We’re nearly there. The thing that this time yesterday amounted to no more than a character and a situation looks like being released on schedule at midday as a book (free ebook at first, with print-on-demand paper copies available soon).
It’s called Willow Pattern. There’s a vase involved, in most chapters anyway, and maybe some sneaky willow pattern sub-text where no vase can be found. The cover designer was briefed last night at 7pm, and I haven’t yet seen the end result.
We met at 11am yesterday, with the starting gun fired at midday and draft uploads at least hourly thereafter. There were sandwiches and fruit, which evolved into a bewildering array of Tim Tams and then pizza, beer and wine. At 7pm the editors strode in in a pack, looking cool and purposeful (to quote Geoff Lemon: ‘What is this? Revervoir Dogs?’). Once the pizza was gone, so were they, back to their laptops waiting for the call to tell them to get started.
We writers were told to turn up without a story to write, and that’s what I did. I had a couple of characters who worked in radio and who were going to do an OB from the Qld State Library, either with flood waters rising or post-devastation. When we carved up the before, during and after in our pre-writing meeting yesterday, there were already quite a few contenders for before, so I opted for after. Two big-mouth radio jocks heading into flood zone, with a librarian ahead of them, and a vase, and a lost five-year-old girl.
If you’re thinking that I didn’t have a story, you’re right. I can’t even say confidently that I ended up with one. But I was eighth in a running order of nine, and the further in you get the more you have to realise you’re a part of a whole. So I was a scavenger, a hyena in the darkness at the edge of the camp, ducking in and out and grabbing what I could.
We had a story wall, and characters and ideas (large breasts, giant spiders …) were stuck on it as the day went on. They were appearing in someone’s chapter and, in the interests of something not as sensible as continuity but perhaps in the spirit of the game, I decided as many of them as possible would end up in mine too.
So, my chapter starts with two radio jocks who wear their crassness on their sleeve. It goes for cheap laughs, it veers towards poignancy – maybe – it throws in a trashed sand mandala and spiders and someone called Elroy, and then it eats itself when the radio guys stumble across a cluster of self-involved authors locked away to write a 24-hour book.
A lazy diversion, maybe, but that was my favourite bit. I was battling – or in fact blithely succumbing to – crazy tonal changes as I tried out different ideas, but this thing needed 500 words an hour, one hour after another. I wrote my way to 3000. I wrote my ending. I knew I was short. But I had the team to fall back on. So, I sat back and listened and a roomful of writers gave me all that I needed as they typed up a storm, stuck ideas on the wall and occasionally gave me dictation. I diced and spliced and got as close to my 5000 words as I needed to. So, thanks team. Thank you for being you, exactly when I needed you to be.
Not that it’s the other writers in my story in the end. It’s a bower-birded parody of writers, because the context yesterday was very different and because there was no fun in it for me otherwise. But there were seriously times when, for instance, I was typing a line in which one of my characters bleated about pizza and then someone two seats down from me came out with a better-worded version of the same line in real life.
Soon it’s not ours, it’s everyone’s. I haven’t read the other chapters and I don’t even know how my part reads after hours of overnight editing. All I know is what my editor, Jack Vening, put in a tweet: ‘I think it’s done. All I did was change all the full-stops to exclamation marks and title it “How To Do Karate by Nick Earls”‘
Bear in mind it’s the product of nine writers in lock-down in a windowless room with access to wine and beer and no grand plan to speak of. So, yes, parts of it appear to have veered towards porn (one was always intending to go there, but I’m suspecting it ended up with company). Don’t say I didn’t warn you, even if I don’t yet know what I’m warning you about.
But it’s yours at midday Brisbane time, if you’re game and have a device to read it on.
I’m not exactly sure how widely available it’ll be then, but if:book Australia’s 24-hour book is as good a place to start as any.