It was to my absolute surprise a couple of weeks ago that my debut YA novel, INVISIBLE BOYS, was announced as the winner of the 2017 Ray Koppe Residency Award.
This award recognises the outstanding manuscript of a young Australian writer (under the age of 30). It is run by the Australian Society of Authors, provides the winner with a one-week residency at Varuna, the National Writers’ House, and was judged by some fantastic and well-known published authors (Aoife Clifford and Tristan Bancks).
In short: it was a significant win, and definitely the most significant win of my writing career thus far.
It also caught the attention of a wonderful literary agent in Sydney, whom I have now signed with: again, a massive win in my career as an author.
The truth is, though, I never expected to win this award, and I was utterly shocked (and elated) when I did.
I apply for as much as I can, partly because I believe in seizing as many opportunities as possible, and partly on the advice New York agent Janet Reid always gives on her blog, which is, in a nutshell, “Write well, and query widely.”
I pretty much operate by that mantra. I write as well as I can. I seek constant feedback. I am always trying to improve, to write more economically, to write from the heart about what hurts, to avoid the cliche.
And I query as widely as I can. Not just in my submissions to agents and publishers, but when I send short stories to journals, and in my applications for residencies, mentorships, writing programs of all shapes and sizes – you name it.
Mind you, I don’t just hurl applications into the stratosphere and hope something sticks. I only apply for stuff where I fit the criteria, and stuff that I really want.
When I first got the email about my award win, I was confused, because I’d just applied for something completely different a few days ago, and I wondered how they could possibly have turned that around in such a short space of time.
Then the penny dropped.
Fuck, I lost my shit, man.
I won’t go into too much detail, but there was some jumping, some shouting, and some very loud music. I spun around my home office like a dervish whirling, though I don’t know any dervishes who like whirling to “Marry the Night” by Lady Gaga.
This was all the more sweet because, to be frank, 2017 has been a hard bloody slog.
I worked hard all year building my career as an indie author. I released three short stories, two of which sold decently and one which sold surprisingly well. I tweeted and Facebooked and blogged. I managed my own website, my own promotion. I poured what little money I have into my writing career instead of saving it. So many days, I would knock off from a day at working one of my five jobs (sometimes doing several of them in a single day), and then, before I could sit down and write my novel, I’d have to drag my arse to my trainer at the gym, who would pummel me for an hour – mentally and physically. And only then would I get home, shower, eat, and get stuck into a few more pages.
I burned out several times. When I wasn’t burnt out, I was either a pre-burnout neurotic mess or a post-burnout shell. I had to fit in doctor’s visits and counselling sessions into what was already a ridiculous schedule.
And during all of those godawful days, I never once thought of giving up.
Not once did I wonder if I would ever get anywhere with my writing.
At every stage, I just wondered, “How long will it take?”
Because I’m so deadset on my career as an author, nothing will stop me. If everything else fails and I lose everything, I’ll be that crazy homeless guy in the park and I’ll just read my novels aloud to the people walking by on their lunch break trying to avoid my gaze.
Of course, I hope it won’t come to that. The signs are really good. But I’m half Sicilian, and Sicilians can be a little cautious and a little superstitious.
There is some overused meme out there in the cyber-ether that says success is an iceberg. It is very, very true. I’m surprised at how many people recently have suggested, after congratulating me on the award win or landing my agent, that everything’s always rosy for me.
I probably should just let those comments slide – especially as they are usually well-intentioned – but, perhaps because I’m a writer, I want the picture painted by passing words to be accurate. Not just for myself, but for other writers to know that it’s the same for all of us. That’s why I’m at pains to point out that the overnight successes are never overnight, nor are they pure success.
In fact, in 2017 I think I faced more rejection than ever.
My first manuscript (not INVISIBLE BOYS, but a fantasy novel) was rejected by everyone who laid eyes on it.
And my other works were knocked back by journals, magazines, newspapers, websites, writing centres and publishers.
Over and over.
I don’t announce every rejection. Firstly because they hurt; secondly because I don’t want to be a downer.
But they happen all the time. They happen to every writer, aspiring, emerging and yes, even published authors get rejected.
This hasn’t been an easy year, so having a win at the end becomes an even bigger celebration for me.
I am so, so grateful that Ray Koppe’s legacy has enabled young writers like myself to have this opportunity. And I’m thrilled that the Australian Society of Authors keeps this program going.
The moment in the sun has reached its twilight now. I have deadlines now, and I need to make some edits to my manuscript, so it’s back to hard work mode.
But, man, after everything – the hard work, the failure, the sacrifice – it was really nice to have a bloody win this year.
More from me, soon.