Finding My Voice
Giving Voice to Those Characters
If I’d known there was a genre called Romantic Suspense I may well have taken a very different path to publication but, like many writers, I first set out to tell a story without any thought of where it would fit on the bookstore shelf or who would read it. I wrote because of a compulsion – and without any formal training, other than an aptitude for English at school sixteen years earlier. I’d forgotten the basics of grammar and punctuation and had to relearn it all – thank heavens for ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves.’
That first manuscript still languishes in a dusty filing cabinet and will never see the light of day. You’ve heard the line that a writer’s first manuscript may be autobiographical? I cringe just thinking about it… Luckily for me Driftwood Manuscript Assessment pointed me in the direction of Romance Writers of Australia. The feedback I received via the RWA competitions was crucial in helping me discover my voice.
Time and again I was told I didn’t have a ‘category romance’ voice. I lost count of the times I was told to ‘write what I know, what I love to read.’ What I knew was aviation and what I’d grown up reading were spy and action stories.
Still, I had to complete another three romance manuscripts before I was brave enough to write a book set in the world of aviation and coastal surveillance. Wings of Fear (originally published as Border Watch) had a dead body washed up on beach, terrorists, flying, and romance, all set in North Queensland, an area I knew well. My first publisher, Hachette Australia, and the talented Bernadette Foley taught me a great deal about writing and publishing. I will be forever grateful for that opportunity to learn.
One of the hardest lessons I had to learn, though, is that publishing is all about sales figures. My second book sank without a ripple. That meant, after two books, I found myself without a publishing home. It was a difficult time and I’m grateful for the support of fellow writers and my family who kept the faith. Luckily for me Penguin Australia and Ali Watts were prepared to take a chance and when Wings of Fear won the Romantic Book of the Year my career turned another corner.
I’m sure there will be more corners, more forks in the road, but that first one opened my eyes and made me appreciate that readers and publishers have expectations. Part of my job as an author is to write stories that exceed those expectations while still exploring themes that are important to me, even if they may be considered controversial.
In Safe Harbour, behind the central theme of drugs in sport, is the lesser theme about the role sport plays in giving kids from disadvantaged rural areas a bright future. A secondary character, Rosie, is an aboriginal elder with a strong opinion on what’s needed to improve her community. Five years ago, when I was first published, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to tackle either of those issues, but now I am prepared to push the boundaries a little further and I’m a little more confident that I will do them justice. That, I believe, is part of finding my voice.
There are still other stories I’d like to write which may have less of a romance component, but for now I’m happy to write stories about strong women and tough men who find love in the wonderful Australian landscape.