Life Snapshots

COOKING CLASS AT CASA CARBONI

// On your marks, get set, chase: An Italian cooking class (and lunch!) with Matteo Carboni at the Casa Carboni Enoteca & Cooking School, in South Australia’s Barossa Valley.

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// The Background Story: Casa Carboni is the by-product of years of adventuring in the food and wine industry for husband and wife team Matteo and Fiona Carboni. After meeting in Australia in 2005 while Matteo was on a working holiday visa, the two spent the next five years travelling through Italy, France and Spain seeking our small producers of wine and food. Having grown up in Italy learning the art of fresh Italian cooking from his Nonna Pia, Matteo’s passion and background eventually had him cultivate a career in the kitchen, learning the culinary arts from various world-famous chefs on his travels through Europe. Fiona also travelled the world learning the industry – albeit as a wine export manager for a number of boutique Australian wine producers – a job which then found her working for an Italian food company. By the time the two came back to Australia, it only seemed fitting that their shared professional experience, passion and background should come together in an Italian restaurant and cooking school.

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//What’s involved: Casa Carboni offers a number of different classes, including a fresh and dry pasta making class (with different sauces), children’s classes, private classes and one class that takes place after a class visit to the Barossa Farmer’s Market, demonstrating how you can use fresh ingredients to make a delicious meal. I was privileged to enjoy a Demo Class & Tasting making Nettle Tagliatelle with Cherry Tomatoes and La Dame. We started by mixing up the pasta formula (plain flour, blanched and squeezed stinging nettle and eggs), kneading it into little balls, and then rolling it out until it’s thin enough to cut (so that it looks like fettuccine). The pasta was then cooked and served with a simple sauce of garlic, tomato, bay leaf, torn basil, extra virgin olive oil and garnished with Barossa Valley Cheese Company’s La Dame (a delicious goat’s cheese). We got to enjoy it in the front of the store, while we perused the variety of Italian food/beverage products on sale, including Matteo’s own handmade nougat.
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//My verdict: Although I wasn’t exactly very apt at fresh pasta making (the kneading took forever – I just wasn’t strong enough for it), I loved the process. Matteo’s style of teaching/instructing was great – he was patient and spoke without jargon, so I never felt overwhelmed. He also took the time to go around and make sure that everyone understood, helping us all out in the process to make sure we understood what was going on enough to be able to practise it in our own kitchens.
PicMonkey Collage3//Take it up: You can sign up for one of Matteo’s classes by visiting the Casa Carboni website. Classes start at $50 per person for a half hour Demo and Tasting class and include a take-home recipe card. You can also stop by the enoteca for a bite to eat, some coffee, or to purchase some Italian delicacies (including the nougat) for your own kitchen.

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// Nom. Nom. Nom.

STRIPES & BIKER BOOTS

It’s so easy to get lost in the thrill of shopping overseas stores from your computer. At any time and from any place you can select an assortment of things that are often cheaper and different to anything you get back home. But sometimes, one item can bring you back to the stores at your local shopping centre, the ones you shopped before you could get the Kate Moss look delivered from Topshop London to your front door. A week ago today, I saw a friend in a fabulous Sportsgirl dress. Stripes and with faux-leather zippered sleeves, I knew that it was going to be a very workable piece in my wardrobe. And as soon as I slipped it on, it was a match made in fashion heaven. A little bit of street, a little bit of punk and a whole lot of classic. The best part? It was so versatile: thick enough to get me through winter, easy to accessorise depending on the occasion, and the perfect piece to toss into my suitcase no matter where I was going and what the weather would be like. A bright necklace, coloured tights, a thick scarf. Or a denim jacket and some sandals. Slipping into Sportsgirl to try it on brought back a little bit of nostalgia for my early twenties, back before I shopped ASOS and J-Crew, and I didn’t walk away with just the dress. The studded leather boots – an essential for any  wardrobe – are an excellent dose of biker chic (and are currently on sale for $59.95), and the nail polish, hair accessories and liquid eye liner, are the little treats that would take any outfit, whether the high-brow or low-brow, the local or the overseas – up a few little notches.

