Bundaberg Writers Club member Alina Bonaventura interviews Cheryse Durrant (that’s moi) in the lead-up to this year’s WriteFest:
Alina: Your debut novel The Blood She Betrayed was published six months ago and has since been shortlisted in a national award and seen a second print run. How does it feel to be a published author?
Cheryse: There’s this old joke about a dead writer at the Pearly Gates where St Peter lets her choose between Heaven and Hell once she’s toured both establishments. It turns out that in both Heaven and Hell, the writers were sweating it out 24/7, working their fingers to the bone as they typed out their latest masterpiece – but in Heaven, they were getting published. Getting a contract, seeing your first book in print and sipping champers at your book launch is incredibly exciting but what makes me happier is still the writing – shutting off from the rest of the world and sitting on the couch in my jammies and connecting with my characters. It’s great to receive fan mail but it doesn’t magically erase your everyday problems (earning an income and taking out the garbage). Worse, you’re juggling publishing deadlines, book promos, the day jobs and family. Being published is Heaven and Hell.
Alina: How did you set aside time to write The Blood She Betrayed while working ten-hour days in a full-time job?
Cheryse: I pulled a page out of fantasy author Louise Cusack’s book and woke at 4am every day so I could squeeze two hours of writing in before work. If you can only write a page a day, that routine will move mountains in helping you complete your manuscript and become a professional writer. I still fall off the band wagon all the time, but be kind to yourself. You’ll get more writing done if you reward yourself with honey, not caustic soda. Also:
- Follow Margie Lawson’s strategy: divide your to do jobs into two lists. The important/urgent stuff goes on the Winner’s List. Everything else (great ideas, but not essential to your goals) goes on the Superstar List. Always execute your Winner’s List first. Only do the Superstar List if you have time (or you want a fun break). This helps keep your goals on track (and stops you feeling exhausted and like you haven’t achieved what you really need to).
- Utilise the Pomodoro Technique, http://pomodorotechnique.com
A: What were your initial steps in getting published?
C: Do you mean when I was 17, 28 or 39? I’ve been writing stories since I was seven and I completed my first manuscript at 16. As a teen, I hunted out like-minded people, joined writing clubs and attended workshops/conferences (and I did a journalism degree). My journey wavered a lot because of my journalism career and life in general, but this advice remains the same:
- Write lots and finish your manuscripts – practice is vital in getting your voice and story right.
- Seek the advice and support of fellow writers – share your story with them, not family members or non-writers
- Read lots (fiction, non-fiction and writing how-to)
- Join the Queensland Writers Centre and a local writing club, and enrol in writing workshops and conferences (choose ones pertinent to your needs/genre). My top four are WriteFest, the RWA annual conference and the QWC’s Year of the Novel and Year of the Edit. If you write spec fic, you should also experience a con at least once in your lifetime.
- Put your finished manuscript away for 6-12 months before sending to a publisher. I’m serious. You’ll see it with new eyes.
- Study the markets and shortlist your top agents and/or publishers (RWA and other events like WriteFest are a fabulous way to pitch to publishers face-to-face)
A: How did you handle your first rejection?
- Friends are your gold dust and true friends are your diamonds. Cry on their shoulders.
- Have another story or MS still out there (either submitted into a competition or to another agent/publisher). This one publisher said no but the next might say yes.
- Google famous authors’ rejection letters and/or read examples of bad writing on the Internet. Your writing’s already a lot better than some stuff out there.
- Relax with a nice soak in the tub or a long walk along the beach. And drink lots of red wine J
- Give yourself permission to be sad for a short time then get back on the horse.
- I also have a ‘happiness’ file which includes beautiful images and inspirational quotes, as well as compliments and cards from readers (once upon a time, this was just critique letters from fellow writers – it’s grown over the past year).
Alina: How did your book end up being accepted by CDP?
Cheryse: The Blood She Betrayed had been languishing in an inbox at HarperCollins after it had been requested by an acquisitions editor 19 months earlier when I had the opportunity to pitch my book to Clan Destine Press Publisher Lindy Cameron at WriteFest two years ago. She flew to the Gold Coast where I was attending a writers conference later that year and offered me a three-book contract. I’d been selected to pitch to three editors and agents at that conference, but I accepted Lindy’s contract first. You just keep on going until you’re accepted.
