When Red Dust was on its way to being published, my nerves ran riot, I was unsure of the editing process and some days, things just got too much for me. I also had the deadline of Blue Skies hanging over my head and I was fairly sure that I wasn’t going to make it.
Enter Sharyn Munro! We met through our websites and Sharyn offered me straight, practical advice – most of which I took and my madness seem to retreat!
Sharyn and I have kept in contact and her life leaves me in awe. As a woman working in a man’s world, I understand how difficult it can be, but I have my husband to rely on if the generator won’t go or the header won’t start. Sharyn has only herself.
Living in a mudbrick, solar-powered hut, Sharyn has turned her mountain into a wildlife refuge, where even red-bellied black snakes are welcome – or at least relocated!
In her guest post, she tells you about her writing path to publication.
Sharyn will be popping back to answer any questions you might have – please ask! Or you can see her website – it’s worth a visit just to see her photos!
Growing up on a farm, any spare time from picking beans or packing tomatoes I spent indulging in the daydreamy pursuits of reading, writing or drawing.
From the time I was nine and allowed to go alone by bus to the town library, I have been hooked on books – and words, and the worlds they create.
My primary school teachers praised my compositions, but these would have been derivative pieces, with at least three adjectives per noun!
Much as I loved writing, it fell by the wayside as life dragged me through University, work, marriage, children – and divorce. After dozens of odd jobs, from teaching to selling spa baths, I had ended up writing copy for corporate newsletters and brochures; good training for precise and targeted language.
Otherwise, apart from sporadic jottings, my writing urges stayed buried until my children were grown up and I was back living in the bush. To be ready to accept turning 50, I made two vows on my 49th birthday: to stop dyeing my hair and to get serious about writing short stories.
For I love short stories; Alice Munro, Carol Shields and Jane Gardam write some of my favourites. Mine start with an observed or remembered scrap from real life; I imagine around it until the story takes flight into fiction – where to, I never know.
Treating writing as work, I revised my stories hard and often, cutting out all the purple prose bits that I secretly loved most, ensuring no bloopers of grammar or spelling or punctuation were lurking to baulk the reader and snap them out of the story.
I began sending stories off to competitions, and within two years little old grey-haired me had won a fairly major short story prize. There have been many since, including the Alan Marshall Award in 2002, a national prize that finally convinced me I was a proper writer.
I had also sent off a tongue-in-cheek contribution to the reader’s page of The Owner Builder magazine; they liked it so much they asked me to write for them – for money! Ten years later I still write articles about creative and persevering people who build their own homes, and still find it a privilege.
Yet I had no outlet for my jottings, funny or sad, about the animals and plants in my wildlife refuge, my struggles with sullen farm machinery, or my environmental concerns. After having many of these broadcast on ABC Radio National’s Bush Telegraph program, I approached Exisle, a non-fiction publisher, with the idea of a collection. They said only nature writers read nature writing; it had to have wider appeal.
So I devised a conversational, personal form of non-fiction, using selective memoir to weave the elements together. Exisle loved it and offered me a contract to write ‘The Woman on the Mountain’, which came out in 2007, causing me to be off the mountain more often, give many talks, and have a web site – which is how Fleur and I met.
Exisle then suggested a collection of tales about my wildlife neighbours for animal lovers to dip into; I illustrated them with black and white drawings, and so ‘Mountain Tails’ was born in 2009. An e-book on ‘Smart Shelter’ is almost out, and a collection of my stories is next, I hope.
Now, at 61, every day is potentially exciting because I may find time from chores like cutting firewood to sit at my Macbook and write.
It just shows that it’s never too late to reclaim dreams, to find that path you once knew well.
You can win a free copy of The Woman on the Mountain by Sharyn Munro!
Just comment on this blog post before Friday 5th of Februrary.
What a wonderful, inspirational story. You’re so right Sharyn, it’s never too late to reclaim our dreams!
