The other day I was lucky enough to meet Bryce Courtenay, who gave me some excellent advice on how to survive in the publishing world. Bryce has sold millions of books… I think he said he’d sold something like 17 million copies of The Power of One (it may have been even more, but we were drinking French champagne at the time). I replied that Burqalicious – The Dubai Diaries had probably sold 17, total, so far, although at this point I have no idea, really. I was humbled though, to say the least.
Bryce apparently writes for 12 hours a day. That’s dedication innit! I have the attention spat of a gnat; most days it takes me hours to stop faffing about and get a sentence down. I think I’m a product of my frantic, chaotic environment. I like to think that if I had a house with an English country garden, filled with the sounds of bone china teacups clicking on saucers, the patter of cat paws and the chirp of little birds in the trees outside my window, I’d write a lot more than I currently do. The buzz of Bondi Road and the constant interruption of crazy people, car horns and Facebook does little to help my concentration.
On top of that, it’s hard figuring out what to write about, and how to do it properly. Bryce told me the key to making lots of money is to write commercially, and he also said you shouldn’t use big words or try to outsmart your readers. Very good advice. I told him I don’t use big words, anyway, because I don’t know any. And he laughed and said that was good. He said that in today’s mental world, your writing has to be the thing that people turn to when they want to relax. You have a 20 minute window at the end of the day, when it’s your duty and your responsibility to entertain, engage and help the reader switch off.
Bryce also said something very nice, that I shall always repeat to inspire others like me. My whole life I have been terrible with numbers; embarrassingly so. Whereas I’ve always been able to write a thousand words on say, the inner monologue of a tomato, I’ve never learned my times tables. Probably because, when someone tried to teach me, I was staring at the wall, wondering what tomatoes would say if they could speak.
Well, Bryce made me feel better for my longstanding issues with math. He said that working with words is far more difficult than working with numbers and I should never let anyone tell me otherwise. Anyone can make sense of numbers if they know the right formula. But only a few people know the right formula for words. Numbers make sense, eventually. But words never will, if you choose the wrong ones.
I thought that was very wise, and just what I needed to hear 18 years ago, when my math teacher yelled at me for being an idiot in her classroom. Fair enough, I was flicking my fountain pen ink at her white skirt at the time, too, but I was BORED. Jaysus.
It was so funny, meeting Bryce, because when I fist arrived in Australia, fourteen months ago, I saw The Power of One on a bookshelf in my shitty student-style flat, picked it up and remembered my friend saying it was the best book she’d ever read. I then read it myself, never thinking for a second that a year down the line I’d have a book on the shelves in Australia, or that I’d get to meet the man behind the words.
I feel very lucky to have been able to chat and take away such good advice from Australia’s best-selling author. He was so inspiring! Although I’m a teeny tiny fish in a gigantic pond, wondering what the hell the future holds for me in this industry (if anything!), I feel so grateful to be in the pond at all!