This is a strange blog post to be writing. It was supposed to be the announcement of the release of my new book, Black Spot. I’ve been talking about it here for years now, from conception to writing to shortlisting in the 2016 Text Prize to its planned publication. I’d originally planned to release it in February 2018 but life and a hectic new job kept delaying it. It was eventually ready by the end of May 2018 (apart from the cover, which would be ready a few weeks later). And then came something that threw a spanner in the works.
Full disclosure time: in 2016, this book was shortlisted for the Text Prize for Unpublished Children’s and Young Adult Writing along with a book I’d written and three by other writers. Clearly, my book and those three others didn’t win and this one did. I was always going to read Beautiful Mess because 1) it won a writing prize and that’s a pretty great endorsement, 2) I wanted to know what Claire Christian had done better than me and use it as a learning process, and 3) I’m a little masochistic (but mostly the first two). I’m very pleased to report that it’s an amazing book because 1) it justifies that it won the Text Prize and 2) I get to write a glowing book review and avoid looking like a sore loser.
Sometimes (okay, more than sometimes) I like to live in a world where the only thing I’m judged on as a writer is my writing. The rest of the time I know I have to play the game. You know the game. The one where what you look like, how cool you are and how good you are on social media seem to be just as important. I resent the hell out it (mostly because I’m not beautiful, I’m a nerd – not one of those cool new-age nerds, just an old-fashioned awkward nerd – and my social media skills could charitably be described as needing work).
So imagine the personal torment I went through as I recently chose a new author photo to go on the back cover of my latest book, Black Spot. If you know my history with author photos, it’s not that hard to imagine.
Welcome to the city of Newperth, a futuristic version of present-day Perth in Australia. The oceans have risen, the gap between the haves (the Centrals) and the have-nots (the Bankers) has widened dramatically and the homeless (the Ferals) are pretty much as they are today, misunderstood and shunned. Rosie Black is a Banker but she goes to a Central school thanks to her aunt Essie’s charity and dreams of being a space pilot just like her aunt.
One day when she’s exploring the ruins of the Old City with her Central friend, Juli, Rosie finds a box with a mysterious logo on it and some mysterious contents in it, including a comkey. When they plug it into the comnet at Juli’s house, it tells them a beacon has been activated and a retrieval team is on the way. Rosie yanks it out of the comnet but it’s too late. The events of the novel have already been triggered.
I’ve previously written about how long a chapter should be because I saw someone asking the question in a writing forum last year. When I saw someone asking how long a novel should be in the same writing forum recently, I thought it was an excellent follow-up. My answer to the question of chapter length was the same as my answer to the question of novel length is now: how long is a piece of string?
As a general rule, a novel should be only as long as is required to tell the story. That may be much shorter or much longer than any publishing house rule length, which can sometimes seem arbitrary. But it’s important to stay true to the story. Padding a novel to make it longer will not make it better. Cutting key scenes to make a novel shorter will not make it better. In fact, both padding and cutting for that reason will almost always make them worse.
I was in the middle of reading another book – a long, dense, important but mentally draining book – and decided to take a break and read Kill the Possum, knowing it would be a shorter read, something I could get through quickly. But if I was hoping for an easy read, I was sorely disappointed. This was a hard book to read. Not because of the writing but because of the story. This is every blended family teenager’s worst nightmare.
Um, okay, so this happened to me today:
Yeah, that’s my picture in the top left corner…
Because, um, yeah, my unpublished book, Black Spot, has been shortlisted for the 2016 Text Prize, run by Text Publishing in Melbourne, Australia. It’s a competition for unpublished manuscripts written for children and young adults.
This is kind of embarrassing to admit for a writer… but I have no words!
Except… yay! And *happy dancing* that no words can describe!
I wanted to hate this book. I wanted it to be Twilight-eqsue, capturing the imagination of the young and crossover mainstream reading public in spite of the fact that it was okay rather than great. I wanted to get to the end of the book and feel superior in some way. I wanted to be able to hate this book. But I don’t. I can’t. Because it is a great book.
This is the story of Hazel and Gus and how they fall in love. Sounds cheesy, right? Sounds like it’s been done in young adult novels a hundred times before, right? Hazel has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Gus is in remission but has had a leg amputated. Okay, a little less cheesy but cancer? So Jodi Picoult, right? Still been done before, right? Except even though the concept feels like it’s been done before, it’s never been done this well before.