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{Sportsgirl Dress, $99.95 // Sportsgirl Boots $59.95 //
Beanie by Erin Louise // Trench Coat by Burberry}

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Lessons in structural editing

Last week, I finished the Structural Edit for my book. It started off as an exciting time: I knew that this part of the process would lead to the final product (the version of my book that everyone would read), as well as the fun stuff in the book publishing journey (covers and promo plans and the like).

About 15 minutes into the process, I got very tense. And I stayed tense. I think I came off as a miserable git to my publishers. There were a few back and forth emails. On one level, I was constantly worried that all the things I was doing to facilitate the edits might make for a worse book than the version before, or not capture the character as well as I had imagined her to be now that I have other opinions moulding her. I was realising that my book was passing through ‘gates’, and with each gatekeeper came a new opinion, a new way of looking, a new sense of the characters and their story. {If you want to know what an editor does, Allison Tait has put together a rather great interview with an editor over at her blog.}

I am not proud of my role the process. At home, in my own space, I lost my cool plenty of times. There was crying, swearing, staring at walls for long moments. At one point, I wanted to give back my advance and quit. At another, I simply flung my manuscript at the wall and walked out of the room. I guess the enormity of what I was doing hit me like a tonne of bricks and I was not prepared for it. Here are a few reasons why I found it so tough, and what I learned from it:

  • Structural Editing forces you to work from scratch: To some extent, my book is vastly different than it was pre-edit. Not in terms of content, but in terms of how I have approached writing the content. If I wanted to convey that something has happened, I was encouraged to do it via a conversation (for example) as opposed to just having my character express it (a little bit of showing as opposed to telling, I think). In some sections, it didn’t feel like I was editing the book I’d already spent so much time on, it felt like I was writing a new one, and I was not prepared for that workload when I was constantly thinking of Book 2.
  • Structural Editing… takes time: I thought that I was going to be able to edit it in a couple of weeks max, but it took double the time. A structural editor is like an engineer, s/he makes sure you have a sound project, one that doesn’t leave things unanswered and says the things it says in the best possible way. I found that re-writing one scene would have repercussions for many others. I couldn’t just change that paragraph and move on – I would have to go through the rest to make sure there were no remnants of the original paragraph (eg: a shop they were visiting) in subsequent parts of the project. There was a lot to think about too. Why did I approach it this way, and not the other? So it was not just time ‘doing’ as opposed to ‘thinking about doing’ (or what to do).
  • Structural Editing…requires inspiration: I don’t know if it was because I was ‘sick’ of my manuscript (more on that later), but I just couldn’t get into the zone of working on the structural edit. I was able to do edits easily after the first draft was finished, but this final edit was difficult. I think it’s because I cut a few different scenes (particularly in the beginning of the book) and had to write new ones, so I struggled with the uninspired writer’s block I already had before. Again, I just wanted to be on my second book already, the one with the deadline coming at me at high speed.
  • Structural Editing…needs a whole new document for it to work: Well, for me anyway. Why? Well, my structural editor suggested a few things be arranging. Grab some text from this page and slot it here, switch the order of chapters X,Y and Z, and so on. In the end, I got so confused, I realised I couldn’t work out of my existing document and just press ‘Save As’. I had to start a new one. I ended up itemising all the big changes on a sheet of paper, so I could track where things were moving to and if anything would need to be done once they moved (ie, a new intro to a chapter because of its location change). With the manuscript itself, I worked out of three documents. I would copy the chapter from the version that my structural editor read, paste it in a new word document, work on it, and then paste it into a Final Version document.  The middle ground allowed me to focus on that chapter alone, and cute/paste whatever was needed so I can imagine it as the structural editor wanted it, without impacting on the other content. It took me a while to figure it out as the best way for me, so the time took even longer.
  • Structural Editing can undermine your vision: I’ll have to explain this by example: Let’s say your structural editor reckons the reader needs to know more about your character, so s/he wants you to share more on him/her/them. Pointers on characterisation are good, but divulging too much of your character can have consequences for impact/bombshell scenes. Not always good. I was really torn about one particular thing in my manuscript that my editor suggested I introduce earlier, so that the reader knows my character’s stance early on. Originally said thing would come out in a crux sort of scene, so I am really afraid that even the scene is written well, it’s still not going to make as much of an impact. I ended up going with the editor’s comments, but I did ask my Agent and Publisher for their opinion, because said conversation was important to me. I guess that is one more thing to change if the need arises.
  • Structural Editing…made me sick of my novel: I think the trauma of dissecting such a big document for what seemed like the billionth time got to me. My eyes started glazing over. I was not reading anymore. Something that was once a passionate, creative task with a lot of meaning to me has transitioned into a job and I hated that my big project had become work. But I had to keep going with the knowledge that I was new to this business, and the Structural Editor was a pro, who was refining my book to be the best that it could be.[I ended up opening my manuscript again in the middle of fine-tuning this post, and my eyes didn’t glaze over. Turns out after two days of rest I no longer dislike it and I don’t feel the need to hurl it at all the wall.]
  • Structural Editing…is worth all of the above: Some of you may be reading this and thinking ‘Why the hell would she torment us with this stuff?’ and I don’t blame you. The process is not easy. It’s exciting to publish your book but it’s also a lot of hard work. I am lucky, but I am also working hard for it. And every edit I have ever made to my novel HAS made it better. I recommend fine-tuning.  So even if you’re self-publishing, editors who may cost you some dough are good. I know this because I have read books where I have been able to pick things out that should not be there. Editors are valuable. This post has taken me a week to write, but in that time, I am glad I have reached the point where I can safely add this last pointer in: Ultimately, the book is yours and yours alone, and you should dress it as you will. Even if you don’t want to take all of an editor’s points on board, at least s/he gives you a platform to think about what it is they’re trying to say, and then you can work your way around it to your style, so long as it achieves its purpose. Structural Editing makes your story grow, your characters grow, and brings them to life on the page. Adding in dialogue with someone, or dimension with more concrete ways of exploring their interests makes a big difference to making the character real. And real characters resonate with readers, even if they’re vampires.

