Launch day

It's a long road from beginning the writing of a novel to seeing it on the shelves. I sat down to write the first paragraph of Perfect North (which, at the time, I had titled 'The Ice Balloon') three and a half years ago. Today it hit bookstores and Big W outlets in Australia and New Zealand and I couldn't be happier. In the next few weeks my publishers take Perfect North to the Frankfurt Book Fair to begin selling it in other territories around the globe.

As the narrative is so heavily wrapped around a true story that is a part of Sweden's history, today my husband and I were invited to the Swedish Embassy in Canberra for morning tea with Ambassador Sven-Olof Petersson and his staff. Here's a picture of me with the very charming (and very tall) Ambassador.

We had a fascinating chat about the story of the tragic balloon voyage that acts as the engine room for the Perfect North narrative. The details of the expedition are still taught in some schools as part of their history curriculum, the embassy staff told us. And the Strindberg family still looms large in the social circles of Stockholm.

It was wonderful to see the factual parts of my novel through a different prism, through the eyes of people that represent the story's country of origin.

The embassy staff were thrilled about the idea of reading the novel and promised to tell me what they think of it. I'll keep you posted on their feedback.

The writing process (or mine, at least...)

The most common question I’m asked about writing books concerns my process. This question always throws me because, to be honest, I don’t think of what I do in terms of a process. The terms implies an order, a system, a precise and methodical journey that is embarked upon each time I write a novel.

Ernest Hemingway famously wrote for only five hours each day. Beginning at five-thirty in the morning he would toil at his typewriter until ten-thirty, when he would allow himself to begin drinking. But he would never take alcohol after dinner as this would impede his ability to begin again, bright and early the next morning.

Having two young children I cannot be as regimented as Hemingway, nor can I drink as much. I’m at my desk three days a week when the boys are in school and at childcare. On those days for the six hours I’m sitting at my computer I write with a single-minded obsession. Similarly, when they boys are in the bath, out with their father or watching television, I scramble to my office and continue.

Even if my domestic responsibilities only allow me fifteen minutes I always manage to get something onto the page. My working time is extremely precious and I don’t want to waste a second. I cannot afford the luxury of writers’ block. I simply write as much as I can in the time that I have.

Occasionally what I have written is gold. When I read it I can’t believe I was the author. More often what lies on the page requires work, then lots more work, to make the words shine. That’s when I begin the task of refining and polishing. This involves going over the scene numerous times, cutting and rearranging as I seek original language and imagery. This can take many days, months even, until I’m completely satisfied.

Sometimes I find it helpful to leave a scene that’s causing me trouble for a few days as I continue with the main story. Following the hiatus I come back to the section with fresh eyes. It’s amazing what a brief separation can achieve. The words begin to flow and the descriptions that previously seemed so distant are suddenly at my fingertips.

This is the way I work. This is my process.