LATELY I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude – sprung from Latin, connoting thankfulness, and trooping through old French and medieval Latin to arrive, in our century, as “the state of feeling grateful” as Collins Online defines it. There is something heart-warming about a word that retains its original meaning throughout the ages, working as a linguistic anchor in this age of rapid semantic shifts. Gratitude is my resting point in these final hectic days before I fly to New York for the biggest writing adventure of my life. The adventure interweaves three strands – field research, the New York Pitch Conference, and a manuscript appraisal project. If you’re guessing this whirlwind adventure sounds expensive, you’d be right. Coming in at around eight thousand dollars, I received about one eighth from a traditional source, and much of the remainder from a surprising and unorthodox source. Standing behind the source is a grisly story, pockmarked with fear and anxiety. But first – to the writing adventure.
Come Saturday the 22nd of September, I’ll be flying into JFK and testing an Airbnb at Queens before catching a train south to Philadelphia for three days of research. Over by Eastern State Penitentiary, I’ll immerse myself in the grotty, decaying atmosphere of a century-old prison, explore a cultist cave in Wissahickon Trail Park, and knock on the door of a private psychiatric institution. Late Tuesday I’ll return to NYC, meet my Australian friend, writer and conference companion, Suzie Strong, and together we’ll shoot the elevator up to the 16th floor of Manhattan’s 520 Eighth Avenue, Ripley Grier studios, to brave it out with twenty-plus other conference attendees, also signed up for September 2018 New York Pitch Conference. Run each quarter by Michael Neff and a suite of industry professionals, the conference has its own wiki entry, and is extensively marketed at http://newyorkpitchconference.com. For four consecutive days, mornings are taken up with workshops, and afternoons involve pitching to editors from major publishing houses including Penguin, Harper Collins, Random House, and St Martins’ Press. The goal is to pique editors’ interest sufficiently that they ask to read your manuscript. Though we may not all succeed in this, it’s a fairly sure bet we’ll make new friends and forge vital industry connections that, if nurtured sufficiently, could lead to a publishing deal later on. In any case, there is much to be said for pitching to improve the manuscript itself, and there’s sure value in learning how to transcend the fear of rejection and relax into the abyss.
Ripley Grier Studios in Manhattan
With our fourth and final pitch wrapped up on Sunday, we’ll chase down a tasty American gastropub before departing to our various destinations – New York, regional America, Canada, and Australia. By Monday morning, I’ll be riding the autumn-leaf express, the Adirondack Amtrak, north into the Canadian province of Quebec. Montreal forms the location of my protagonists’ early life, and my specific haunts will include the Ravenscrag mansion, Mount Royal hillside cemetery, and Olympic facilities for the 1976 Games. Once I’m back in Australia, I’ll integrate the research into my writing, and work with Christine Stewart, commissioned by Manuscript to Market, to help writers polish their manuscripts. Next I’ll be crafting agent query letters. If I am fortunate enough, I’ll sign with an agent who will seek out a publisher.
Vieux-Port de Montreal
The conference will undoubtedly open up opportunities, but I am also hoping it will bring closure. For the last two years I’ve been working with Victoria’s criminal justice system to bring a sex offender to justice. As a former elite-level gymnast, I’d always kept diaries, and writing became a form of security against the chaos unfolding at home, and my coach’s sexually exploitative moves. Three decades later I was prompted by the Royal Commission to tell my story to police. I approached a detective armed with what I’d written as a child. I was relieved he took my story seriously, proud that my mother was prepared to be a key witness, and for several long and difficult months, we investigated the extent of his offending. I was thankful that the Royal Commission on this issue triggered changes to the statute of limitations, so we could proceed. I am grateful the perpetrator pleaded guilty and that he showed contrition. It was equally gratifying to discover I could access compensation through a tribunal hearing. Compensation for the trauma itself is capped at eight thousand dollars, but there’s also capacity for a magistrate to award money for an event or opportunity the victim perceives as restorative. From time to time, magistrates will grant funds towards meditation or yoga retreats, should the argument be compelling enough. I detailed the role that writing plays in my life, not only for this instance of legal testimony, but as an intuitive form of therapy, and an avenue for creativity. My public aid lawyer said it would be unusual for the tribunal to grant money for a conference. It hadn’t been done before. Since there was little to lose, I prepared a submission, crossed my fingers and prayed.
With digits still crossed, I applied to the Sunshine Coast council for funding under their Regional Arts Development Program. Within six weeks, I was thrilled to receive word that this application had succeeded. It was gratifying to have the assistance of the council’s creative development officer, Saffron Drew, and a team that backed my conference proposal. It is always necessary, when making concurrent applications for funding, to appraise the other of progress. This avoids instances where candidates are twice paid for the same event. If my lucky stars aligned and I was granted the conference money I’d need to resubmit a variation to cover the manuscript appraisal service. Several months later I was delighted to find out the variation was approved. At last, funding for the research, manuscript appraisal and conference were married up. Remaining expenses came from personal reserves.
With my planning phase now over, I want to extend my gratitude to friends and relatives who have supported me throughout the criminal prosecution and beyond. My husband will take time off work to look after the children. A friend’s cousin living in Philadelphia has kindly offered me a room and writes “let me be your wheels.” My sister-in-law’s brother, a Manhattan resident, is sitting us down for cheap eats. My husband has put me in touch with a colleague whose daughter has NYC literary connections. Twitter’s connecting me to interviewees. Whatever the outcome of this literary adventure, I hope there’s an opportunity to reciprocate the goodwill, to provide other people with help, advice and support.
*The manuscript I’m pitching, called The Trophy Room, is loosely based on my real-life experience of working with detectives to track down a perpetrator. It’s about a middle-aged mum who works as a circus artist in Philly, but has unfinished business in Montreal. She’ll need to make her perpetrator confess, armed with nothing more than a clapped-out getaway car, a shabby training bag and a Netherland dwarf black rabbit.
*I’d like to acknowledge the contribution of the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland and the Sunshine Coast Council through the Regional Arts Development Fund.