2012: The Highlights

 

Wow, another year done and dusted. Who would have thought, when I laid out my plans for 2012 on the table, that I’d emerge having met almost none of them, but so many others. Plans that saw me so much closer to my ultimate goals, plans that saw me recognise more of what I love, plans that taught me new lessons, opened up doors and transformed my life.

This was the year where my writing dreams came so much closer to reality. I signed a two-book deal with an amazing publisher (take a bow Harper Collins) and decided to chronicle it here so others in my shoes can see what they’re in for when they achieve their publishing dreams. I realised the perils of such recognition and affirmation of my work, but still marvelled at the positives that came with it. I sort of embraced method writing, wrote my first travel story, and divulged my own love story, which many of you loved and many others wrote to me about.

This was the year where I resolved to pay more attention to my appearance and it worked. Make-up in the morning was no longer a chore, and after a massive wardrobe detox coordinated by my police officer friend Lauren (meaning I could not say no to her), dressing in the morning became so much more fun, and I was able to pinpoint the blanks in my wardrobe that I can now look forward to filling.

This was the year that I experienced so much. The year I chased a long-held dream of visiting Coco Chanel’s apartment, and went to a Mexican Day of the Dead soiree. I got to partake in a fun photo shoot, and learnt the art of looking amazing in photos (for you guys, obviously). I made a DIY cake stand, got dressed-up as supergirl even though I knew I could never be one, and learnt how to make amazing cupcakes with Faye Cahill and her team.

This was the year that I saw more of the world and chased many of my must-dos. I took to chasing style, sparkle and savoir-faire in Paris, rode around a bustling Berlin, daydreamed in Brugge, went sailing in Prague, had Kielbasa in Krakow, thermally-bathed in Budapest and visited Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. Closer to home, I escaped to the Hunter Valley (for the cheese and wine as much as the escape), took a time-out in rural Victoria and went on a mad food-filled dash to Melbourne to celebrate my anniversary.

