Novel nerves

Apologies for the lack of posts lately, but I have a good excuse. I’ve been trying to finish a first draft of my young adult novel before Baby Three arrives. I’ve been pretty disciplined, actually, writing for at least a few hours each day while the kids are at childcare. And, slowly, it’s coming together.

It makes me incredibly nervous writing a book set up here. Everyone knows everyone, and anything written has the potential to offend or make people feel misrepresented. This is the case with the mining families in town but I’m more worried about the Yolngu people in our community. There is a very fine line between showing reality and enforcing negative perceptions.

I talked through the plot with H, a fantastic female Yolngu teacher here, a year ago. It was one of the first things I did, before I even started writing. She gave it the nod and was quite excited about it. She offered to be my ‘Yolngu mind’. I had hopes of showing her bits and pieces of writing along the way, but quickly realized this was impractical. It would only waste her time: being my first novel a lot of what I wrote ended up in the scrap-pile anyway.

On the Saturday just passed, one year after our initial meeting, I sat on her verandah and we talked again. I repeated the general story of the main Yolngu character, a teenage girl, and was open about my concerns. To my relief H brushed them aside. She simply reiterated that that’s how life is here, and thought it all sounded realistic. She was incredibly open with advice on how things would play out culturally, and also about her own childhood and experiences here. I remember her telling me, a while ago, that she’s thought about writing a book about her own life. I really hope she does. It would be an incredible read.

In an ideal world I would’ve loved to co-write this novel with her. But, as with many of the strong women in this community, she already has many responsibilities and demands placed on her. I knew if I tried to collaborate the book would likely never get written. Still, I feel incredibly lucky to have her as a cultural consultant.

And so here I am, with an almost-finished first draft of a young adult novel and a baby due in two and a half weeks. I’m writing like a maniac trying to at least capture the general content and intentions of the last few chapters, even if the writing isn’t perfect. Once that’s done I want to give it to H and a few other women in the community to read – some are Yolngu, some are Ngapaki who have lived here many years. I’m scared as hell, but I want the book to feel authentic to the people who live here. Wish me luck.

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