A: What are your publishing highlights?
Cheryse: The many firsts: Seeing my first book cover, first Dymocks sales slip, first royalty cheque, first fan mail. It was extra special to share my first book launch with fellow CDP author and WriteFest sponsor Dean Anderson. He’s great company (even if he likes fishing). I was thrilled when my book was shortlisted in the ARR Awards – who would have thought that so many people had read and liked my book? Oh, and my fave memory of my Melbourne book tour was not the bookstores but sampling this fabulous chocolate pizza dessert with my Publisher at L’Uccellino, Yarraville. Being taken to lunch by your Publisher is pretty awesome.
Alina: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt?
Cheryse: I’m a Virgo and yearn for perfection but life’s not perfect and neither is your first book. Suck it up. Unless you self-publish, your Editor/Publisher will change things before your book is published. I didn’t even get to see the final proof of The Blood She Betrayed before it went to press, but no matter the bumps and thumps, I am published and many people have bought and loved my book. Love life, no matter its imperfections, and keep believing in yourself and what you’re doing. Everything else – just suck it up.
Alina: What’s your worst publishing experience?
Cheryse: When I returned to Bundy from my author tours in Queensland and Victoria, there was so much to catch up on. I felt overwhelmed. Every Author (and writer) needs a Degree in Juggling – and Patience – and Knowing When To Rest.
Alina: How do you handle the success and the juggling act?
Cheryse: Being an Author can be exhausting. As well as family, friends and day job, you need to make time for your social media presence and future Publisher deadlines. There are still radio interviews from last year that I haven’t uploaded to my website and I forgot to even record the last time I was interviewed on radio. There are days when it’s Heaven and days when it’s Hell, but if you write because you love it, you’ll keep loving it, no matter the challenges ahead. Oh, and if you think you’re about to take an axe to your husband, just lock yourself in a room and write. It really is the best therapy for all this roller coaster nonsense J
Alina: Has anyone bought your book’s film rights?
Cheryse: No, not yet. I guess Hugh Jackman’s still out of the country.
Alina: What’s the next big thing for Cheryse Durrant? And when can we read your next instalment, The Ghost She Killed?
Cheryse: All going well, TGSK will be published this year. I’m contracted to write two more books for CDP but I’m also rewriting a children’s fantasy trilogy, requested by another Aussie publisher, and a rural romance requested by CDP. Above all, I’m looking forward to seeing the achievements of my fellow authors and BWC members. I know there are a lot more WriteFest success stories just around the corner and I can’t wait to share their achievements and their books.
An extract from The Blood She Betrayed:
Tension threaded through her muscles as she shadowed the lean boy-man away from the mansion, sidestepping a gold-speckled toad in her path.
`It’s summer.’ His amber voice soothed her shot nerves. `Cane toads are all over the place.’
‘Are they edible?’
`Heck, no. They’re poisonous.’
`That is disappointing.’ Hunger gnawed at her insides.
`Do you like frog’s legs?’
Just the legs? She was hungry. She would eat the whole thing at the moment! `Are the legs your specialty?’
`Mine? I can’t cook to save myself.’
His distinctive scent, mingled with the tang of unfamiliar plants, stirred her hunger. It was more than she expected from this slight boy-man with unkempt chestnut hair. She bit her lip. He lacked a warrior’s muscular build or a magician’s runic hand, but the quality fabric and cut of his garments implied wealth. If he were the son of a nobleman, he could prove useful. If only…
She faltered as another spasm of hunger hit.
His heart tempted her with its thick, rich scent and strong, thudding beats. Not since Jada had she felt a response so raw and primeval. This Earthern was nothing like her betrothed but in a handful of minutes he had rekindled the darker cravings she had struggled to repress.
`Are you okay?’ His warm breath skated across her neck.
Trust no one. Find the Elnara. That was all she must focus on.
To download the first 12 chapters of The Blood She Betrayed for free (or check out Reece McPherson’s stunning book trailer), visit thebloodshebetrayed.com