This was the year where I ate to my heart’s content, because I ate better. I got as close to a great home-made chilli-basil stir-fry as a girl with no Asian-cooking prowess ever could and shared my favourite pudding recipe, which kind of made my mother-in-law love me more. I fell in love with an Italian restaurant, but stayed in love with a fast Italian eatery that allow me to indulge my love of carbs knowing that, where good pasta was concerned, that carbs were worth it. I shared some very simple ways to transform my daily meals, and had the best ice-cream sandwich of my entire life. I broke the rules of a traditional high-tea at the Cortile Lounge and LOVED it.

This was the year where I thought, and learnt, and grew. I cultivated a summary of perfect parisienne secrets to hone in my chase of a life of style, smarts and savoir-faire, and learnt to look for serendipity. I shared 15 of my favourite blogs and realised there was some parts technology that I both loved and knew how to use. I yearned for a routine but never got one, and lamented that there are things better than fashion purchases, weekends away and amazing high-teas that I might never have.  I got the low-down on washing a car, and interviewed one of my favourite authors. I started up a facebook page and an instagram account. I learnt how to use the former and still make many mistakes when using the latter.

This was the year that I made my first roast, read some amazing books and expanded my goole reader. The year that I actually wore my Burberry trench coat to bits, and found a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo flats at their airport in Rome for a ridiculously cheap price. The year I bought a Marc Jacobs Stam Bag, and realised that, although I had wanted it since I was 19, it was far too heavy to be carried around and was therefore probably the only expensive purchase I will ever (kind of) regret. This was the year that I cheered for friends who got engaged, married and had babies, and I realised how happy I was for them. This was the year when I splurged on an evening gown I have no occasion for, just because I liked it. More surprising was the fact that I did not care, because being Lebanese means someone will get married soon enough and warrant a gown from yours truly to be worn at their wedding. This was the year where I made new friends, got closer with some existing ones, and drifted from others. This was the year where I saw more grey areas, grey skies and my first James Bond movie.

This was the year that life wowed me, loved me and taught me. The year it brought me to my knees in thanksgiving, and to my emails to find a place that will let me volunteer with kids or teens who need it just because I want to give some thanks back – to God or the universe or whoever you believe in.

This was the year I REALLY reflected on my fortune – not financial, but social, spiritual, mental, and physical. This was the year where my hard work started paying off and I realised, more than ever before, how blessed I really was. For so much more than I thought, including your own readership of my constantly-changing blog.

Tonight, when I pop the champagne, it’s going to taste more amazing than before. 2012 has been great to me, and I’ll always remember it for being the year that I first realised how rich I really am. That in some ways, I have won the life lottery, and perhaps, just maybe, it might get me through what will no doubt be another gruelling, but amazing, year.

Happy New Year – hope to see you here in 2013 for more chases to make your life bigger, tastier, prettier and wordier!

Sarah Xoxo

Bombs, Beirut and Bigger Pictures

A few weeks ago, I ran into one of my Literary Agent’s staff members at a party. We had both recently returned from holidays – me in Europe and Lebanon, him Jordan and Lebanon. When he asked me if I’d had a good trip, I’d replied “Why of course, you know Paris is my favourite city in the world.” He expressed his surprise that I did not think the same of Beirut, the Paris of the Middle-East, a city he loved so much that he’d been there numerous times and was in the process of trying to convince his mother to accompany him on the trip. What could I say? I didn’t feel the same way about the city in my mother country that I felt for other places: Paris, New York, the entire Greek Island of Santorini. Places which nestled themselves in the crevices of my heart, begging me to return to them again for more adventure.

What I’d failed to disclose is that although those cities were in my heart, Lebanon was in my bloodstream, pulling me in all sorts of directions for as long as I could remember. I didn’t love Beirut the way that Drew did, but I noticed the tragedy of not loving it. Its significance was a lot more than holiday dreams gone sweet or sour, than love found on the shore of the Mediterranean, than delicious food enjoyed in vibrant atmospheres, with intricately dressed women providing the ideal setting for bemused people watching.

That was the Beirut of tourists, mine was a Beirut of family history – the place where my grandparents, their children in tow, boarded large ships bound for the months-long journey to a strange land down under, not knowing if they would ever return again. Mine was a Beirut of heart-felt tales from my grandmother’s oldest memories, and songs from the old Fairouz movies I still watch today.

