Around 2004, back in my church-going days, I turned up at a morning service and noticed a guy of about my own age sitting in a pew by himself. Thinking that he looked a tad lonely, I sat down next to him and introduced myself. He told me that his name was David, and that he had just returned to Adelaide after a spell in Sydney. He said that he was an illustrator of children's books and was currently doing some work for a local publisher. At this my ears pricked up. At the time I was struggling away with early versions of what would eventually become the Ghost of Ping-Ling, and meeting someone with a foot in the publishing world was unusual and interesting. We talked for a little while, but I didn't mention my own writing. I hated talking to anyone about my writing in those days. For some (strange) reason, I felt that in doing so I might damage the fragile seed before it had any chance to bear fruit. It sounds crazy as I write it, but that's the mindset I was in.
Time went by, and I didn't get much of a chance to speak to David again as our paths didn't cross. But a buzz began to spread throughout the church community. It seemed David had written a book -- a fantasy -- which was going to be published sometime in the following year. As much as I wanted to grab him by the scruff of the neck and talk to him about it, I still couldn't bring myself to do it. Again, it was because of this sense that I was too early in my writing process, although now I think it was good old-fashioned fear -- fear that I would reveal my early writing attempts to someone and have them laugh at how woeful they were. So I kept silent, though I eagerly listened to any news of David's progress.
The book was published, and an email came inviting my wife and I to the launch. I replied that we would most definitely be there. When the date finally came, Pip and I headed to the SA Writer's Centre where a large crowd had already gathered for the night's celebration. I can vividly remember my sense of excitement as I climbed the stairs. The first thing that greeted me was an enormous poster showing a character from David's book, one of many that he drew himself. It was breathtakingly good, and so was the evening that followed. Sean Williams, a prolific and multi-award winning author based here in Adelaide, gave a speech, during which he asked what was in Adelaide's water to have so many fantasy authors come from here. Then David's publisher took the microphone and spoke about how the world he had created was so unique, and read a section from the book to prove it. Finally David spoke, and told of the long and often painful journey he had gone through in writing the book, and how amazing it was to be standing there on the cusp of becoming a published author.
I can't describe how I felt that night. I already knew I wanted to write. I had already written hundreds of thousands of words, dabbling in science fiction and fantasy, satire, children's writing, adult fantasy and YA. But I couldn't find my voice. I couldn't find the world of my stories, a world that seemed to hover on the edge of perception without ever showing itself clearly. The whole thing felt tantalisingly close, but still so far away, despite all my efforts.
Attending David's launch gave me a much needed boost. I can remember having coffee with Pip afterwards and saying that I needed to keep drilling away at my writing, and that one day I too would have a book launch like David's. I was even more determined, even more focused. If it meant wearing out fifty lap-tops and working my fingers down to stubs, no matter. I was going to chase it with all I had in me.
And that's what I did.
Who was that author? His name is D.M.Cornish, author of Monster Blood Tattoo, which has now won numerous awards and been published all over the world. And who was the publisher? Her name is Dyan Blacklock, of Omnibus Books, an imprint of Scholastic.
And, I'm very happy to report, she's now my publisher too.