Last Friday my latest novel, The Crossroads went off to the printers ahead of its November 29 release date. As always (with me) it was a race to the finish line but (as always) I got there in the end with more than a little help from a few trusted readers who provided me with honest, constructive feedback on the drafts, my wonderful publisher who fielded all my ‘I can’t do this’ calls and kept up the encouragement, and my super-calm and perceptive editor who kept nudging me in the right direction.
Now that I’m starting to think – very vaguely – about the next book, I’ve been pondering this whole process of how an idea germinates, grows into a plot and blooms into a completed novel. It’s something I thought readers might be interested in too so here’s an overview of how the process worked with The Crossroads.
Sometime last September, inspired by my publisher’s request to write a novel set ‘somewhere in the outback with a windmill’ I began researching the drought in Queensland. I also began nutting out ideas for characters and checking out the town of Hughenden where I’d been invited to do an author talk. Unable to sleep one night I dozed into that twilight state between waking and dreaming and the story of three women in one family appeared in my consciousness, each character almost fully formed and the story itself roughly sketched. Not wanting to lose the idea I sat up, grabbed a pen and paper and wrote furiously for an hour or more. When I woke the next day and read over the notes I really liked what I saw, and my publisher did too. The seed that would become The Crossroads had been planted.
Next was my visit to Hughenden in November, which I’ll tell you more about in following blog posts. Meeting such friendly, resilient people and learning about the hardships – and the pleasures – of life on the land was great writing fodder and helped fertilise my original story idea.
The next step was writing the draft. I’m a great believer in fast and furious writing for the first draft, stopping only to fix an obvious problem and leaving the polishing until later. This book was a little different though – with three main characters, all equally important to the plot, their stories overlapping more and more as the story continued, I had to be super vigilant to make sure that the individual character arcs worked as well as the three as a whole. By the end of April I had a reasonable coherent draft that needed fine-tuning.
While I had a pretty clear idea of each of the three women – Rose, Stephanie and Faith – from the beginning, I always learn more about my characters as I write. At times I would stop and write notes to develop each of them further, along with the supporting cast. I also began drawing up timelines to make sure the events in each of the three point of view narratives worked together. This was pretty tricky and there were lots of finicky changes but I got there in the end.
By the beginning of July the manuscript was ready to send off to my publisher. This is always a nail biting time for a writer – after months and months of sitting at your desk pouring words onto the page, finally showing the ‘finished’ pages to someone else is very scary! I’d shared pieces of it with my writing buddies and had a couple of readers give me feedback but presenting it to your publisher is like giving your mum your end of school report and holding your breath while you wait for her approval.
Since we were aiming for a December release the manuscript went straight to the copy editor, while it was still being read by my own in-house editor and publisher. They obviously had a great deal of trust that I’d written what I set out to write but this made me even more nervous. What if it was a pile of rubbish? What if, when they did read it, they hated it?
Luckily they didn’t.
By August I had their feedback and the suggested changes back. For the next two months the manuscript went back and forth a few times while we made to improvements to the story and the writing.
In early September the First Pages (the final copy of the manuscript, laid out as it will be in the book) came through for me to read and approve. By now I’d read it more times than I can count and believe me, this is the universe’s way of making sure you are ready to let go of that book baby. That said, it’s a very satisfying feeling to see all those hours and hours of writing and revising in such a polished, reader-friendly format. After this last read I gave it a (metaphorical) kiss, pressed send and broke out the bubbles.
While all these things were happening the cover was being organised (more on that in a follow up post) and the back cover blurb written. On Friday October 7 The Crossroads went off to the printers and now I eagerly await the day I can hold the finished product in my hand.
As with all books, there was a lot of cultivating, watering, fertilizing and pruning but I’m so happy with the way the story grew and developed and I can’t wait to see it blooming on bookstore shelves come November 29.