First night nerves

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Leading Edge booksellers’ conference in Melbourne. I was invited to their dinner on Friday night and asked to speak for twenty minutes about my novel. Leading Edge are the buying group working with and supporting Australia’s independent bookstores. These are the shops run by some of the most passionate booksellers across Australia. These are the people that can start the buzz, make things happen, help a book to fly … or die. Twenty minutes! Twenty freaking minutes to talk and tell them a bit about me and my book. It’s fair to say I was nervous.

I’ve spent a lot of hours, days and months sitting at a desk, writing a novel but this was the first opportunity to appear in public as Hannah Richell the author. The time is coming, it seems, for me to climb out of my pjs, brush my hair, don a public face and get out there and champion my book. It’s quite a contrast: the aloneness, the quietness of the actual writing process versus the all-singing all-dancing stuff that comes with being an ‘author’. And I’m not a natural extrovert. Frankly I feel pretty terrified about letting down all those good people kind enough to support my work.

But I needn’t have worried about the Leading Edge gig. The booksellers were incredibly warm and friendly. They LOVE books and as the evening unfolded, it became apparent, of course, that they like to support writers. They want to sell books. I walked up to the front of the room with clammy hands and a thudding heart, but as soon as I started talking a strange thing happened: the fear just melted away.

Perhaps it was the glass of champagne I drank just before we sat down for dinner. Perhaps it was the pep talk I received from the lovely bookseller seated next to me, who told me just before I went up, to be myself and to speak from the heart. (He was so convincing I decided to leave my notes on the table.) Or perhaps it was the sudden realisation, sitting there with all those bookish folk, that there is nothing I like more than being part of a creative team of people all pulling in the same direction. It was always the thing I loved most when I worked in publishing: being part of something, being part of a team. Because the truth is, when everyone is excited and passionate and pulling in the same direction (and it does take everyone), that’s when the magic happens.

It’s an equation: author + agent + editor + sales + marketing + publicity + production + booksellers + readers = one big, marvellous magic-making team

It gave me such a buzz to remember that being the author is really just like before when I worked in marketing. I’m back in the team! I’m just a different part of the equation now. And it gave me an equally big buzz to wind-up the twenty minutes later with a huge smile on my face. Because that’s the other great truth: there is nothing quite like the thrill of conquering something scary.


I’ve been getting horribly tangled up in the structure of my second novel. The story is relatively clear in my head – in the linear world I know the essence of what happens and when – it’s just piecing it all together in a compelling and lucid way that has me chewing my nails and scratching my head. Who do we want to hear the story from? When can they reveal their side of the story? Is this idea even working? Does anyone even care?

I’ve tried a few things over the past months when stuck. Index cards. Excel spreadsheets. Scrivener. Even a giant paper skeleton construction blu-taced to a wall. It feels productive at the time to just sit down and attempt to untangle things like this. But to be honest, they haven’t got me that far. It’s like sharpening pencils. Or buying a brand new notebook. If I’m going to write a novel I still have to put words down on a page, one in front of the other and keep going. One. In. Front. Of. The. Other. Waiting for things to just fall into place doesn’t seem to work.

I guess every writer has a different way of coping with this. Wine helps. Chocolate too. But I’ve also noticed that for me, looking at the story from another angle, jumping to another viewpoint or moving on to another scene – even another chapter – can be just as helpful. My husband reminded me the other day of how when I got stuck writing my first draft of Secrets of the Tides I stopped where I was in the first half of the novel and wrote the final chapter. I found as I progressed that it helped to have that target sitting there – something to aim for. Lots of things changed in the course of writing the story, but knowing what I was aiming for really helped. So ditching something that’s not working to start on another part of the story that feels more interesting, more urgent has proved, to me, to be a good way to reboot. After all, it’s all part of the story, no matter where it falls, and the more I put down the more I begin to understand my characters and the journey they are on. And there is the crux of it I think: understanding the characters and letting them tell me their story. Sure I’m the grandmaster of the novel, but it’s when the characters jump up and tell me what happens next, when they tell me in no uncertain terms that they wouldn’t do ‘x’, no, no, they’d do ‘y’ that I know I’m on the right path … until the next time, at least. And when that happens, I’ll probably pour myself another BIG glass of wine.