For the Love of Books

Greenwich Book Festival Part 1

Yesterday I went to the Greenwich Book Festival, a two-day series of talks and readings in the Old Royal Naval College. I’m always a bit uncomfortable at these things, as I am anywhere where people are rhapsodizing about anything in particular. There is just so much in the world to love, and hate, that spending two days on anything seems a bit tunnel-visioned. I do love books, however, so I tried to ignore my misgivings.

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Greenwich – where photos look like oil paintings

The first talk I went to was about small independent presses and how they are in a ‘silver age’ and it struck me more completely than it has before how little control we have over what we read. I fully believe in the power of books to change our minds, our thinking, our lives. They develop empathy and push our experiences out of the immediate here and now and into an entire range of possibilities, and impossibilities. Through books I have met 19th century blacksmiths and 21st century zombies, Russian widows and Indian musicians, hermits and politicians and brain surgeons. I have been there while people fall in and out of love, have children and lose children, forget themselves and journey through self-discovery. There is an incomprehensible magic in being allowed into all these lives.

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A beautiful desk I stared at while listening to the talk. When did they stop making writing desks slanted?

And yet, how many people have we been denied because a business model doesn’t think their story will sell? The three owners of independent presses spoke about how they do what they do for the love of literature, while large publishers have enormous overheads to cover and as such, can only publish commercially viable fiction. And yet they were saying that they personally choose what their press publishes. The ten books they release a year is entirely in their hands and dependent on their taste, and while there are many of these small presses  there is no way they can cover all the good fiction that’s around.

So while they were busy bemoaning the evils of Amazon, I was thinking thank god we have another option now. Thank god I could release Andie and Caroline into the world because it is where I think they belong, and not because they will make anyone mountains of money.

Now I must try to navigate the self-publishing waters to try to find these mysterious characters whose lives might have been dismissed by people in The Business but who I, nevertheless, want to meet.

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Stealing facts to make fiction

Many years ago I read something that my sister had written. While I enjoyed reading it, it concerned me and the first thing I said to her was, “I knew you always thought I was gay!”

You see, the younger sister in her piece was gay.

She laughed and said she didn’t remember ever thinking that. She said it was fiction.

One of the greatest terrors of showing other people my work is wondering if they will notice when I have borrowed parts of them to make new people. Or, even worse, if they will see something that is purely fictional and wonder if that is how I see them.

One of the interesting things about writing A Perilous Margin was seeing the fiction overtake the reality with each draft. I no longer feel there are parts of it which closely reflect people I know, and I guess that is one of the reasons I knew I was ready to publish it. While vague characterisations will always exist, I don’t think anyone will think I used them, especially not negatively.

But then I remembered what I thought about my sister’s work, and I realised people will always look for themselves when they know the author.

Lithub recently published an article which features court cases against writers by angry family members and friends who felt their identities had been taken and used maliciously.

As I am just beginning this writerly journey, I’m not sure how I feel about that. On one hand, I believe I have little control over what I write. On the other, publishing is entirely within my control. Perhaps it is a fine line I need to learn to walk, the line between finding inspiration in the people around me and respecting their right to privacy.

Next Steps

A Perilous Margin is now available online, through Amazon’s UK, American and Australian sites. I have plans to send some paperback copies to my favourite Newtown/inner-west bookstores in the hope that community spirit will trump the fact that they have to buy it through Amazon. That is the extent of my marketing plan.

Over the two weeks I have been able to actually write again, write something new and exciting and fresh! It’s been such a relief and I am tempted to just throw all my energy at this new project.

But A Perilous Margin saw me through so many years, and so many wonderful family members and friends have bought copies, and I feel bad abandoning it to the internet to do with as it will.

But what to do? In some ways it does seem futile to try to create interest in it, as2016-05-11 10.33.44 I have nothing else available yet for people to read. I hate reading a book, liking it, and then finding the author has written nothing else. I feel somehow cheated.

Maybe it is best to concentrate on the new one, which I already see as an improvement. It too is set in Sydney, not yet Newtown-specific but I think that will come with the next draft. Perhaps I am writing a Newtown series, and maybe that is worth concentrating on.

So much indecision, but I am still in my pajamas after all. If I can’t even decide what to wear, what hope is there?