Learning to love Blue and Lonesome When You Go are both available right now – try your favourite online store, request them at your local library and bookstore, or send a message to Saradha here. Thanks for watching!
After having four books published through small independent publishing houses in New Zealand I have just released my first self-published title. My experiences have all been positive, but have ranged widely from the quintessential bookstore book launch, to crowd funding, to author collaboration and carrying boxes of books home to sell myself.
I decided to self-publish Learning to love Blue as it’s the sequel to my debut YA novel Lonesome When You Go and was proving tricky to find a home for. I was also curious about the self-publishing process.
Thanks to some very supportive Facebook groups and an inheritance from my grandparents, I was able to figure out an approach that seemed, well, approachable. I chose to use Ingramspark’s print on demand service, and set up the imprint Record Press
I was interviewed by my self(publisher) over on Medium – have a read!
The world is told to self-isolate just
as I might feel like mingling with the world again
I get Friday mornings off to shower, cut my nails
drink tea while it’s still hot. Rainbows in the living room
I walk around the block
collect two fallen frangipani flowers
an autumn garden inconsistency. Summer
a blur of pregnancy birth baby
two months measured out in feeds and naps
tears, each week I walk this walk a little quicker
each week things get better
before they get hard again, but mostly
there are more good days than tricky days
and never do I call them bad days.
One of my flowers blows to the ground
face-plants grass, stem to the sky
the other I hold as I write, bringing it to my nose
with each pause of the pen, sun-warmed
black-clad body, cheap kmart shapewear
holds my weakened core together
I swing my briefly baby-free arms about
the scent of good days and tricky days ahead.
but really they’ve become
sleeping late under a pile of cats days
letting my washed hair dry in the sun days
lunchtime yoga class followed by lunch days
reading poetry in a café, scribbling notes in my journal days
slow stride along the bike path back to the space
where maidenhair ferns its way down one wall
devil’s ivy curls its lips like leaves to the light
thick arms of monstera press against the corner window
obscuring a laundry line of last week’s life
the heartbeat rhythm of solitude, solace, self-solicitude days.
I take a blood test like an exam; am told I have high cholesterol and low vitamin D. The numbers bold and red on the print-out. Sun’s been lazy recently, and I hunt down supplements like little drops of captured light.
Yesterday in bed my thin brown forearm came into focus, resting across both bodies. A crease at the crook of my elbow and familiar freckles, a pebbled path towards my aging wrist, hand, fingers, nails that need cutting. This has always been my arm, I thought, this has been me all along.
I catch the train twice a day and every time I don’t miss it I’m reminded I’m a capable human being.
I write my books, I teach my classes, I strengthen my core and take vitamins. I lie in bed late as the sun streams in from the other side of the sky.
Here’s another little snippet of my somewhat-unwieldy current work in progress, called Dear Billy… This scene is set in 1991.
I’m pretty sure Danny woke me, but he’s teasing that I woke him when I traipsed clumsily down the hallway. Mum’s out of bed now too and we’re all eyeing up the Christmas tree in the semi-dark.
Danny says he was just getting a drink of water.
‘Well I can’t sleep,’ I whine
‘It is technically Christmas day,’ he says pointing at the glowing digits on the microwave that shine out a time so unfamiliar it takes me a while to figure out.
‘It’s past three in the morning!’ Mum wraps her dressing gown tighter around her, frowns, and folds her arms.
‘Yes, technically Christmas day.’ Danny knows how to disarm Mum, with his cheeky smile that comes out so rarely these days. ‘And we are all up,’ he says.
Mum rolls her eyes, but it’s already decided and there’s no going back once she’s flicked the switch on the kettle. My brother gives me a wink.
We agree the first thing we should open is the gift basket from one of Mum’s colleagues, since it’s covered in cellophane and we can mostly see what’s in it already. The rustle of unwrapping wakes the butterflies in my tummy. Mum pulls out some boring looking crackers, a small bag of candied nuts, a solid brick of real coffee that smells horrible and some nougat. Pretty disappointing.
‘Where’s the chocolate?’ I ask, rummaging through the discarded cellophane.
‘Ooh this looks good though – blackcurrant honey,’ Mum reads from the label. ‘Yum!’ She leaps up suddenly with the jar in her hands and heads back to the kitchen, which is now full of steam from the franticly boiling kettle. She pops some bread in the toaster.
‘I’m having blackcurrant honey on toast!’ She calls out.
We laugh at her excitement. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mum at three in the morning before.
‘Okay, well, me too!’ I call back.
‘Okay.’ She whispers loudly and peers around the kitchen door. ‘But, let’s not wake…’ she points to the ceiling which represents the couple upstairs. Our landlords.
‘Okay.’ I whisper back
‘Okay, okay.’ We whisper at each other and laugh.
