Tea-Drinking Writer, Interrupted…

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What many people don’t understand about some of us old-fashioned writers is that writing can be a long process. Just like that fat lady who waits until the end of the opera before singing her most heart-rending aria, a novel isn’t ready until the writing of it is over.

I’ve said this before: I will never be the kind of writer who churns out a new book every few weeks or months. I am a mature writer who likes to drink tea while she works, or wine when she has something to celebrate. Both of these beverages require slow brewing, slow maturation, and slow sipping.

How can I put this another way? I’m not a person who believes in rushing anything. If I ever reach the point in my life where I can write and produce one novel a year, I’ll be extremely proud of myself. I have quite a way to go before I can achieve that, but I’m working towards it, despite the interruption of having moved from one country to another.

The last six to eight months have brought major disruptions into my life. For someone who is determined to continue writing against all the odds, I’m not succeeding at the moment, but I won’t give up trying.

In fact, the last five years haven’t been easy, since my sister and her husband made the decision to leave South Africa and move to Australia. From the moment of their announcement I knew I would do everything possible to follow them. If my family home-base was moving to the other side of the world, then so was I.

What I didn’t realise back then was just how difficult that would be; how disjointed and drawn-out the process was to become, how lonely and insecure I would feel left behind in an increasingly violent and potentially dangerous country, run by a corrupt, inept government.

As always, I turned to my writing to get me through the storms. When my sister left, my sense of urgency to get my unpublished books “out there” into the world increased. Up until then, my experiment at being a novelist had been – like the tea and wine – a long, slow process.

My first novel had taken me four years to write. The second took me less than two. Both of these (despite being complete) are never likely to be published unless they are extensively re-plotted and re-written, but they were a necessary part of the journey that honed my writing skills.

I’ve mentioned before that there is a theory that you cannot call yourself a writer until you have written at least a million words. I think I reached my million about halfway through my honours creative writing module in 2009. The project I worked on for that course not only stretched me as a writer, but took me to places inside myself that I hadn’t bargained on finding.

After the project was finished, I turned my back on my first two novels, consigned them to a comfy virtual trunk on my hard drive, and began working on what I refer to as my Greek novel. The Epidaurus Inheritance took the whole of 2010 to write, and then it spent the next year with Penguin SA. In 2010 I tweaked my 2009 creative writing project, turned it into an historical novella and entered it into a novella competition, where it achieved third prize.

At the end of 2011, my Greek novel received a glowingly positive reaction from Penguin, but was ultimately rejected. By now I was tired of trying to convince South African publishers to take a chance on a romantic mystery that I knew was never going to be the next great political epic they all wanted, so I took the decision to self-publish it on Amazon as an e-book.

In the meantime, I had begun writing another romantic mystery in the same vein, but with an Italian setting. In mid-2012 I uploaded my historical novella – From Daisy with Love – onto Amazon, and a few months later I followed it with my now completed full-length Italian novel – Benicio’s Bequest.

Three books on Amazon within one year! The urge to continue writing never stopped, but unfortunately the available writing time diminished.

My current work-in-progress, which I call my Australian novel (I’ve yet to find the right title), was inspired by my first visit to Australia in early 2012. I wrote two chapters in Melbourne and then shelved it until later that year when I punched out the first draft in less than three months.

Although this draft was completed in January 2013, the re-working of it continued through the next two years. Despite feedback from beta-readers in the second half of 2014, I have yet to complete it. The fat lady had to postpone her big aria, because in January 2015 I received the green light to move to Australia.

This happy, welcome news nevertheless involved a lot of domestic upheaval! Amidst the sorting and packing, I drank the tea and gave away most of the wine, but unfortunately I’ve done no work on the novel apart from a three day session with one of my beta-readers a few days after I received the news. For the next five months everything else took a number and waited in line.

