LIFE AFTER WRITING … Is there such a thing or do old writers simply write themselves off?

Nette Hilton

Nette Hilton

SCBWI Qld is thrilled to welcome our guest blogger this week – author, Nette Hilton. Nette’s work includes the brilliant, edge-of-seat and beautifully written YA novel, The Innocents.

Thoughts of a baby-boomer who was a child bride (twice) and is still saving up for when she gets old.

This isn’t something I’d pondered intentionally. Stuff happens and then you die. Not very philosophical but it was working for me. Then my mate, Jo (Horniman) – a woman with whom I

  • shared angst and mangled manuscripts
  • more angst and mayhem when we were overlooked by the CBC (how could that happen?)
  • then smirking delight when the Premier and the Prime Minister found us (how good was that!)

Then my mate (who had shared coffee and cakes and obscure blue-grass bands – not the members, only their music, in all sorts of boonie based coffee shops) said she’d quit! No more writing, she said. And with a girlish giggle went on to declare that there was, in fact, life after writing.

I mean, we’d been handmaidens for Paul Jennings. Mature hand-maidens, given, but at the end of a grueling tour and late nights cavorting with press agents, festival organizers and the entourage we were probably all he could have handled. As it was, I nearly killed him in my little sports car as we roared over a hill on our way to Lismore – heady days!

So. Joanne Horniman. A diva of written delight. Quit! I felt like I was out there alone holding the aged writer’s banner aloft. A poor withered thing (the banner, not me) that dangled sadly in a fading breeze. The Innocents_Final Cover.inddDo we just fall out of line like weary soldiers too tired to keep marching? Is there no-one there to cheer us on? Even my agent said that a publication date had been offered, five years hence, and how old are we gonna be then? Is there no-one to organize the gold-watch – or pen, which would be more appropriate given that writers and illustrators have poor connections to time and motion – but is there no-one?

It would seem not. Jo, I must say when I gasped and clutched my fevered brow, did suggest that she might do it again – when the right book called, when the right light at the end of that dark tunnel called the duration of writing a manuscript beckoned, call it a sabbatical – and I breathed a little easier.

But not for long.

What was I going to do with my life from here to the ever-after. Simply be content to live happily-ever? My god, the thought was untenable. What about the hours of fumbling around with mind-maps and charts and midnight flashes of genius that sent you hurtling – or fumbling for the light switch in another room because spouses of writers tend to get a little bit grumpy if you constantly wake them – to grab that thought and write it down. What about the dreams? How many times have I woken to find my dream scribbled in sleep-hieroglyphics to discover that, in broad daylight with a thinking brain attached, they were a just a wee bit scrambled and the content did seem to suffer somewhat. The last one was a goody though… if only I could remember it and where I put the paper. I did share it with a kid in a class in Tallebudgera so I can track him down if I need it.

Which I do.

Dreams that good deserve to be novelised. It’ll probably go on to be a Booker. Speaking of which, I saw the wonderful, fabulous, Vernon God Little by D.C.B. Pierre on a $2.50 table in Sam’s Warehouse.

I clutched that book. I felt its terrible grey furry-papered pages and the awful little font that they’d crammed across each line minimizing the paper they’d need to print his glorious words. Shame! It didn’t faze me, though. No. Not for a second.

The next novel is already in its specially-labelled, Nette’s Planner for the next major masterpiece, book ready to go. The next picture book is already in its own special folder, ready to go. Actually, there’s a couple of novels in their own books, and at least five picture books and god-knows-how-many drawings and etchings and collections of appropriate materials and I live in fear of fading before the ideas do.

The stampede of new technology rides out with the ferocity of the Four Horsemen. It is exciting and mind-blowing and carries a language which changes and morphs before there’s time to learn it. As does the technology.

I mean, back to Sam’s. There I was, queued up with my new copy of Vernon et al and my Penguin Shower-Radio (my grandson’s eighteenth – I managed to get sunglasses to match – everyone should have a writer in the family if only to be truly amazed at what they can dream-up for a birthday present – a few days/months late usually) – and, right beside me on the chuck-out table was a digital voice recorder for the worldly sum of $10. Now, to all the new technophobes, this is a worthless object already past its use by date but for me… the ease, the possibility of such ease was outstanding. I mean, have you ever tried fumbling a mini-tape deck together in a traffic snarl to record the next line of the book and then discover that you’ve pressed the wrong button. #**!!

Oh, I ramble but there’s a lot there to ramble around.

Back to the future.

What will happen to me? Will I be the funny old thing in cabin 4 who likes a drink or two and gets a bit muddled in the midst of panel discussions? Will I drool onto my cross-buttoned blouse as I nod off when surrounded by subjects like the place of literature in an app and how much is it worth when matched to Barbie and The New Dancing Shoes.

Truly. What do I know?

I know that mastering writing is like catching water. I know that rejected writing is as wounding to your soul as it is to your pride and, as they say, if it doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger. And more determined.

I believe that story-telling and creating narrative are the most precious gifts that can be given and, like Jo, there’s a time to discover what else is out there beyond writing. A time to simply switch off – if you can.

I can’t.

Maybe it’s not time for me yet – even though I begin to feel the pull of different writing master…

So I guess, given a choice, I’ll just continue to write myself off.

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7 thoughts on “LIFE AFTER WRITING … Is there such a thing or do old writers simply write themselves off?

  1. Thanks so much for sharing, Nette, and for your brilliant sense of humour. When Jo told me she was quitting my first reaction was…jealousy. When I realised I was jealous I also realised it was time to take a long, hard look at my own life and my own choices. Sometimes it’s important to let go; it provides space for the new. OMG, now i sound like Julia Cameron. (who of course I love) 😉

  2. It was with relief that I read you have not written yourself off. I’m not sure I would like an Australian children’s writing industry without Nette Hilton in it. The Innocents is one of the books on my ‘never to be given away’ shelf, amongst many others by you.

    • That’s so true, Angela. Nette is a treasure! And I too, adored The Innocents – talk about a gripping read right down to the final page. I couldn’t stop reading – even while cooking a stir-fry. Health and Safety beware!

  3. Thank you Nette – that was awesome and I don’t use that word lightly – I use it with its full force. I rather like the concept of still having a enough brain cells to know that you are a a writer but not having enough to write what would be considered coherent. I believe the will be a new genre created as the baby boomers age and age and age. The writing will be a constant stream of consciousness with momentary glimpses of lucidity, but of such short duration they will not interrupt the flow. There won’t be chapters, paragraphs or indeed any of the rules of grammar and punctuation. They will probably appear in a moment of lucidity then disappear again. I believe this genre will become known as Dystopian bladder malfunction probably appealing to a niche audience who have enough brain cells to remember they are readers but not enough to be able to read and understand conventional written works. They will totally understand the format and ideas expressed in these new Dystopian bladder malfunction books.

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