Mine was a Beirut of mixed emotions: the city that I flew into on the cusp of my womanhood was one I couldn’t fly out of as bombs dropped on to it in July 2006, but a city whose sparkling lights along the coast at night beckoned me to embed some happy memories into the tortured ones I’d had when contemplating that I’d fly back into it as a foreigner: married to someone so far removed from its mountainous ranges and deep valleys, from its smells of zaatar and baklava, from its age-old traditions and familial ways. This time, my Lebanese name was gone and I was a Westerner, here to enjoy a summer vacation in a city known for its wild parties (Beirut was named the Party Capital of the World in 2009 by The New York Times) and opulent resorts.

I used the opportunity of that vacation to remove myself from the tug and pull of my homeland to be the objective journalist, writing a travel story for Yen magazine on the city. I got to know it as a tourist, not as a girl who’d grown up with tales and traditions of the motherland dominating her existence. An existence which facilitated an identity crisis that paved the way for a 66,000 word novel on the subject that doesn’t promise any more answers. An identity crisis fuelled by teenage memories seeing ‘Lebanese Gangs’ plastered on the front pages of tabloid newspapers, making everyone around me question whether or not people like me warranted a place in this Great South Land. An identity crisis which, at 26 years old, I am still having.

A few weeks ago, a car bomb ripped through the Achrafieh, one of the beautiful districts of Beirut, a Christian-populated area filled with clubs and cafes. While Lebanese people around me expressed their sorrow that their country will never have peace, I realised that the tragedy goes further than I ever knew.

Australian-Lebanese people flock to their motherland to enjoy the R&R that they would never find here. In our fast-paced society, we’re always working ahead, never stopping to enjoy life like we’re supposed to. In Lebanon, they experience a burst of energy, a renewal of self, brought on by the fact that every person there lives for the moment.

With every car bomb, political drama and threat of war, the resilient people of Lebanon keep going, keep living, keep striving, keep loving. But they savour every moment of their life, knowing it might fall to pieces in a matter of hours.

In some respects, when I think about my stresses and my bad days and my conflicted work-life balance, I envy them. Despite the tensions raging through their streets out of the blue, they know a peace that we will never have. A peace we fly all the way to an Ashram in India to find.

Therein lies the bigger picture: in war the Lebanese have a peace which I, in my constant peace, am yet to find. And the more I think about it, the more I realise: with lessons, adventures and stories weaving in and out of its crazy streets and etching themselves in the hearts of expats in Rio, Sydney, Pittsburgh and Paris, what is there not to LOVE about my motherland’s capital city?

 

 

Six things I am loving about my wordsmith journey right now

The other day, writer and blogger Scarlett Harris posted a quote by Rita Schiano and tagged me in it. It read: “Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit, talk about your joys.” In the pursuit of that rather true suggestion, today’s blog post is the counter-piece to last week’s ‘quite terror’ post that saw me fretting about the pressures of being on a publishing contract and wowing your publishers with a second novel. It’s not what I’d call beneficial to the emerging writer, instead, it’s more of a cathartic way to remind myself that there are perks to be had from my current situation, now matter how scary it may seem. Here are a few things that I am loving about where I am at right now. The listening part, for me especially, feels like a massive achievement.

