Working with editors
I sent the ‘first’ draft of the Nim’s Island sequel in to my publisher and editor at Allen and Unwin two weeks ago, and was rewarded with a very fast read by the publisher – even better, she loved it and thought it was very close to finished. Even though it was actually the third draft, this is unusual for me: my early drafts are normally very shaky and tentative. I think what made the big difference this time was that being a sequel, I knew the characters, and the tone of the book. In fact, working on the film script has meant that I’ve spent the last two and a half years with these characters, their backgrounds and motivation, constantly in my mind, and so I know them more intimately than ever!
People often ask whether having worked on the film script will have changed my writing style, something that’s very hard for me to know, but my publisher thinks it has, in the way it’s strengthened action and plotting. It could be another reason this draft is further along than most of mine would be.
But of course the draft is a long way from perfect, and that’s why I really enjoy this part of the process: sometimes you know one part isn’t as clear, or as strong, or just as quite right as it should be. A good editor will point out what’s wrong, or sometimes simply confirm that’s something wrong, and give you another angle from which to look at it. With a sequel, it seemed to me that the biggest problem was knowing how much background information to give the readers who hadn’t read the first book, without making it clumsy and boring to people who had. My publisher gave me such a simple solution I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself! I love it when that happens. Or when I find her pencilled ‘delete?’ on a sentence that I’ve sweated over– and I realise that the reason I had to fiddle with it for hours is that it was never going to be right: it simply doesn’t belong on the page. So there’s a momentary sadness for that carefully crafted sentence, and a feeling of relief as I strike it out.
So as usual, I haven’t followed my plan for the month, because the first comments came back so quickly I started in immediately on the corrections. Best of all, life has been disrupted by my daughter Susan coming home from seven months of traveling. We’re having three weeks together before she starts her new professional life – so for these days, writing is not my first priority! If writing and reading are to reflect and enhance our lives, we’ve got to remember to live too…
Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio