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The secret to ‘overnight success’

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“The reality is that, behind this week’s exciting steps up sits three full decades of commitment to the cause.”

On the weekend, my business partner Audrey and I won a ‘Writing Excellence’ award for our book, I Don’t Have Time, at a national conference of business women in Melbourne. The book was described as ‘raw, real, sobering and witty’, and we were thrilled. At the request of our publisher, we’re currently playing with ideas for the follow-on book we’ll write together, and another one after that.

Twenty-four hours before flying to Melbourne, my literary agent informed me that one of the top three publishers in the world had just posted me a two-book contract for my teen novel, Unrequited. The musical theatre adaptation of the story, co-written with composer and ARIA-winner, Sally Whitwell, is currently being workshopped at a Canberra school, with several schools in other states interested.

At one point last week I was discussing film rights with my agent, with an entertainment lawyer and with a professor of film and television in London, who said he may put me in touch with some Hollywood producers. Even writing that sentence feels like something out of a fictional story itself …

And if you want to believe in the fairytale of ‘overnight success’, you should stop reading now.

Three months ago, Audrey and I appeared on the Today Show Extra, talking about I Don’t Have Time with Sonja Kruger and David Campbell. We were terrified.

Flash back through the two and a half years before that and I endured seventeen rejections of Unrequited. Five publishers didn’t even acknowledge the submission (the manuscript is probably still slushing around in the pile somewhere).

Five years before that, I’d given up submitting an earlier teen novel set in parallel universes after it was rejected several times. I sacked my former agent, who’d actually lost my manuscript altogether, so dedicated was she to my career.

Go back a decade before that, and my first book, Wits End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum, was published by Lothian books. The early reviews were positive but the publisher was acquired by another, and then another, and the book fell into a hole inhabited by other unknown authors whose ‘babies’ hung out together on shelves in remainders bookstores. You can buy an eBook version of it for $3.99 on Amazon. I make about 3c a copy.

Rewind to uni and I studied English Literature with mixed results. Everyone else seemed so much more switched on and serious about literature than I felt. I spent weekends reading light fiction and re-watching Anne of Green Gables – in love with the idea of becoming a writer one day, but applying for the public service (where I stayed for twelve years) because that was more realistic.

In high school, I was a B-grade English student and would spend all summer holidays with a notebook and pen in hand, scrawling pages and pages of awful prose — wishing I knew how to do it better. My stories were never singled out for the school magazine or entered into writing competitions like those of the other students, who were the ‘real writers’ of our grade, but the idea of one day being published seemed delicious.

The reality is that, behind this week’s exciting steps up sits three full decades of commitment to the cause. Three decades of working as hard as I dreamed. Thirty years of staying up, after ‘work and family’ is done for the day, writing into the early hours. Thirty years punctuated by failure, rejection and disappointment, wondering if any of this would ever happen.

Six weeks ago, I wrote ‘writer’ under ‘occupation’ on the incoming passenger card on a trip home from overseas. I was 43 years old. It was the first time I’d ever ‘owned’ the job title with any sort of confidence. And it’s only now, with these much-anticipated career breakthroughs, that the really hard work begins …

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