Friday, December 23, 2011

Guest author Catherine McNamara: The Waiting Game

Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and studied visual communication and African and Asian modern history before moving to Paris. She worked in pre-war Mogadishu and later lived nine years in Accra, Ghana, where she ended up running a bar and traditional art gallery. She moved to northern Italy several years ago, where her jobs have included translating welding manuals and modelling shoes. She has impressive collections of African sculpture and Italian heels.

And I thought pregnancy was a long wait! Each morning this week, just before midday, I will be listening for the postman’s motorbike coming down our drive and the dog beginning to run up and down the fence in a frenzy. The postman is to deliver the first dummy copy of my novel, The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy, which has occupied my thoughts and time for a good few years. Not to complain – it is my debut novel and I am thrilled – but my editor has worn me down and the revisions have been endless. This is the last step in this part of the process and in April, after advance review copies have been sent out, my book will finally be published!

Let me take you back to the beginning. The seed, if you like. One summer several years I slept over at a friend’s and was driving back on a straight sun-soaked road to my neck of woods in northern Italy, where I live with my kids. That summer I was taking a break from a heavy literary novel set in Ghana where I spent ten tropical years. My friend suggested I write something funny, something about Italy. But at the time Italy was driving me nuts. A sexy but sexist country run by a shameless entrepreneur (Signor Berlusconi), whose shifty manners and ways had filtered through society. Write about Italy? Something funny?

By the end of that car trip I had a title, a first sentence and a great burst of writing energy that saw me typing away in the chicken shed by the house until winter.

Round 2: Submission. I find this the most disheartening part of the game. Probably because it involves not only waiting, but usually rejection as well. They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger or, in a writer’s case, makes you a better editor. After a couple of years of submitting I did a stretch of 5am starts and produced a sharp new version. Then, midsummer last year, I was sitting in a bar with an Australian friend on holidays when I glanced through my emails.

And there it was. We would like to offer you a contract of publication.

Several Campari spritzes later the message was still there and proven not to be an illusion of the drink. Soon after, I signed my contract, revised again (this involved reading out loud with a red pen – backwards and forwards) and waited.

And waited. Perhaps I didn’t push enough and there were other authors more pushy than myself. Perhaps I hadn’t understood the time frame. My publisher is a small independent press and months passed before I was introduced to my editor, with whom I went over and over The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy. There were moments when I thought I couldn’t look at another page of it. When my eyes burned and nothing made sense – the original text, my editor’s suggestions, my ideas... nothing! And yet there were times after a break when I still giggled at my own humour (had I gone crazy?).

A couple of weeks ago we hit the FINAL VERSION. Which, given the amount of tiny errors we were adjusting at the end, seemed even premature. What if there were escapees within the text? Lack of flow? Repetitions? But I do believe we are there. The book is evenly paced; I didn’t have to sacrifice too much of my whacky language; I think that technically, it all makes sense. The experience has given me even greater respect for any person able to put a book on a shelf in a bookstore, a story that intrigues from beginning to end without hiccoughs. Editing is awful.

And so these days I am waiting. Last month I received word from my publisher that my collection of Africa-based short stories Pelt and Other Stories has been accepted for publication. While my heart burst with joy and relief, I am already (just a little), worried about the editing to come. In the meantime, Mr. Postman, please hurry up with my book.

– Catherine McNamara


Liane Spicer said...

Catherine, welcome to Novel Spaces!

Yes, the waiting is interminable; I think blogging keeps me sane. Best of luck with DLC - so looking forward to reading it. I've been nosing around your blog and I already love your 'voice'.

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

Dear Liane,

Thanks so much for having me! I hope your readers enjoy the piece and as soon as DLC is released I'd love to have a giveaway on Novel Spaces. Merry Christmas to you Liane and best wishes for 2012!

Ciao ciao Catherine

Anonymous said...

The waiting may be the hardest part, but at least it worked out. Do you know how many people submit and never get published? I don't, but it must be a lot.

William Doonan

P.S. Enjoyed your post.

The Divorced Lady's Companion to Living in Italy said...

Thanks William, glad you enjoyed. Don't worry I've also spent many years filing rejections and redrafting my query letter. It's definitely an uphill climb!
Buon Natale,

KeVin K. said...

Catherine, welcome to Novel Spaces!
(Sorry for the belated greeting, but I spent the last week away from the internet.)

Like Liane, I've visited your blog and enjoy your voice. And I enjoyed story of your novel's progress.

As for escapees, they will always be there. (The howler that has me triple-checking everything appeared in my online SF novel Dragons of Despair. Some copy person, assuming I was illiterate, changed "shul" to "skull" early on and everyone -- including me -- missed it in subsequent read-throughs. Turned a perfectly respectable Jewish congregation into necromancers.)
Asimov once wrote that when any inconsistencies were pointed out in his work, he'd dismiss them by quoting Emerson: "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." I do not recommend this tactic.

I'm very excited about Pelt and Other Stories. Don't tell my fellow novelists, but I love the short story. I am always encouraged by evidence short stories -- and short story writers -- are alive and well.

Look forward to reading more from you.