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19-Jan-2010

Reading Time

The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler was one of those long-term projects that authors sometimes embark upon. They’re not meant to be long term – they just become that way. Authors get asked what they do when they encounter writers’ block. I don’t suffer blocks too often, but when I do I start another book. Toby was started for this reason. I was working on the 'Maximus Black' trilogy (think Artemis Fowl’s evil twin) and became stuck. So was born Toby Chrysler. But then I became unstuck with Maximus, so I put Toby to one side.
In the interim, I decided I wanted to start publishing again. I was a publisher during the 70s and 80s. I actually published Australia’s first heroic/epic fantasy novels, long before the major publishers started their fantasy lists. Several other things happened, too. For instance, I was commissioned to write a stack of chapter books (authors have to eat, too!).
So Toby waited patiently in line while I sidetracked myself. The trouble is that Ford Street Publishing swamped even 'Maximus Black'. My first list of two books for 2007 became seven in 2008, and eight in 2009. This year will see roughly ten Ford Street titles.
'Maximus', being a trilogy, was taking way too long to write and I was eager to get back to Toby. Although publishing seven to eight books a year doesn’t sound too hectic, it’s easy to forget that the major publishers have staff to edit, do accounts, market/publicity, proofread, design, liaise with authors and illustrators, write contracts, apply for grants and initiatives etc, etc. With a small press, it’s usually just one person that does all that.
So I wrote Toby in dribs and drabs whenever I had a chance. I knew I wanted a character, Fluke, to have a certain character trait. He would speak in malapropisms. So in The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler, a decaffeinated coffee becomes a decapitated coffee; for all intent and purposes becomes for all intensive purposes; charity begins at home becomes clarity begins at home. The trick is to make sure the verbal gaffes all relate to the actual story. Some of my favourite malapropisms are ‘the town was flooded and everyone had to be evaporated’; ‘dysentery in the ranks’; and of course, Kath and Kim’s friends who ‘are very effluent’.
Authors put more thought into characters’ names than most readers would realise. Think of some of your favourite characters and reflect, for a moment, on their sound. Some of my favourites are Modesty Blaise, Artemis Fowl and Tom Natsworthy. Many of the names in the Harry Potter books have Latin meanings that tie in nicely with the characters’ personalities.
My own characters’ names come from anecdotal stories. Toby is nicknamed Milo, because he’s not Quik (a teacher once related how a student was referred to as Milo for this reason!). Fluke was named after his mother tried conceiving on the IVF program, gave up, then conceived. Hence, Fluke. (I read about that one in a newspaper.)
Three years in the making (or is that the writing?!), I wondered where I could send The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler. The publisher I’d intended it for had been subsumed by a multinational and had put a stop to local publishing for a while. Actors get typecast, and it’s not unusual for authors to suffer the same straightjacket. Most know me as a science fiction writer – I don’t know why this is because I’ve written many more fantasy novels than science fiction novels, but there you are!
So taking a leaf from Doris Lessing’s book (she sent two manuscripts to publishers under a pseudonym), I sent the manuscript to all the major publishers under another name. Like Doris Lessing’s effort, it was rejected. One publisher did say I could send more of my work because I ‘showed promise’.
But one leading editor loved it and recommended another publisher because – you’ll see a repeating theme here! – the company he worked for was also being subsumed by another publisher. So I took up his suggestion and waited ... and waited. And despite having a great recommendation from this eminent editor, my manuscript waited in a slush pile for four months. I enquired about it, but received no reply.
I waited another month before withdrawing the manuscript. The publisher then said it was nearing the top of the pile to be read. Now this is a very subjective statement. The slush pile could be a mile high, and three quarters way near the top is months away from being read, but is still ‘nearing the top’, right?
I was then faced with a dire predicament. Where could I submit my new book? I was tempted to send it around again but with my name on it, but being the stubborn person that I am (some would call me perverse), I discarded that thought.
So with all the major publishers out of contention, I decided it’d have to be a small press. I could have published it myself under the Ford Street imprint, but I’m reluctant to publish my own work, even though it has to pass through an editorial meeting with Hybrid Publisher, Louis de Vries and Managing Editor Anna Blay (Ford Street is an imprint of Hybrid).
However, I was judging a writing competition called the Charlotte Duncan Award at the time. Celapene Press was the publisher. So, still under the pseudonym, I sent Toby to Kathryn Duncan, the publisher at Celapene.
And the startling news is that it was accepted within four days and four months later it was published. Accepted and published in less time than it had been in some publishers’ slush piles. And this, in my humble opinion, is one of the strengths of the small press.
So there you have the story-behind-the-story – it possibly reads more like the slightly skewed life of the author, hey?!
A friend offered to create a trailer for me and you can view it at: http://tinyurl.com/y8ugxd2
www.celapenepress.com.au

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