Not sure I’m brave enough to give up all my hair colourings just yet… That would mean relinquishing the dream that I was still a blond surfie bum…
Sounds like you’ve prioritised your dreams and haven’t lost them anyway, but blondes can hang on to the hair dreams of youth longer than brunettes! Of course we know it’s all in the attitude…
Great post- and your hair looks fabulous!
I love reading how others came to publication, or their life dream at that… my mother decided to study medicine at the age of 40 and qualified at 50. It’s a similar story to yours- lots of work, and dedication, and talent, and that it’s never too late to reclaim dreams.
Thanks for sharing your story. Love hearing about the different roads to success – very inspirational.
Wow! Your inspirational story really struck a chord with me. I love that you never gave up on your dreams and that despite the challenges faced over the years, you have returned to pursuing a craft beloved since early childhood. I am sure you will have many more stories to tell and books to be published and I wish you every success!
Thanks for the compliment re the grey locks; I had to wait until my face caught up with that colour before quitting the dye but haven’t regretted it since. Good on your mother! And I hope my book passes on that ‘reclaim the dream’ message to many people.
Glad you enjoyed the post; many people found the book inspirational – as well as funny and moving – so that is very rewarding for me. We never know how life will turn out or what roads we’ll end up on – so long as we take a chance on one and start walking!
Thanks for those comments and good wishes. Reclaiming the dream of writing certainly made a nonsense of ‘old age’ for me –turning 62 on Friday! May you find your dream path too– when life gives you the space and time.
As somebody who loves to write but is atrocious at grammar do you have any suggestions? How important is it as a writer to have good grammar?
Truly inspirational, Sharyn. I’ve read through your blog a few times now, and found it just brilliant. I’m so jealous of you – how fun it would be to have all those native Australian animals running around in your very own backyard every day! Where I live in suburbia, we’re lucky to see a kookaburra…but one day hoping to move somewhere a little more nature friendly! Best wishes Sharyn 🙂
Like spelling, grammar is just a tool for you to communicate seamlessly with the reader, without making them stop short and wonder what you mean. So both are important for those reasons; these days, depending on the genre in which you write, ‘proper’ grammar is less strictly expected, to varying degrees.
Maybe keep your sentences short – less chance of going wrong – and try reading the sentences aloud to your self. Do they sound right? Do they make sense?
Most programs like Word have an auto grammar and spelling function– which I hate and always turn off – but you might find them useful.
The most important thing is the value of what you have to communicate; if it’s good enough or unique enough, an editor can fix the grammar for you later.
If you enjoy the blog, you’ll love the book. I am sure that, since you relate to nature so much, one day it will all come right for you to move closer to it. I did my penance in Sydney for 13 years! This feels like the real world to me here– I do hope you get your chance to find yours one day.
As an ’emerging’ writer (don’t you just love these tags!) I have just finished my first draft novel. Like you, I too had a deep set dream to write for many years and life just got in the way. There is a long, long way to go, but just reading both your story and Fleur’s, inspires me to go on and helps me reaffirm, dreams CAN come true. Thankyou for sharing your story. I also love the cover of your novel. It exudes the serenity of the mountains I look at, as I farm every day.
Lovely name, by the way. Agree about the tags– I don’t feel ‘established’! It’s terrific that you’ve got to this point. A novel is no easy work; I have one that I need to rewrite – again.
What you are doing is MAKING your dream come true.
I too loved the cover. Exisle have a great designer and the stock shot she chose was the perfect evocation of natural places like mine – and yours.
Best wishes for the ongoing development of your novel. You’ll get there.
Sounds like a lovely lifestyle on your mountain.
Well, Lynn, it suits me, and nourishes me, but not many say they would like the isolation– or the snakes. I think I’m very lucky to be able to live there.
I just can’t wait to escape into your world & The Woman on the Mountain
I hope you enjoy walking in my gumboots for a while. Let me know what you think!
Great post Sharyn. Your road to publication is very interesting. I thought I’d post even though I’ve missed the date. Better late than never, I say. 🙂
Your Novel, Women on the Mountain sounds intriguing and I just loved your photographs. Australia is indeed a beautiful place and the Hunter Valley, NSW. Not too far from me.