On the Eve of Author: With Adam Byatt

Strange things happened out here… like when you and your writing partner find yourselves on the precipice of writing your first full length novel on the same day without actually planning to do so!

We’ve been writing Post Marked: Pipers Reach since the start of January. At the time Adam was preparing his novel and looking forward to taking his long service leave to write. I on the other hand was still sorting myself out. By the time I had myself straightened out and decided to clock off time to write a novel, Adam was well into his planning.

Across the last three weeks we’ve been texting “to do lists” to each other in the morning, keeping each other on track as we both worked to reach a June 1st start date. So I feel charmed to be standing (virtually) with Adam tonight, should to shoulder… equal parts excited and shit-scared…. ready to do it. Really, do it!

Tomorrow we descend into our bat caves of creativity (one in Brisbane and one in Sydney), throw on our “will-be author” capes (mine’s an eye catching red and comes with fingerless gloves attached on strings) and hammer down the highway, word counts ticking over like the speedo on the batmobile.

But before we do, a few words from Adam, after I wet-willied him into submission and he  agreed to answer a few questions on what happens next.

Tell us a little about your novel eagerly waiting in the wings?

This novel was a seed planted about six, maybe seven, years ago. Over the years I have had different ideas as to what form it might take when it broke the surface, from poem to picture book to short story (I have a half finished multimedia novella based on a similar concept to finish at a later date). Now it has germinated into a novel.

In my flash fiction and short stories I explore facets of people’s everyday existence and see how they play out. Even the most “average” of characters has a complexity of life, reflected in multiple shades of colour, not simple black and white. I call this “suburban realism.” It sounds less pretentious and avoids the narcissistic overtones of calling it literary fiction. And I can’t write literary fiction–whatever it’s supposed to look like.

Parallel Lines follows the life of Sarah McDonald and her relationships with her mother, Marie and eldest daughter, Elizabeth. Anxiety and depression plague Sarah’s life, leading to an act of self-harm that leaves her clinging to life. She is found by Elizabeth and it forces her to confront her mental state. Sarah’s decision to enter into a psychiatric hospital at the beginning of the school year has major implications for Elizabeth.

While in hospital Sarah begins a journal, while Elizabeth begins a blog. Each woman chronicles her response to the event and how it impacts on her life. Sarah looks for the answers in the relationship with her mother while Elizabeth wonders if she will replicate the life of her mother, particularly as she is in the final year of high school.

How does mental illness affect a person and their relationship with family and friends? Should it be kept in the private world or can it be shared in the public sphere?

How would you encapsulate each major character in your novel in a single sentence?

Sarah is a 42 year-old mother, an accountant and pianist who understands patterns and systematic order, whose life begins to fall apart when mental illness usurps her understanding of who she is, sending her into a self-destructive cycle.

Elizabeth, Sarah’s 17 year-old daughter in her last year of high school, picks up the pieces dropped by her mother and tries to work out if the picture she is putting together is a reflection of what she will become while attempting to create an understanding of herself.

What preparation have you done prior to writing?

I am a little OCD in some things and the idea of writing a novel without prior planning and a blank page sends my underpants into a state of disrepair. I doubt that those novelists who “pants” their novels haven’t thought long and hard about what they are going to write.

Using Karen Weisner’s book, “First Draft in 30 Days” was my way of constructing a viable narrative. Modifying the activities in Weisner’s plan gave me a strong novel outline to tinker with. It resembles a long rambling essay, without dialogue and description, but it had the key events written out.

I had key points serving as markers for the division of Acts 1, 2 and 3, and built the framework around that. After one version I printed it off, read through it and scribbled notes in the margin of new scenes, fleshing out subplots or tightening the tension for the characters. Add in the new notes and details, print and re-read. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

I needed a road map, directions to follow, so even if my characters take a divergent stroll through a random street, I can bring them back. However, I am prepared to change the story if the tangent makes a stronger narrative.

Will you have a daily word count to keep you on track or do you write until you feel you’ve done enough?

My (idealistic) aim is 3,000 words a day, following the Stephen King model of putting my backside in a chair and not getting out until the word count is reached. I’ve set aside June as the month to complete my novel (taking long service leave to do so). It was not my original plan, but the death of a relative changed the first few weeks of my planning and involved rescheduling. This would mean a novel of 90,000 words, yet it if comes under or goes over, I have no problem with that, although anything less than 75,000 and I’ll feel a little cheated.

Where do you see yourself this time next week? What’s the biggest obstacle you face in the next 10 days?

By this time next week, I hope to have crossed the 20,000 word mark, about the end of Act 1. This weekend I have 3 shows to play (a previous commitment) so that takes a large chunk of the weekend and limits writing time, but I’ll put in what I can.

The biggest obstacle I face is maintaining momentum. And not procrastinating.

After having had this idea in my head for so long, I fear I will not be able to do it justice. I hope the vision I have for this novel will come to pass on the page in front of me.

My interview On the Last Day of Being Something Other Than Writer is here.

Adam is an English teacher and occasional drummer sifting through the ennui, minutiae and detritus of life and cataloguing them as potential story ideas.  They are pretty much a pad of sticky notes on the fridge door. Occasionally he finds loose change. He inhabits twitter as @revhappiness and writes flash fiction and blogs at A Fullness in Brevity

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