My debut crime novel, Resurrection Bay, was published a year ago. It found some keen readers, got good reviews, and recently won some awards. Lots of awards. Over the course of a single weekend in August it won four of Australia’s top crime writing awards: The Ned Kelly Best First Fiction, and the Davitt Awards Best Adult Novel, Readers’ Choice, and joint Best Debut. Winning them surpassed even my wildest flights of fancy. Even being shortlisted for them did.
There’s a saying that your first novel is the one you’ve been writing your whole life, and in my case it’s true. Resurrection Bay is the book I was driven to write. It tells the story Caleb Zelic, an outsider who is profoundly deaf, and I can find seeds of it in a lot of my early work. The novel itself took me five years to write, and I spent most of that time thinking that it would never be published. Not just because publication is an almost-impossible dream, but because Resurrection Bay is that trickiest of things – a novel that’s hard to classify. Plot-driven with literary elements; character-heavy but a thriller; a crime novel exploring issues of identity and loss. But somehow, amazingly, it’s managed to find success. And I owe a lot of that to failure.
Any published novel is the tip of an enormous iceberg. Beneath the surface, my own iceberg is made of thousands of words and innumerable moments of self-doubt and despair. There are the stories I bashed out on a clunky Olivetti typewriter in primary school and the never-to-be-published novellas of my teens. There are mediocre sentences, bad paragraphs, and truly terrible first drafts. Failed applications for scholarships, mentoring and grants. Hours spent crafting stories that would never see the light of day. The constant feeling I was indulging myself at the expense of my family. Two full manuscripts, shopped around to publishers, mourned, kissed gently, and locked away in a bottom drawer.
But a little higher up, just above the waterline, there are some shining crystals that I savour. The first story to be shortlisted in a competition, the first one to win. The thrill of writing a good sentence and the dazed joy of falling into a story. The mentorship gained, positive feedback received. A first draft completed, a second, a third, a forth. And on upwards, up onto the shining peak that is my first published novel. Done, finished, accomplished.
Except that there’s the next iceberg to start building.
Right now I’m writing the sequel to Resurrection Bay, And Fire Came Down, and each day I open my laptop knowing that I will fail. I will fail to spill words of liquid beauty on to each and every page. I will fail to know where the plot is going. I will fail to craft memorable characters and sentences and scenes. But I also know that I’ll work and rework those words until slowly, slowly the novel will rise above the waterline.
Straight after winning the awards I had trouble understanding, let alone articulating, how I felt. But now I’ve caught my breath I find that the answer is simple: I feel like they’ve given me permission to keep writing the kind of books I want to write. Layered ones, a little tricky to categorise, and with plenty of failures to keep them afloat.
Caleb Zelic, profoundly deaf since early childhood, has always lived on the outside – watching, picking up tell-tale signs people hide in a smile, a cough, a kiss.
When a childhood friend is murdered, a sense of guilt and a determination to prove his own innocence sends Caleb on a hunt for the killer. But he can’t do it alone. Caleb and his troubled friend Frankie, an ex-cop, start with one clue: Scott, the last word the murder victim texted to Caleb. But Scott is always one step ahead...