I choose the next present to open and hand it to Danny. I’m grinning with excitement as he takes it and feigns complete shock at receiving something. I can’t sit still. He unwraps it carefully, knowing how long I spent in my room wrapping and compiling the items from my trip to the mall last week. He probably knows how long I’d been saving my pocket money for too, since he’s had to do the same. His reaction when he opens it is better than I could have hoped for.
By the time the sun comes up the three of us are a pile of shiny new things and ripped wrapping paper, sticky with blackcurrant honey. Mum’s beaming smile at every silly little gift she opened from us was completely priceless. She’s had a million cups of tea and no one’s even mentioned the gap under the tree where presents from Dad should’ve been.
Here’s a little snippety-bit of a scene I wrote this morning, from a larger work-in-progress called Dear Billy… This scene is set in 1996.
Harriet’s dancing self-consciously in the kitchen, still with bottle in hand and white dress looking only slightly worse for wear. Mark catches me watching him watch her and smiles, but only with his mouth. He pushes himself up from his doorway lean and moves over to me.
‘How are you still so compos mentis while your friends are completely wasted?’
‘Who said I was compos mentis?’ I’m not entirely sure what it means, but it doesn’t sound like how I’m feeling right now. The room is spinning gently and I’ve been standing at the kitchen bench gorging on corn chips like an animal.
‘You look very together. You can hold your booze.’ I can’t tell if it’s admiration or accusation as he looks me up and down.
‘I haven’t had that much to drink,’ I lie.
Mark leans across the bench towards me, which forces me to lean in too, his warm whispery breath is on my cheek and I close my eyes. The room spins more predictably now. Like I’ve tuned into the rhythm of it and it kind of makes sense. His voice is soft and low.
‘Most of the people here are morons, Sam Knox. Killing off their brain cells and flailing around.’
I smile, but keep my eyes closed, keep still. His breath smells boozey and smokey. He uses words no one else does.
‘I’m not saying I’m any better than any of them, Sam, but you probably are. You look like someone with better things to do.’
I open my eyes and shake my head, ‘No, no I’m having fun. It’s a good party.’
Mark grins at my protest, ‘you don’t have to be polite. Parties can be stupid. Wanna go for a walk?’
Outside I think about the cuddly jersey lying on the floor of my room. At least I have stockings on, but my skirt is short and jacket open.
‘Love the Soundgarden t-shirt, by the way.’ Mark says this without looking at me but puts his arm out just in time for me to grab as my shoe fails beneath me.
Ant gave me the t-shirt for our four month anniversary, but something stops me from adding that piece of information. I mean it would be the perfect opportunity to mention my boyfriend. I let go of his arm.
‘Maybe walking wasn’t the best idea.’ He looks at me now. There’s that slightly creepy edge again and I wonder if it’s actually just how he smiles. ‘Those are very high shoes.’
It’s true, but his noticing makes me feel silly and girly. Who am I tonight anyway?
At the end of the street is a small park. There’s something invigorating about the cold air and starless night. Mark holds the end of a see-saw down for me and I get on, hitching my skirt high without even thinking about it. He gets on the other end and slowly bends his knees to lift and lower me. My feet don’t quite touch the ground when I’m in the air and that moment of lost control makes my stomach flip a bit.
‘So what’s your life like, Sam Knox?’ Up.
‘My life?’ Down.
‘Yeah, your life. Is it good, bad, has life been kind so far?’
I give it a moment’s thought as my legs dangle. How can I even be the judge of that?
‘I guess life’s been kind. I mean my dad’s a jerk, but he hasn’t come round in a while. My mum’s cool and my brother’s super smart.’
‘Ah family eh. What about you though? Who are you?’
‘Ha I’m Sam Knox!’ It comes out louder than I mean it to and I quickly cover my mouth with my hand, losing balance on my end for a moment.
‘Woah! Are you okay?’ Mark asks but simultaneously jolts the see-saw. I squeal and grab on tight. He jolts again and my heart starts to pound.
‘Wait stop!’ He doesn’t. ‘Stop! I said stop!’
‘Okay sorry, sorry.’ He straightens his legs so he’s at the top and I’m on the ground catching my breath. ‘You’re okay?’
I quickly clamber to my feet before he can move us again. My end of the see-saw rises and Mark ends up on the ground.
‘I’m okay.’ I look beyond him to the dark tree shapes, their leafy tops flailing gently.
‘Sam Knox.’ He says. ‘You’re Sam Knox.’ When I look at him he’s smiling, eyes and all. I almost smile back.
It’s been a difficult couple of months. Individually, universally. Hell, it’s been a tough few years if you really want to start scraping back through it all and trying to remember the last time you sat still, looked around at your personal, professional and creative life and thought, Yeah, things are okay. I wish I’d made better note of those moments of contentment, but perhaps that would have shifted them out of the present and it’s being present in those moments that makes one content.
I’ve been counting words – proud of a year spent launching a novel and working on two more. Gathering poems into a third collection and reading everything I can find. But in there somewhere I lost count. Lost track of how to hold onto what was mine, lost count of the number of job applications, inquiries and rejection letters, the social interactions cancelled or rain-checked beyond redemption. I can’t bear to try and count the heartbreaks and moments of self-doubt of the last few years.
