Notes from the Sydney Writers Festival – My Brilliant Debut Part Two

Posted on September 5, 2010 by


JS – What was your experience of the editing process?

PA – For me it was a brilliant experience. I really enjoyed it. Newer writers think editing is something to be resisted. With a good editor, they are in tune with what you are trying to do. Editors have to help the writer, they are not the enemy. For me, the editing experience was positive.

SA – Sleepers were the first editors for the book. They read it in one go and it was thrilling and exciting to have people actually ‘get’ my book.  

With the international rights I went with Pantheon and they wanted first and last page changes. I had to explain it to them, and after the explanation they got the book and were happy for the book to remain intact, but the experience made me nervous and gave me the feeling I wasn’t understood.

 KT – I had a positive editing experience. My attitude to editing changed while working on the book, and I actually changed the ending of the book in response to the readers and editors that I was using. I had an open-ended ending, and I had to change it to a resolution. The feedback about the ending helped me find the right way to construct the book.

Try to keep an open mind about the editing process. A lot of the time the suggestions I was offered really worked. Then the copy editing taught me a lot about stylistic tricks. Remember you are not in a competition. A good editor is a fantastic ally.

JS – When did you really feel that you had a novel and it was going to be published?

PS – For me it was when I received the call that the book was going to be published, then it was when the first copy arrived and then it was seeing it on the shelf.

SA – It happened in a series of stages. It was gradual, a low-grade hum as I moved toward publication.

KT – Seeing the cover rough was a high point for me. That was also when I realised this would be a book that the publisher would take seriously, and that was important.

JS – How has the whirlwind of publicity been?

PA  – The publicity is strange, surreal. Writers write – we’re not comfortable with publicity. It makes me uncomfortable to spend s much time talking about writing and so little time actually writing and reading.

KT – The author persona is different. It’s hard to find your way back to the writing process after you’ve been out of it at festivals and giving interviews.  It’s similar to the world of academia. Coming from academia is hard; it can feel negative t be a writer. Coming to a festival as a writer is celebrity is good and is positive.

SA – Winning the Age Book of the Year helped. Sleepers were a great publisher in this respect as well. The book got read and it got reviews and I was asked to do interviews. I have now become much better at public speaking.


JS – What do you think of reviews? Did you relate positively to reviews?

PA – The positive reviews encapsulated the novel well. Negative reviews were primarily against the politics. I treated a difficult subject with some humour and there were some reviews that didn’t take too kindly to this.

SA – There were different interpretations in the reviews. You do see people who have an incorrect reading of the book and you have to find a way to just let that go and get on.

KT – its good when a reviewer is sympathetic. I received mixed reviews and that is very frustrating as Steve says. You have to let that go. Because there was a lot of hype around my novel people can be overtly critical. It can make you vulnerable.

PA – writing is a communal act.

SA – The writing process is so favourable; it doesn’t really prepare you for bad reviews.

KT – I have learnt to be a lot more relaxed about the whole thing.

Comments that came from questions from the floor:

PA – I worked with John Coetzee and he read for me. That relationship is very private and I don’t want to speak about it, but as a reader he was excellent. He reads slowly and very precisely. It taught me the value of a very good reader.

SA – From an early age, being the son of an agent, I watched the slush pile. It was a double-edged sword. It taught me a lot about writing, but it also intimidated me. I had to move to Australia to find the courage to write.

KT – I grew up in the shadow of the slush pile as well and I had the same complication. But mostly the slush pile taught me that a good book is in originality and in strength of voice; that became very important for my writing.