Arrived but not alive


The new portal’s actually on my computer though not yet live, and I’m astounded at how work-personlike and authoritative it is,   this dream that’s coming true – it’s not touched by all our uncertainties and doubts, rather in the way that one of my newly published novels has always astonished me, where a messy manuscript of thousands of  strsy thoughts and dead-ends and revisions becomes a remarkably neat, precise and absolutely rectangular object that I can cradle in my hand without bits of paper falling out.

We have intense discussions about the portal’s features – for example, how to classify all e books for easy accessibility to readers, what extra abilities it needs that we hadn’t imagined when it was just a dream, and what it would look like to readers- is it inviting enough? Does it charm?  Since it comes from India I’m advocating that it should look like a magnificent silk sari swathed around a very able body.

Meanwhile, The Oldest Song in the World with the prettiest cover I’ve ever had has migrated via Harper Collins out of my head and into the bookshops of Australia and New Zealand, and so far, no hate mail, no hate reviews. Over the years I’ve had my share of tough reviews, but Oldest Song has caused me many sleepless nights, set as it is in forbidden territory, though told from the point of view of a white outsider…do I dare, do I dare. But there’s a point as a writer at which you have to dare, you can’t live with yourself unless you dare, in fact, you can’t write. Books push us out of our timidity – but of course, maybe not every author is as timid as me. There’s a moment when you give up wrestling with what’s inevitable, trying to make it become something more acceptable, and then you let the book chatter away, and you become its listener, its Boswell taking notes, while  the book is Johnson commenting on the world, even pontificating. I remember Elizabeth Jolley saying in an interview with Kate Grenville and I in Making Stories that she didn’t allow her characters to take her over and I , as a new author, with only the experience of Painted Woman behind me,  thought “That’s how I’m going to be!” But my determination seems to have nothing to do with the novel’s will. For me, the characters, and this time the setting, take over and lead me and I just stumble along behind, often grizzling away like a small child.

I’d love to hear from other authors if this is their experience.

Now that the portal’s imminent, we panic about our name. Would anyone think of googling us under “The Royalties”? Might it just be an in joke, a family joke? Why would readers think for a moment about the royalties of authors? Shouldn’t we have a name that’s more self-explanatory?  I argue that a name can gather its own meaning. Someone else agrees, asking, what did “Apple” originally have to do with computers? Or “Penguin” with books? We decide to decide at dinner, finally, once and for all, again at my place. But the day assigned to this final decision is for me a working day followed by a radio interview and I only think of the menu in my morning shower – minestrone soup, purely vegetarian, with a base of fried carrots and fennel and leeks and then only water for its liquid, not stock which I haven’t made or a stock cube which I haven’t got, with home-made pesto stirred into it to enrich its flavor. Then I’m racing to the shops in the afternoon just before the interview, and arrive at the studio puffing and laden with rustling plastic bags with celery stalks sticking out.

But the soup and the wine work their magic while we try out many names, one of us calling out possibilities from the thesaurus while everyone else eats and drinks and shouts and argues. We consider very Australian place names, since we’re representing Australian authors to the world- Bong Bong Books delights us with its alliteration, as does Bogong Books- then someone remembers that, after all, nostalgia has got to us,  we’re not producing books, certainly not in the usual meaning of the book, the old meaning of books, so the alliteration of Bogong Booksor Bong Bong Books is irrelevant. We work through lists of Australian birds, then gemstones, then colours, and that leads us to Australian phrases like “sunburnt country”…It’s during coffee that we realize that over the past year, we’ve become our name, and now it’s part of who we are. It’s too late to change. There’s too much history attached to it now. It’s like changing one’s own name. Besides, we admit as we part, we share a grudging fondness for “The Royalties”.  And our URL will be…but I won’t tell it yet. Not until we’ve got it. Just in case.

One Response to Arrived but not alive

  1. The e- publishing portal sounds a wonderful idea.
    I have just discovered your writing, on my first ever trip to Australia, buying The Oldest Story in that wonderful haven, Readings, and have just finished it…all I can say is, brilliant!
    I’ve a strong museum/heritage interest (partly academic) and one of the things that struck me about Melbourne was how the aboriginal peoples are beginning to be acknowledged…on heritage plaques, in museums etc.
    Most Europeans still think of Native Australians as being inhabitants of the red centre…but clearly, they are everywhere.

    I must say that as visitors we actively sought out stories of native peoples in museums.
    So it was really wonderful to find your book, which seemingly gets under the skin of the encounter…and deals with it in an informative and intellectually satisfying way. I also found the notes at the back very enlightening.
    The book really gets to grip with many of the issues of the post colonial world, and the cultures which inhabit it.

    When so much ‘female’ writing is ‘throwaway’, and very poorly written, your book combines the depth of Monica Ali with the flow of , dare I say it, chick lit.
    I read an interview with you (in ‘The Age’ I think) In the UK the book market seems dominated by formulae and ‘recipes’ for success handed down at writing courses… It seems true talent can leap over these.

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