I have, however, counted the flights. 21 international flights in the last two years, 10 since moving to Melbourne. There have been adventures and family celebrations and always something good waiting at each end – but counting and losing count has made me exhausted.
My last flight back to Wellington landed 24 hours before the 7.8 quake last month and as lovely as it was to see my family and friends and know they wanted me there so they could check in, hug me and try to settle me after what felt like a complete life-fail, I got the strong sense Wellington was trying to shake me free. Again.
But slowly the after-shocks stopped and things seemed to shuffle into a shape I could make sense of. The feeling that home wasn’t quite home anymore, the outrage or compassion my friends expressed on my behalf at the situation I’d found myself in, the daily routine and purpose my brother provided and the obstacle-ridden journey my mum endured to come and see me, care for me and give me a copy of Sarah Laing’s Mansfield and Me all helped me feel like me again.
There’s something pretty special about Sarah’s book. Reading about her journey juxtaposed with that of our shared literary hero, Katherine Mansfield, reminded me of what I need: To stop counting, stop flying, sit still again and write. To be somewhere that could become home, somewhere bright, open, flat and stable beneath the feet. Somewhere I can keep putting my words down, one after the other and build something, anything, that looks like a life. And sure I need love and connections; to be honest with the people around me, to ask for help and show others I can help them too, but right now I just need to stay alive and to write.
Back in Melbourne and every day I feel slightly different. Last week, when the moment felt right, I cycled round to look at a spare room in a cottage on Mansfield Street. Stained-glass bay window, picket fence. In Thornbury, but it would not be out of place in Thorndon. I thought of Sarah moving to New York and Katherine moving to London and me, now, with all this hope and determination despite what feels like months of disappointment.
So I’ve moved to Mansfield Street, into a room of my own. The wifi’s dodgy and we don’t have a kettle, but my optimism is boundless. It surprises me sometimes.
I spent my Saturday finishing reading The Best of Adam Sharp. On Sunday I caught the train to Yarraville to attend the book’s local launch in the chilly-but-welcoming Masonic Hall. Yarraville is adorable, I had no idea. The hall was full of intimidatingly accomplished writers whose first novels have been optioned by Sony or Universal. The launch began with a reading from Jane Rawson, a novelist whose debut is purportedly “Australia’s most underrated book” As I drank my cup of sav, held in still-gloved hands, I wondered if that is in fact the greatest literary accomplishment I’ve ever heard of.
It was wonderful listening to Graeme talk about his writing – the rush to fame The Rosie Project brought him and the philosophical way he’s had to deal with Hollywood and oddly out of touch US publishers. The descriptions of the writing process for The Best of Adam Sharp made the novel all the more real and I even squirreled away some tips for developing an original plot.
There was an intriguing connection for me here too – Graeme sent me a signed copy of The Best of Adam Sharp after finding my book and recognising the Dylan reference of the title. I liked that link a lot. It’s the kind of thing that musical references should do and is hugely fitting when thinking about The Best of Adam Sharp – a book so imbued with the sentimentality, nostalgia, subtext and at times obsession that songs and their lyrics can be responsible for in our lives.
At one point Adam recalls his dad’s advice after he’s been caught out, “Think about what you sing in the shower” and I’m reminded of my Grandad (who passed away a year ago today) whose mood and thoughts could apparently be traced easily to the tune he was whistling. The songs in our heads are not set to random and they are liable to tell tales on us.
But of course we will cherry-pick the lyrics that have the most significance for us, Adam reminds us. We can connect with a song on even the most tenuous level if we are truly and desperately looking for a connection.
I really enjoyed The Best of Adam Sharp. The soundtrack made me feel like Lonesome When You Go had found its nostalgic and somewhat rueful parent; the scenes in France felt cinematic, making me want to be there, perhaps not for the drama but definitely for the wine; and the themes of second chances, what if, longing for something that never quite was could bring tears to your eyes.
Dylanesque symbolism for this theme crossed my mind briefly as I waited on the Yarraville platform for the train home.
I’m teaching again. Students smile at me and say hi as we pass in the corridor. Sometimes they ask how I am. When we’re practising writing they might ask me the name of that feeling like butterflies in your stomach, but not excitement. It’s anxiety I tell them. Oh, anxiousness, they say.
On Monday and Wednesday lunchtimes I’m on yard duty. I have to shoo all the students out of the corridors and I have a walky-talky that I assume works, but have never used, except to pretend to call for back-up when someone’s trying to ask too many questions of me. I hold it near my mouth and make a fake static noise. Kkkkkk. They get the idea and move on.
Today a bird was trapped inside. There was a warm breeze and the sun was out, but that bird was obsessed with the unopenable window at the top of the stairs; wouldn’t move from the windowsill. It fluttered its wings like the butterflies in our stomachs, oblivious to the door we’d opened at the end of the empty corridor.