The story of my book: My Year Without Matches

At the start of 2011 I had a great idea.

I’d just left a primitive thatched hut after a year of wilderness survival skills and introspection. It was an archetypal story – a-woman-on-a-mission-of-self-discovery-in-the-wilds. There were ecstatic heights and existential lows, dangers and challenges, love affairs and conflict.

I’d write a book.

I did some research. According to Stephen King, if I pounded out 1000 words a day, in three months I’d have a draft. A friend from uni concurred, completing her successful travel memoir in about as much time. ‘Just do it’ she advised. How hard could it be? I knew the story. All I had to do was get it down. I rented a cabin on the edge of the rainforest and dragged a desk to the window

Six months later I’m slumped in the corner of a marquee at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival in my baggy volunteer T-shirt. I don’t know anyone. There are Successful Writers. And me. Nothing had gone to plan, my tales shriveling up like chip packets in the fire every time I tried to give them words. Instead of inspired creation, I would emerge from my timed four hours of writing hagged and cowering.

I listened to the Successful Writers. The Book was not always The Book, they said. It was for many years an unwieldy capricious beast that oftentimes pinned them to the ground screaming. Writing is hard, they said. You learn by writing. Keep going.

The following day I opened a new document. ‘Chapter 1’, I typed. And began again.

First I had to get my head around the genre. Drusilla Madjeska’s description of memoir helped; “Narrative makes structural demands that life doesn’t make – or give – and the intellectual puzzle of marrying these two incommensurable forces is one of writing’s labours.” I learnt how to massage real life to fit the requirements of an engaging story arc.

With a knee-high pile of journals to draw from I struggled to know what to tell and what to omit. I pictured the readers following in my tracks, what they would want to know; what would make them laugh, cringe, cry and inspire. The queasy feeling I would sometimes get in my stomach was the sign that I was onto something juicy, and not hiding behind safe storylines.

Writing, I discovered, was a physical as much as a mental process. In the afternoons I would take the words walking, my mind crunching through structural conundrums as I strode. Jogging helped, my feet pounding the gravel like my fingers on the keyboard. I would have to stop regularly to make sweaty notes on the notepad stuffed down my bra.

I sought editorial assistance. It’s good, she said. It’s hard. You’re learning. Keep going. I kept going. It was hard, bar occasional flashes of brilliance when words would knit together in magical union, expressing something I didn’t know I knew. I was learning.

However after almost three years and more blood, sweat and tears than I thought possible I stalled. Throwing it into the lap of the gods I entered the 2013 Byron Bay Manuscript Pitch Perfect competition. On stage I felt the story come alive again, words on the page leaping up like flames from a fire wanting to be read. I won. The fire spread. Suddenly I had an agent, publishers waiting. The recurring dreams I had while writing of me as mid-wife to interminable labours were replaced by a plump newborn. It had all been worth it.

My Year Without Matches: Escaping the City in Search of the Wild is available in-store and online now.