We live in a culture that shapes lives into narratives, and those narratives become an inevitability. As though there could only be one way forward, our lives as precise and obvious as Newtonian Physics. We live in a culture built on the idea of hard work, of endless trackable progress, of failure just being a pit stop to success, but that success or fulfillment is also an unreachable horizon, tracking away from us as fast as we move towards it. We don’t let ourselves pause because there is always onwards and upwards, even as our bodies tell us otherwise (and they always do late or early in our lives, but they always do).
We tell ourselves these stories even if we don’t quite believe them. We exist inside our aphorisms because they possess a certainty that life doesn’t. We know, deep down, that life is much more nebulous, uncertain, painful, and given to fits and starts and all the unreasoning assaults of the world.
But we do it to stay sane, I guess, to quiet the world. Or maybe we don’t; maybe it’s just me.
Every book I write is written in that uncertainty.
Looking back there seems a certain inevitability to Day Boy’s publication, but, really, there was nothing of the sort. My hard-drive, the many, many notebooks I have lying around, attest to the brevity of my literary enthusiasms (though I do tend to finish things, that finishing can take a long, long time – I reckon seven years for most books, though that’s spread amongst many projects so it never seems that long)
In 2006 I quit my job to write full time. To be honest, I was in part talked into it by Diana – because she is ridiculously supportive (and was probably tired of my whining). I’d published a lot of short stories, written a couple of novels, won an Aurealis award, edited a magazine and a novel (both of which won awards, well, the magazine’s stories did and that novel was a sublime thing that I really think was beyond my abilities to do anything but limit the amount of harm I did to it) but felt like I wasn’t making any progress. I’d decided after about ten years of short story writing that what I really wanted to write were novels, and not just write them but convince someone to publish them.
I thought I was pretty good at it (that writing thing), but I’d let my career aspirations slide. If you’re going to be a novelist, you should really try and make a decent fist of it. (Now, this is me looking back seven years: memory really is a dodgy recorder of motives, it loves to rewrite everything. Maybe I just liked the idea of napping in the afternoons).
In that first flush of free-time I finished yet another draft of Roil, a bit of what was to become Death Most Definite, but was then called Walking Talking (what a horrible name, but I could never get the title quite right on that one) and (predictably enough a bunch of short stories one of which was Day Boy). So that is roughly nine years ago.
Day Boy began as that short story, part of which is a bit of a scene in one of the later chapters of the book. I was also working on a short story called Cracks. Both Day Boy and Cracks were me playing with a particular sort of voice, and both (believe it or not) are set in the same world. Day Boy had hints of a father son relationship (but it wasn’t all that developed) and Cracks was about mothers and daughters. Both were about very dysfunctional relationships of course (functional holds less narrative promise). And both were published in 2008. Cracks in that wonderful and early to the party YA E-magazine Shiny – and it won an Aurealis Award. And Day Boy in the magazine Murky Depths – and it was shortlisted for an AA as well, though it didn’t win.
Both shorts felt pretty self-contained and like they could be built into novels. Day Boy was the least developed of the two, which is part of the reason I felt so attracted to it as a novel – I’d left myself room to immediately move (Ha! Look at the above date, NOTHING immediate about it).
I wrote a first chapter for Day Boy (which is now about the third or fourth chapter) and started dreaming about the world which made me think I was onto a good thing – not that I needed to think it, I knew it in my gut, in that strong and extremely fragile way writers know things about their books, but which none-the-less sustains them for the weeks, months, and years it takes to finish a book.
But then I sold Death Most Definite to Orbit, and I sold it as three books. Which meant I had to work on rewrites of DMD, and produce the other two. About a year later I sold Roil and Night’s Engines to Angry Robot and I was writing and planning and so on three books at the same time set in different worlds, I was also working at Avid Reader Bookstore (more about that wonderful place later) and teaching at QUT. We moved house as well at this time. And then my wonderful, supportive wife got very ill – that’s another story altogether, and one central to this as well – but lets stick to keeping a relatively simple through line. What it came down to was this – it was crazy.
But you do what you can to pay the bills – or as many as you can pay.
What it meant was I’d achieved a major dream, but Day Boy was put on the back burner.