I’d been thinking about writing a novel for some time before I wrote Burned. I had lots of ideas, particularly about characters, their personalities and things that might happen to them. But it took a while to put them all together. I knew, for example, that there would be a young boy called Noah in my story, I knew he was interested in space travel and I knew, unfortunately, that he would be bullied. But I didn’t know why or how.
Then, while visiting the UK a few years ago, I read a newspaper story about a homeless man who had died after being set on fire by some teenagers. The story haunted me and I couldn’t stop thinking about the man who had died, what his story was and why these kids had done such a terrible thing.
By the time I flew back to Sydney, I knew that a fictionalised version of this murder could provide a plot point for my story. I got home to Mosman and started writing. The first draft of Burned was done very quickly – it only took about six weeks. But there was a lot more work to do after that; over the next couple of years I wrote and rewrote, edited and polished my work. I had to fit writing Burned in around my day job as a freelance journalist so progress was pretty slow sometimes, but I took the manuscript with me whenever I had a few days away. Finally, after a week in Fiji towards the end of 2012, I realised that it was finished.
I read about the Random House National Seniors Literary Prize in the Australian Writers’ Centre enewsletter (http://www.writerscentre.com.au/). The theme for the competition was ‘change’ and I knew immediately that Burned fitted the brief. All four families in Burned experience great change, some for the better, some for the worse. So I crossed my fingers and submitted my entry.
I was with my son at high school orientation day early in 2013 when Brett Osmond, Marketing Director of Random House, called to tell me I’d won the competition. I was amazed to hear my book described as ‘the standout submission’ from more than 120 entries and that it would be professionally edited and published by Australia’s premier publishing house. Winning the award initially meant it would be published as an eBook, but interest has grown and there is now a print edition too.
A few days ago, I walked into Pages & Pages and saw Burned on the table. It’s hard to explain how I felt. Reading these few paragraphs it sounds as though writing the book and getting it published was straightforward. The truth is not that simple. Writing a book is a long and private process; it’s hard to know, especially for first-time authors like me, whether your book will ever see the light of day. But it’s satisfying, addictive and I’m now working on my next novel. Watch this space.
Persephone Nicholas is a UK born author and journalist now living in Mosman. Her first novel, Burned, was the winner of the Random House National Seniors Literary Prize 2013 and is available as an eBook and in print. Her blog about books and writing is at: http://thebookorme.blogspot.com.au/
She will be appearing at Pages & Pages on National Bookshop Day Saturday August 10