I’ve now been in Australia for two months, and to be honest, I’m finding it hard to concentrate on getting back into a writing routine. Somehow, amidst the months of packing my life into boxes, the endless lists and the closing of certain doors, making the big move to Australia has shortened my attention span somewhat.

So many things are still up in the air, so I haven’t quite settled here yet, but I know that’s to be expected. People have warned me that I won’t feel completely established until I have been here for at least six months, sorted out my employment options and found a place of my own.

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Last week my Move Cube container with all my personal belongings arrived, so that’s another door I’ve been able to close. A friend of mine suggested in an e-mail a few weeks ago that I needed a break – a sabbatical, she called it – and I think that’s a good idea. My writing life has been interrupted because the writer in me has been interrupted, and the Me who became that writer is worrying about treading water and trying to find her feet. Instead I should be slowing my breathing and floating for a while. We all need a few deep breaths before jumping into a new life and expecting to fit right in.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a person who takes time to adapt, and that’s what I’m doing as I sip my slow-brewed tea (or wine), listen to some of my newly-discovered classical CDs, and savour the process of adjustment while waiting for that fat lady to hit the high notes…

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26 thoughts on “Tea-Drinking Writer, Interrupted…

  1. Have faith, timing has an interesting way of manifesting itself especially where the writing process is concerned. And for us readers…it sets the stage for a great read when the time is right…for both of us. Good luck setting up your new life and best wishes. Looking forward to seeing how this plays out for you. 🙂

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  2. I loved this! Enjoy the new places in your new life for a while! Don’t be like the tourist who was so set on capturing photos that they forgot to look, to breath, to sniff, to touch, to listen…!

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    • Thanks, Bruce. I caught the train into the city several times last week to attend some interesting sessions at the Melbourne Writers Festival, and for the first time I felt as if I wasn’t just a tourist in the city, but a writer with a purpose. I still took lots of photos though…

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  3. Also, I cannot imagine such a steep tranistion as you are experiencing. I have lived in the USA all my life–but have moved many times due to life demands and husband’s work. And the writing has continued, one way or another! Carry on, Susan, it will come back to you and writing will be the daily routine once more!

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    • Thank you for the encouragement. In my first 20 years of working I moved around South Africa a lot, living in a new city every three years or so. Even though I got out of the habit in the last 15 years by staying in one place and one job, I thought I would adapt to the old migrant ways quickly, but I wasn’t a writer back in my youth so perhaps I need to stop thinking too deeply about everything and just get on with life as it happens, like I used to.

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  4. Have been wondering if your things arrived and you’ve been able to settle in. I am SO on board with the whole slow writing thing. That’s why I like doing my journal by hand — WITH a cup of tea or hot chocolate! Glad to get an update. Hope you have a fun break!

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  5. Dearest Sue,

    Surely this is an opportune time to exercise your creativity in doctoring your “criminal record” so that you feel more at home; a leg-iron does not make a convict, you know. And what about taking your ball-and-chain for a daily step-and-drag outing around the block …

    G …

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  6. So much turmoil, so much work, so much adventure, so much change, and you still sound sane. I admire you no end. I can’t believe how much writing you have accomplished, and will accomplish again, I’m sure.

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    • Thank you, Aunt Beulah. At some point all those unconnected little dots that made up my life in the last few years will join together and form some kind of cohesive picture – I hope!

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  7. I so relate to this, Susan. Anything I’ve written that was worth anyone’s attention required time to steep. Even a seemingly simple blog post has likely simmered for days. Best wishes for your the continuation of your novel when you return from “sabbatical.” I suspect the time away will be just what you need to allow the coals to heat up again. Stacy

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    • Thank you, Stacy. I also take ages to write a blog-post and I usually make them far too long! As for the novel, I am slowly getting back into writing it now, after nearly four months. Sometimes I think one has to reach that point of being ready to give up before one gets the energy to start again. I like the way you describe it – it really is as if the coals are slowly heating up again, and it feels good!

      Liked by 1 person

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