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This is my white-knuckle passion

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After thirty years of wanting this, here it was at last. And the person I wanted to share it with the most wasn’t here to see it happen.

After my husband Jeff died, a lot of the things I’d always loved doing lost their shine. Losing the partner with whom you share your life and family is a wound that leaves giant, gaping holes, everywhere. It punctures and deflates even in the dearest, long-term dreams.

The dream I’d chased the hardest, and longest, was to have a novel published. He knew that. He encouraged me, every step of the way.

When he died, I faced a choice. I could give all of that up, because the joy had fallen right through the bottom of it and it was difficult to rouse enough enthusiasm. Or I could press on. I had a family to support on my own now. I ‘owed’ him the faith he’d kept in me, when he picked me up through all the publishers’ rejections, time and time again. “It’s a matter of when it’s published,” he’d always said. “Not if.” I owed myself even more.

The night I had the call from my agent to say HarperCollins wanted Unrequited, plus a second novel, I sat on the lounge, in silence. The sun set and I didn’t notice. The room became dark, and I was still sitting there, staring at the kitchen in the dark, imagining the scene. He’d have cooked a special dinner. He’d have popped champagne.

Instead, silence.

After thirty years of wanting this, here it was at last. And the person I wanted to share it with the most wasn’t here to see it happen. The gloss had gone. The sweetness had faded. I could tell it was a good thing, but couldn’t feel it.

Several more months went on and, in a two-steps-forward, one-step-back pattern, the waves of grief gradually became further apart and less ferocious. Then, last Friday, a stranger sent me this photo, taken in Dymocks, George Street, Sydney.

There it was. My dream come true, in visual form. My book, just as I’d been imagining it since I was fourteen years old and first decided to be a writer.

Not just one copy, but a shelf-full. Over the weekend, reports started drifting in. A Sydney bookshop buyer was ‘obsessed with it’. The geeky young man behind the counter at another bookshop ‘can’t tell his friends this’, but he ‘loved Unrequited’. Another bookseller tried to order copies in for a customer but the publisher was temporarily ‘out of stock’. It was in the National Library. It was at the bookshop at the markets. It was in Big W. It was as if, message by message, I was being rewarded for hanging in there. That’s when the spark came back.

It’s my 44th birthday today, and while I’d give anything, even this book, to have Jeff back,  the future looks bright. It looks that way because, even in the pitch dark, I kept going. On some level, no matter how bad things became, I clung to this. I stuck with it, and kept faith that a time would come when my heart would re-enter this picture. And it has.

Jeff would have willed me to grasp hold of the Unrequited dream until my knuckles went white, no matter how harsh the storm became. I did that, and now I’m more determined than ever to make a go of this, because writing is hard. Getting published is even harder. Writing and publishing when you’re at rock bottom is harder still. And when you break through the surface and into the light at last, it feels beautiful.

Find your white-knuckle passion. Don’t rest until you’re holding something so important, you could drag it through any storm and it would remain in your hand.

Unrequited is available in good bookshops everywhere. (What a sweet sentence that is to write.) 

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