My new book (working title Billabong) is due for submission to Penguin on Monday. I’m putting the final touches on the first draft … and it’s good, if I do say so myself! The story is set on an imaginary river in the Murray-Darling basin, somewhere in north-western NSW near the junction of the Namoi and the Barwon – land of the Kamilaroi nation.
It’s a star-crossed love story between a cotton grower and a floodplains grazier. For riverine farmer Nina Moore, the rare marshland flanking the beautiful Bunyip River is the most precious place on earth. Her dream is to buy Billabong Bend and protect it forever, but she’s not the only one wanting the land. When Rocco, her childhood sweetheart, returns to the river, old feelings rekindle and she thinks she has an ally. But a tragic death divides loyalties, tears apart their fledgling romance and turns her dream into a nightmare. Will Nina win the battle for Billabong? Or will the man she once loved destroy the wild wetlands she holds so close to her heart?
It’s a story about first love – that original blinding passion that is never forgotten. When you believe that anything is possible. When you first believe in something more than yourself. But it’s also the story of a river, of water use in a thirsty land, and the division and conflict it inevitably causes. And if you love birds like I do, particularly our magnificent wetland birds, you’re in for a real treat!
Anyway, I’d better stop talking and go back to polishing that first draft. I’ll finish with a bit of Aussie rural author-watching, instead of bird-watching. This photo was taken at a recent conference, and is courtesy of Cathryn Hein. How many can you identify?
I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve finished the first draft of my new novel.
Typing The End on a first draft is a truly marvellous moment. For me, it comes after much hair-tearing, wine, chocolate and the occasional sublime moment of inspiration. It is a time to celebrate and catch your breath. It’s a time to put the manuscript aside for a bit to get some distance. For the real work is about to begin. You have your painstakingly manufactured canvas. Now it’s time to paint.
It is often said that there is no great writing, only great rewriting. (Justice Brandeis) The legendary Peter Bishop, former creative director of Varuna, Australia’s national writer’s centre, once put it to me like this. The first draft is the writer’s draft. It’s essentially the writer telling himself the story. You need to revise it within an inch of its life – cutting, adding, polishing and shaping, until you have a reader’s draft. Only then should you contemplate launching it into the world.
Let it be said though, adding layers of richness to this first draft is a gazillion times easier than bashing it out in the first place. This is the time to interrogate your narrative. Does it have emotional depth? Do your protagonist and antagonist develop in a believable way? What about sensory description? Can your readers hear, smell, taste and feel what your characters do? Go through any notes you may have, for details that will enhance the credibility of your narrative.
There was a time before I was published that this was an open-ended process. I literally redrafted and redrafted until it was done. Deadlines have put paid to this luxury. I hone the story until the clock runs out, and then look forward to having another run through once editing comes around. Nevertheless, for me this is still the most enjoyable and satisfying part of the writing process. What do others think?