Lessons or not: Keep Writing
  • Wordsmith buddies sharing the ride: One of the things I hate most about being a writer is the solitary part of my work. No one understands the frustration of having a fabulous idea mid-dishes, mid-shower or mid-drive, only to forget it moments later when you’ve managed to stop/pull over and get a pen into your hands. No one else understands that I just can’t turn on my writing inspiration; it’s something I try to desperately coax out of its cocoon even if I have allotted an entire weekend to writing. And right now, no one in my family, despite their best efforts, can understand why I am so scared. Which is why I feel incredibly blessed to have the support, empathy and understanding of other writer friends who are going through the same thing, especially Rachel Hills, who is also working on her book, and Gabrielle McMillan (soon-to-be-Tozer), who just like me has recently scored a two-book deal as a YA author with Harper Collins. We are both literally in the same place, which I think will provide a source of comfort during our already apparent freak-outs. For updates on Gabby’s book news, you can like Gabby’s FB page here.
  • Finding cheerleaders in unexpected places:  You expect your mother and sisters and BFFs to be jumping for joy for you, but it’s so much greater when strangers express their enthusiasm and support. The other day a student from my cousin’s school asked her when my book was coming out because they wanted to read it. My old high school principal has already promised to buy a few copies for the school library. Writer Allison Tait, who blogs about writing and other things from her pink fibro house blog, offered to cheer me on when I needed it (she has a few books to her name so she’s understanding). Frangipani Princess’ Georgie Carroll expressed her desire to read it when I first announced it. And then there’s my father-in-law’s partner, whom I’ve actually never met, who was very encouraging and excited when I spoke to her last. Such sentiments are the precise reasons I am motivated to keep going when I think I am going to fall.
  • Thinking about the silly little things that come with a publishing deal: Like book launches, and potential outfits I could buy to wear to said launches. Or publicity schedules. And cover designs. What can I say? I can be incredibly shallow. And I am motivated by shiny things (that’s an idea of what my shoes might be like).
  • Indulging in an alternate reality:  Right now, I am exhausted and stressed due to a number of random things happening in my life. From medical appointments to house hunting to crazy hours at my day job, I am waking up earlier and sleeping later. So the cranky lady within is loving the opportunity to escape into other worlds, all in the pursuit of writing her stories. Said other world is high school, which although for the teenager is riddled with adolescent woes and puberty blues, actually works for me because I have the hindsight to know it’s never as bad as teens think it is. Ere go, I get to enjoy the fun stuff in the alternate reality high-school, like giggling with friends, going shopping on the weekends and only buying stationary (as opposed to ridiculously over-priced handbags), doing assessments that are 500 words long (not 3,000 word university essays), wearing glitter eye shadow and going to parties. This alternate reality exercise is a little bit easier with the playlists I use to get my creative juices flowing. The last playlist was early noughties hip-hop and R’N’B, whilst this one is teen angst combined with a bit of teeny bopper pop.
  • Learning to listen: I’m not going to lie. 97% of my allotted writing time is spent with me whinging because the words won’t come. But then just like that, I have something I need to write down, and that usually comes with me establishing who a character is and what THEY are trying to tell me about their problem. This was something I learnt to capture when writing my first book, when one of my agent’s staff told me I have to let my character go and have his own points of view. Not mine, and not anyone else’s. His own. Since then I have really tried to listen, which is a good break for me as I am usually the one ranting.
  • Wordsmith Bloggers: The first thing I did after I wrote my freak-out post was look up some popular writing blogs and then add them to my Google reader. Knowing that plenty have gone before me with their troubles, and plenty will go after, gives me a little more comfort. There’s a lot to learn from other writers and their stories, and that’s where my writing gains a little more of its strength.

What are you loving about your wordsmith journey?

Pressure, Hard Work & Fears of being a one-book wonder

                                                                                                                        Source: yeayea.kickme.to via Quiana on Pinterest

 

“Book writing, by comparison, feels invisible. It is countless hours spent alone, perfecting ideas that are too complex to explain to strangers you meet at cocktail parties. It is enforced humbleness (or at least enforced daily stomping on that ego and desire for affirmation); being willing to continue toiling when you’re pretty sure anyone else would have shipped by now, because you and the gatekeepers you’ve installed around you want to make sure you get the damn thing right.” – Rachel Hills, Invisible Work

Right now, I am in a grip of quiet terror. Or not so quiet, if you’re my husband or best friend and are accustomed to my daily freak-outs. Having let the dust settle on the exciting news that I am to be an author, that the dream I had started chasing a few years ago was about to become a reality, that something in my life was going somewhere AT LAST, I am now dealing with a frightening aftermath.

And that aftermath is the constant worry that I won’t be able to replicate the ease in which I wrote my first novel. And when I say ease, I am not talking about the effort, the time, the thought process of concocting a storyline and characters that would be both believable and compelling enough to warrant the turning of a page.

