Discover how Margaret went from researching – and writing in secret – to having her novels published through the process of literary speed dating, in an exclusive article written for Dymocks.
Literary Speed Dating
by Margaret Hackey
The name literary speed dating didn’t appeal. For me, it conjures up smug types leaning over dimly lit tables, discussing classics they pretend to love but secretly hate (probably Moby Dick). But when, during the first Victorian lock-down, the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) sent out an email about the next one, and outlined it as an opportunity to pitch to publishers, I thought – why not? Maybe Moby Dick isn’t really so bad after all (it is), and I did have a manuscript sitting in my drawer.
I’d been writing a crime novel for about a year. I told no one, save my family who knew I was up to something when I’d asked for opinions on Lee Enfield 303s, and how best to blow up a car. My short stories had been published in literary magazines and as a collection, but I never enjoyed writing so much as when I typed away on my rural crime. How fun, to sit at a computer each day and not know where the plot is going and who the killer is. How freeing, to write with no expectations - I could have gone on forever. But there came a day when the killer was revealed, and the cop went home. I had a full 85,000 words of a novel in my drawer. So, when the ASA offered the literary speed dating, I signed up. Why not? It was lockdown and I never got into the sourdough thing.
Twenty minutes before the event took place on zoom, I tweeted a fellow writer, ‘How does this thing work?’ I asked. ‘I’m really nervous.’
‘Too busy practicing,’ came her reply.
I poured myself a gin.
In the first meeting, the publisher looked tired and overworked. I spoke too quickly. ‘With rural crime you’re in a very contested space,’ he said at the end.
The second meeting came and went, I felt a little better. and I felt a little better. ‘You know that with rural crime you’re in a very contested space,’ the man said, and yes – I now knew that.
The third person popped up. Bev Cousins, publisher extraordinaire. I began talking and Bev did something different, something that in the circumstances, was an act of kindness – she leant into the computer screen. That leaning, it made me speak about my work in more confident tones. In leaning in, she showed interest and this in turn made me more interesting. I was her last slot for the night.
The three publishers I’d spoken to on zoom all requested my full manuscript, but it was only Bev who called me up directly to talk about the work. That book became Cutters End, which became a best seller. Thanks to Bev and the team at Penguin Random House Australia, I’ve got two more books in the works. Stone Town is being released this July and the third one next year.
The ASA do a great service for writers in organising literary speed dating. I found a perfect match, and Herman Melville wasn’t mentioned once.
Stone Town is available online and at your local Dymocks store now.