It’s October: time to send off my entry in this year’s HarperCollins Varuna Award for Manuscript Development. First, some personal history.

In 2005, I enrolled in a workshop called ‘Year of the Novel’ run by the Queensland Writers Centre and tutored by published author Kris Olsson (In One Skin; Kilroy Was Here). It was the first year the QWC offered such a course; I considered myself fortunate to get a place. Our class came together five times between February and October of that year. I had several projects clamouring for my attention at the time; two were more advanced, but none could be called a novel. Of the two main projects, I chose the one that has been pestering me the longest.

At the first workshop, I had about 35,000 words written for Project 1 (The Unwilling) and this included scenes at the beginning and the end of the story with a great, gaping hole in the middle. By the last workshop in October, I had substantially improved the work, writing between 50,000 and 60,000 words of ‘middle’. Although it was incomplete, I was inspired to submit the first 14,000 words to Varuna.

I needed the experience. I prepared myself for rejection. I hoped for some feedback that might tell me if I was at least on the right track. Could I write? Should I keep trying?

Astonishingly, my entry made it into the second round. Having prepared for rejection, I was suddenly faced with the need to send in a complete manuscript. I had less than a month to finish the book. Worse, that part-month was December, traditionally not a quiet time of year…

It was written in haste and full of holes, but by the first week of January 2006, I had a novel. The words ‘The End’ appeared on page six hundred and something. My sense of achievement was at an all-time high. My husband and friends read through the more than 160,000 word draft in less than a week so I could send it off in time.

I told myself not to get my hopes up too high.

Instead of working on another project, I waited. I felt I couldn’t write anything else until I knew something from Varuna. Even when my novel was short-listed for the award, I waited. I still didn’t know if I was any good.

Finally, in February of 2006, sanity prevailed. I was not one of the five to receive an award. Rejection had come at last. I thought I was ready for it but I was wrong. I spent a few weeks feeling very sorry for myself, wondering if it was time to stop writing and concentrate on other things.

Now, The Beholder has this idea that I’m tenacious. He’s forgotten the many conversations we’ve had where I’ve basically cried and moaned about everything and he’s told me to just get on with it. I’ve thought about quitting; I’ve told him about it. He made me a deal. I’m allowed to give up my crazy dream only when I have six full-length novels that I’ve written, revised and submitted and had rejected by every agent and publisher that would be remotely interested, and I’ve discounted the option of self-publication.

Maybe it’s inner tenacity that made me accept this deal, or maybe it’s just that I don’t know how not to be a writer. Either way, The Beholder has more to answer for than he will admit.

Anyway, back to my personal history of Varuna. After a few weeks of pathetic moping, I decided to push Project 1 aside and work on Project 2 (Fall of Bitter Rain). My writing style was improving but my work ethic wasn’t very dedicated. By October 2006, I only had about 30,000 words. I sent the first 14,000 off to Varuna and, again, prepared myself for rejection.

I knew this submission was a huge improvement over the first one. I’d worked on my style, stripping it down and making it sleek. All the same, I was sure I wouldn’t get past the first cut, and I was right. This wasn’t a disappointment. The feedback I received from Peter Bishop (Creative Director at Varuna) was exactly what I needed. Something clicked. I knew, at last, I was on the right track.

I can write and it’s not a waste of time.

This year, I completed the QWC’s ‘Year of the Edit’ with dark fantasy/horror author Kim Wilkins (The Infernal; Giants of the Frost). Again, I had to choose between my two most advanced projects, and again, I chose Project 1. I knew my 160,000-word first draft needed a lot of work; what I didn’t know was where to begin. Five one-day workshops later, I feel like a different person. I used to struggle for motivation, for belief in what I was doing; that’s not a problem at the moment. My Fairly Fabulous Four have all read through the first 14,000 words of the manuscript. I’ve incorporated their feedback and corrections. I’ve only been waiting for October to arrive so I could send off my latest submission to Varuna.

But I’m still working. Varuna is only one goal for 2007. I have to get the rest of the manuscript revised and corrected by Christmas so I can start contacting agents and seeing if they’re interested. That’s a self-imposed deadline but The Beholder is keeping tabs on me, keeping me focussed. Once that’s done, I’ll be moving straight on to another project. No more of this sitting around drumming my fingers on the table waiting. I have characters from several projects all begging me to spend time with them, to tell their story. They’re waking me up at night.

They yearn for submission. 

Important Links: 

Varuna – The Writer’s House (including the HarperCollins Varuna Award for Manuscript Development):

Queensland Writers Centre:

Kim Wilkins:

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