I mean the ease of writing without pressure. Without knowing what would happen when and if it finished. Without the commitments of a contract, or the advance sitting in my bank compelling me to work for it. Without a deadline, or waiting publishers, or even an audience whom I have excitedly shared my book news with.

The reality is, there’s no way out of that worry for me. At least right now anyway. I have under a year to write a novel, to create new characters, share their stories, get to know them as intimately as I did the last ones so that they eventually – in some alternate writer’s universe – become real.

The worry is mostly based on what Rachel Hills terms invisible work. Work that sees her like a duck in the water, “peddling furiously beneath the surface, but seemingly standing still”. The kind of work that now typifies my days and nights: sitting in front of a computer, compelling words to come. But they don’t. 

Instead I have to contend with working against my own thoughts and self-doubts. The kind of thoughts that remind me that it took years to write my first novel, writing maybe 15,000 words a year in short weekend-long bursts of productivity then going eight months without even opening the document, whereas now I only have months. Thoughts that have me stress about storylines, even though I didn’t have one when I started writing the first book and just let my characters take me on a journey through their lives, after I had sufficiently grasped the melodrama in their heads. Thoughts that remind me that it’s not only invisible, but solitary. 

Hills struggles with not being able to talk about it also. For me, it’s because it’s all internal. Not because I have the kind of new, smart, intellectual ideas that will make up her first book, but because I have virtually shunned company to meet my deadline. I have to tell people I cannot come out to lunch because I have to write, and then I have to deal with the anxiety of them walking away thinking I am sort of workaholic when essentially I just sit there watching TV or reading magazines or buying things on Ebay. Waiting for a fictitious teenager whose name, age and school I have scrawled on a notebook to wake up so I can follow his/her day in my head, then put it out on my laptop.  

The above excerpt from Hills’ latest blog post on Musings of an Inappropriate Woman is typical of what I am feeling right now. The angst, the worry, the concern. The desire to emerge from my wordsmith slumber to protest that I am doing something – anything – to justify the MANY hours I spend typing away at a keyboard or staring at a screen. The eagerness to have my work come out just so I can validate the effort and worry that is now consuming me constantly – maybe to some sort of reader acclaim so I can feel encouraged to keep pursuing this difficult stage of my work despite the fear and self-doubt.

I’ve questioned how I can possibly utilise the excitement of being published to sit down and wait out the period of editing, production, cover design, marketing plans and the like (before I even see the fruits of my labour) to my advantage. How I can use that waiting period to emulate the toil of work #1 into work #2.

People conversing with me now tell me that it must be easier, writing a second book. But if anything, it’s harder. It’s harder because I have a commitment now. I have ‘gatekeepers’, just like Hills’, who encourage me to work and perfect and fine-tune, all the while knowing that they will then go over that perfection I tried to achieve with a fine-tooth comb and find more flaws that I will then have to re-work in a cycle so painful it burns. Not just because of ego, but because of effort and heart and soul, and the watching eyes of family and friends who are proud of me, but who don’t understand the process that sees me cut myself off, resigned to an abyss of my own making. 

It turns out that I am my own gatekeeper, as Hills must be also, because although she’s ‘peddling furiously’, I know she’s commandeering the peddles: knowing that it is the same issues that make her want to perfect whatever she puts out, no matter the time or the risk or the struggle.

Sometimes, we force ourselves to stand still, to remain invisible, to turn off. Even though on the inside, we don’t. I don’t stop working when my husband sees me turn off the computer and retire to bed: there’s always a little me in my brain that keeps going, even when I am shaving my legs, dancing at a wedding or buying shoes. A little me who never switches off, but instead spends her time thinking, writing, waiting. 

Waiting for the day when a character comes in, tells the brain’s little-me what happened (and if I’m lucky, why it’s so bad), and asks me to write it down. Until then, I just have to wait it out.   

My only wish is that my character is not on Lebanese timing. Because even though I am invisibly working 24/7, my gatekeepers (and readers) can only see what’s there on the surface, not under the water.

Or in reality, the stories on the page, not in my head.