Every successful author has a first novel – the one that started it all and paved the way for what followed. Fortunes may shift up and down, but you are a first-time novelist just once. And like many other ‘first times’, there’s often a story to be told.
Here’s Nick Earls, Brisbane-based popular fiction author…
“It was a long time ago, but not that long ago. Well, I had a collection of short stories published 22 years ago — yeah, in 1992. That had sold 900 copies, mostly to my mother…
“But it got me an agent. It was short-listed for an award and it got me an agent and that sort of changed the situation I was in slightly, because it meant that I could connect more effectively with the industry. I think the industry has changed a bit now, you can connect with the industry worldwide electronically, but 20 years or so ago that really wasn’t the case.
“Then in 1995 I took the pile of notes that I had been compiling for a few years and I wrote a novel. I entered it in the Vogel Competition for writers under 35, as I then was. It didn’t get short-listed by the judges, but [publishers] Allen & Unwin read every entry anyway.
“They read it and they held it back and held it back and held it back, thinking about whether they would sign it up or not. They signed up the winner and the signed up the runner up and they signed up the next one from the judges’ shortlist and they decided that they just couldn’t quite stretch to signing four books.
“So, it didn’t get picked up in the Vogels, but my agent told me that Laura Patterson, who had just become an associate publisher at Transworld was at the start of putting together a new Australian fiction list. She would be at the Brisbane’s Writers’ Festival and coming to the young writers nighttime event that I was part of. My agent said, ‘Pick your best life’s work, get it in great shape, catch her attention, she’s the next one we’ll try with.’ So I did.
“I picked a piece that was designed to work live. I got so stressed about it that afternoon I had a migraine, so I had to medicate myself and lie down for several hours. Then I stopped vomiting, as I got up, in a fairly dishevelled state, which only suited the story, I got up and I gave it everything. The next day Laura Patterson came up to me and said, ‘I hear you have a novel manuscript, I would like to read it.’ That was Zigzag Street and she published it a year later.
“That is what it took to make that come about. What I’ve tried to do since then is cut out the migraine and cut out the vomiting and just focus on giving it my best.”