Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Return of the Hobbit

When I was in primary school, I entered a short-story competition with a science-fiction tale I had written. Later, one of the teachers told me the judges thought the story was pretty good, but they couldn't make it the winner because it wasn't sufficiently "Australian" in theme.

I was thinking about this the other day, and I had an interesting thought (it happens, now and again). If Tolkien had been born here in Oz, would he have had to change his work to make it more acceptable to local publishers?

And so, to continue the Hobbit theme, here is a slightly "Ozzified" version of Tolkien's great work. And, a warning, it contains some authentically Australian swearing....

Chapter 1 - A Random Booze-Up.

In a shed at the back there lived a hobbit. Not a daggy shed – with bits of iron sticking up everywhere, undies on the washing line and a rusty Monaro out the back. Nor yet, some posh bugger’s palace, with a satellite dish and a pool and five cars parked on the street. It was a hobbit’s shed, and that meant bonza.

It had a fly-screen door with one of those gas tubes at the top, to stop it banging, and a beaut set of coloured danglers to keep the flies away. The door opened to a kitchen with a corker flower pattern of orange lino, a few deck-chairs, and a beer fridge – the hobbit had a lot of bludger mates. The shed went quite a way back, taking up a fair old slice of Yobbiton – as everyone called it, mainly because of all the Housing-Trust yobbos that lived there. There were no other rooms, no leaving the kitchen for the hobbit: the telly was on the bench, the sangers in the esky, the dunny a quick nip out to Fred McKenzie’s fruit-tree. The hobbit was on a good lurk.

By a bit of ripper luck, the hobbit was sitting outside in a deck-chair one day, drinking a tinnie, when Gandalf rocked up. Gandalf! You wouldn’t believe the goss I’ve heard about that old bugger – make your toenails curl. Shit hit the fan wherever he went, but it never seemed to stick. He’d been gone for a while - saving a princess from a fire-breathing, flesh-eating dragon, some said. Others said he was down the pub. Wherever he’d been, he was back.

He had an oil-stained flannel hat, a moth-eaten blue tank-top and a pair of steel-reinforced donga-boots, plus a cloud of flies that stuck to him like chewy on a blanket. He stank, too, worse than a drover’s jock-strap.

“G’day!” said Bilbo, and he was fair-dinkum. It was a beaut day, and the footy was on later.

Gandalf scratched noisily under his armpit and spat a big gold logie on the ground. “Whaddya mean, ‘G'day’? It is a bloody good day? It better be a bloody good day? It was a bloody good day until you came along?”

“Keep your hair on, grandpa.” Bilbo decided this old bloke was a wanker. He opened another VB, hoping he'd piss off.

Gandalf pulled a soggy looking rolly from behind his ear and stuck it in his gob. “Listen, Lofty, how ‘bout me and some mates roll round your place Wednesday for a few beers and some grub?” He lit his rolly and blew a big cloud of smoke nowhere in particular.

Bilbo threw an empty tin at the cat. “Whaddya reckon this is – bushweek?”

“Nah, nah, hear me out.” The ciggy waggled up and down in Gandalf's cakehole as he spoke. “There’s a bit of bizzo to discuss, something that might float your boat.”

“Bizzo? What kind of bizzo?” Bilbo wondered whether this old codger might be a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

Gandalf cast a quick squiz over his shoulder. “You, me, a bunch of dwarfs, trolls, giant-spiders – and a bloody big pile of jewellery.”

"No thanks." Bilbo shook his head and grabbed another beer. “I hate Sydney.”

Monday, August 10, 2009

Gearing Up

I'm now starting to think towards finally finishing The Ghost of Ping-Ling and dumping it on the creaking treadmill that is the whole submission process. My aim is to post all remaining chapters on OWW, get as much feedback as I can, and send it off around early September.

I love the book - I love the way it's grown and developed from a scratchy, badly-written satire eight years ago to where it is today. The characters and the world have evolved beyond anything I ever expected, and I'm proud of what it has become. But I have to say, I won't be sorry to put it down and move on to something else. There comes a point where you shouldn't edit any more, you can't easily improve further, and you need to stand at the front gate waving your hanky while your baby goes out into the world. Otherwise, you risk it becoming "The Book", the one that chews up years and stops you ever doing anything else, and perhaps isn't going where you thought it would, anyway.

So - this leaves me thinking about where to send it. I did some early querying a few months back, just to test the waters and get a feel for the whole process. I can now say, I know exactly what a rejection letter looks like, in various flavours. I also know how not to write a query letter. Time well spent.

This time though, I've been looking at a local publisher, Omnibus, a division of Scholastic based right here in good-old Adelaide. They have a very different submissions approach, which I initially thought was only just this side of barking-mad, but now I think might actually make sense. To submit to Omnibus, you send your manuscript. That's it. There's no query, no synopsis, just a basic cover letter giving your details and what you want them to do with the manuscript if you're not successful (ie shred it, burn it, paper the walls with it etc.). The only down side is that their current turn-around time is four months, and they expect you not to submit to any other publisher in that time.

But, here's the thing. My presumption is that if your book stinks, you won't have to wait four months before they tell you. It usually takes a matter of minutes to work that out, and normally doesn't require a reader going past the first few pages. I would have thought that if they hold on to your book for the full four months, things are looking up. Especially since, according to their website, they like to get several different people reading the submissions.

Of course, I could be totally wrong, and end up waiting four months to be told that actually, my manuscript stinks. And several people said so.

Either way, once I do get around to making the submission, this will be an absolute first for me. It will be the only time I've submitted a manuscript and dreaded getting a quick response.

I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Hobbit Post

A couple of times in the last few months, Nathan Bransford (an agent in the US - see his link on the right) has held a competition for people to submit articles to be posted on his blog. Initially, this was to cover a gap while he went away for a week, but the whole thing worked so well he decided to hold the competition again. On a whim, I thought I might submit a post I wrote way back in May - a pretend agent letter from a fictitious agent to JRR Tolkien, rejecting his submission for the Hobbit. I woke up on Saturday morning to find Nathan had selected the article, and all being well, it will appear on his blog on Thursday (late in the evening our time). Please check it out - as well as the other guest blog articles that will be running all this week - if they're as good as they were last time, we're in for a fun ride!

Professor Tolkien is said to have used the agent's letter to light his pipe.