlove said,

    About time that someone edited a publication entitled NEW Australian short stories! If they’ve all been published elsewhere, then it’s a teeny bit of a swizz to my mind, but of course others might react differently. And the witching hour, oh how I wish someone had told me about that in advance! My son’s was 6-8pm and I can remember it all too clearly and the guilt that I felt (I was sure it was my fault – that I’d done something wrong). Actually, thinking about it, I wonder whether I still have witching hours as an adult – there are certainly times when nothing seems right and I have no idea what to do about it! 🙂

    • doctordi said,

      Oh, I wish someone had warned you about it too!!!! Somehow just knowing it’s almost certain to happen completely takes the edge off. At least for now!!

      Well, Scribe published New Australian Stories this year, which was a collection of heavyweights, rising stars and emerging writers… they did accept submissions from previously unpublished writers via a Varuna program, but I didn’t enter. I can’t remember how many places were given to these stories, but not many. Maybe five in total? From memory I didn’t enter because I’ve struck out with Scribe on three separate occasions and figured I could live without notching up a fourth.

  2. Lilian Nattel said,

    I agree with Litlove–how about some “new” anthologies.

    • doctordi said,

      I guess it’s too big a risk, an anthology full of unknowns. They need to bring out the big guns before people will part with their cash.

  3. adminsmit said,

    The witching hour is not all that bad – providing you don’t have to get up and write, file, etc by midday at the same time! Developed great relationship with David Letterman that went on for years in that altered time zone!
    about the anthology thing – its not about the others – its about your story – you have the (incredible) ability to write, so now just do that. I write a lot too, and I know when things I pen are good writing and when they are little fluid black and white miracles on paper that seem to come from some other place they are so perfect.
    We would hate to miss that visitation when it comes to you – so forget about the others and keep on writng!
    Also found that pregnancy and hormonal shifts thereafter do wonders for creative juices.

    • doctordi said,

      Yes, I’m thinking it might be a good time for writing, actually. Or scrawling. Or single digit typing if I’m feeding…

      Thanks so much for the encouragement, adminsmit, I seriously appreciate it. I agree with you – my writing being accepted or rejected has nothing to do with someone else’s writing, each piece leads an independent life – but it IS daunting breaking it down like that because I can see on numbers alone it’s a bad bet!! That won’t stop me, of course, but it does give me a little arm burn.

  4. socksinmypocket said,

    In our house the witching hour was (is!) known as the six o’clock sillies. I guess I can only remember it from about age 4 onwards, so it may have been more of a witching hour earlier. But just before bed my sister and I would become completely silly. Lots of laughter, impossible to settle – a somewhat unhelpful burst of energy. I’m still a bit susceptible. It is not unusual to find me laughing hysterically at, well, anything at about 6. I rather enjoy it, a good laugh a day is lovely. So I wish you sillies rather than a witching hour – hard to tell just now, but maybe Baby J just can’t contain those limbs when she/he is giggling so hard in the wee hours of the morning!

    • doctordi said,

      I like ‘six o’clock sillies’ – that’s a great way of looking at it, socksinmypocket! I love uncontrollable fits of laughter – LOVE THEM – so maybe with a little luck Baby J will be giggler, not a screamer… here’s hoping!

      I bet Baby J has cabin fever. Neither of his or her parents are big fans of enclosed spaces.

  5. Norwichrocks said,

    Yes, I want new stories, too – not ones already published elsewhere. What about an annual anthology of First Time Fiction?

    • doctordi said,

      Now *there’s* a catchy title! That’s a great idea (although I still think the industry is too poor and too cautious to run a collection of nobodies). I wonder if someone is putting out something like this…?

  6. Grad said,

    My first two were wonderful babies, especially the second one. So when Katharine came along, I was totally unprepared for what awaited me. She began precisely at 5:00 p.m., just in time for dinner prep. The caterwalling went on until 11:00 – non-stop. She once screamed so loud I called her pediatrician, convinced something was dreadfully amiss, but I couldn’t hear much of what he said because my ear drums had gone numb. I had to carry her around in a Snuggli all day. I vacuumed with the Snuglii, I washed dishes with the Snuggli, I even tried going to the bathroom with the Snuggli (but never mastered that). On the evening before her christening, I was trying to do the finishing work on her gown – wearing her in the Snuggli. I gave up and walked her around the neighborhood until 11:00 p.m. I think I finished the gown at 2:00 a.m. And then – at three months, like clouds suddenlly breaking, the storm vanished. She finally smiled at me – she’s been a joy ever since.

    • doctordi said,

      It’s reassuring to know that these early turns don’t necessarily mean a diabolical child – although it must be hard to see the light when you’re in the grip of this kind of exhaustion and stress. If Baby J “does a Katharine,” Graddikins, I’m going to soothe myself with thoughts of your vanishing storm on a daily basis!

  7. Pete said,

    Today is one of those days where it feels that the Witching Hour is going on the whole day! But I like the idea that those ‘suicide hours’ (as they’re also known) can be silly instead.

    And First Time Fiction has a lovely ring about it. I was thinking that someone should just do it. Perhaps through an Aussie online writing group (or word-of-mouth or from the writers the publishers are not ready to run with yet). Select 20 stories and do a small publishing run of them. Getting an editor to comment on the selection would make it really interesting too.

    I know it’s a big gamble taking on new writing (both as a reader and a publisher). ‘Why should I care about these people and their stories?’ is the question I ask when I pick up collections like that. But the answer is that they’re passionate about writing and they’re putting in hundreds and hundreds of hours on their craft. It could also be an interactive effort. Get readers to comment on a blog about which stories they liked and why. That way the authors get published and they also get some feedback from their readers. If the stories were freely downloadable then the print costs would be minimal and the stories would be out there being read. Just a thought.

    • doctordi said,

      Gawd, “suicide hours” – that’s hideous! I think I’ll stick to Witching and Sillies!!

      And it’s a very good thought, Pete, a modest tilt at promoting a First Time Fiction anthology. I do think someone *must* have had it – there’s a solid chance I’m just not across it and it already exists somewhere in the country – but perhaps this is something we can revisit in the new year.

  8. davidrochester said,

    I believe the “witching hour” also applies to cats, the elderly, and most political candidates.

    On another note, what *is* the deal with the republishing thing? Is it that short stories are so infernally difficult to read that one mustn’t take a chance on a new one if it can possibly be avoided? Geez.

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