World championships are nothing, winning Olympic fame is what they all strive for.
What we don’t see in their graceful performances, are the years and years and years of practice and broken dreams (and bones) that lie behind these few minutes. Through the pain and heartache they never let go of their goal to compete at the Olympics.
I may have been a complete klutz at sport, but I had a dream too… which began when I was a youngster, perched on a branch in the willow tree in the school quadrangle with my best friend, scribbling stories in our shorthand notebooks. We are going to be published authors we told each other… but, for me, came university, marriage, children, career… while my friend saw her first book published. I rejoiced for her but writing for me seemed a very distant dream.
Given my analogy to the Winter Olympics, it is ironic that my writing career, in fact, kicked off with a skiing accident that saw me confined to a lodge at Dinner Plain while the family hit the slopes for the day. With one arm in a sling and snow drifting against the windows I began the story that became BY THE SWORD. For months afterwards, I stole secret time to continue the story, drawn by the characters who had lived with me for so long. Was it really possible that the flame of hope that had burned so strongly in my teenage years could be rekindled? Could I become a published author? (In November last year I wrote a long post about my journey... you can click HERE to read it.)
Like those Olympic athletes I had to learn my craft and like them there have been falls and missteps, disappointments and the writerly equivalent of injuries (interference from career commitments mostly). After the initial optimism (coming runner up in the Emma Darcy… even getting an agent – not my current one), my hopes began to waver. The agent experience was not a good one and apparently I was writing really good, but unpublishable books. ‘Can’t sell the English Civil War’ was the universal response. It would have been easy to hang up my pen and forget about writing… except I had stories to tell and a dream to fulfil.
Some years ago Mary Jo Putney asked me what I liked to read, when I confessed to crime and mystery she asked the very pertinent question… Why don’t I write it? I thought about it and I realised I did write it… under the guise of a romance both GATHER THE BONES and LORD SOMERTON’S HEIR are historical mysteries.
Which leads me to Harriet Gordon, who came to life off the pages of an old copy of Singapore’s Straigts Times (there will be much, much more about Harriet in posts to come). I had written her story during the 2011 Nanowrimo as a cosy mystery. I went back and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. I submitted and was rejected, I pitched at conferences and was ignored or rejected… but I had huge faith in Harriet and so did my wonderful agent, Kevan Lyon, who picked me up after I pitched to her at the HNS Conference in Portland last year - a trip that changed my life (see the November post).
So by way of postscript to my November post, came this week’s news… and it was BIG. In publishing terms, Olympics big. Berkley (Penguin USA) wanted to buy Harriet and here, at long last, was the two book contract with a big US Publisher.
I am not so naive as to think ‘this is it’… I’m on the podium. It doesn’t get any better. Uh, uh… this is just the beginning. All the old insecurities creep in… How do I meet deadlines and still have a life? What if the editor hates it? What if the public hate it? And so on… but I will get there. Harriet and I will get there together!
At an age when I should be actually retired and dandling my grandchildren on my knee, I am embarking on a whole new career. Doors I never thought I would ever reach have opened to me and the future is exciting but daunting and involves harder work than I have ever done in my life. This is not the end… it is just another beginning and like all new beginnings I have no idea what the future will hold but this is what I have wanted to do since I was a thirteen year old sitting in a willow tree writing ‘The Locket of Grace” (an English Civil War romance of course).
Through all the slips, trips, missteps, misdirections, poor choices, rejections and almost theres of my writing life, I never once lost sight of my goal. The answer was there all along, I just had to write something that someone wanted to publish. Easy. As easy as a triple lutz in figure skating… (and mercifully I didn’t have to rupture my ACL to get there – only dislocate my shoulder!)!
From that day in 1992 I made the fatal mistake of following my husband down a slope at Mt. Hotham that didn’t ‘look too steep’ (his words), it has only taken me twenty five years to become an overnight success.
So... there you go! Just like those Olympic athletes, hold on to your dream, never stop learning, view each set back as a learning experience, pick yourself up off the ice, pick up the beat of the music, smile to the judges and keep going… You may not be a medal chance at these Olympics but there’s always the next one.