Like most writers, Rachael Craw needs to do something on the side. Occasionally the side job takes over. Rachael is releasing her fourth YA book, The Rift, on 1 November. Here, Rachael talks about her life and how writing fits in.
I recently surprised my publicist at Oz Comic Con by flogging books like a shameless used car salesman. ‘Wow!’ she said. ‘You’re really good at this.’
I wore my bat dress, a pair of Spanx, a tonne of mascara and a high-voltage smile. Walker Books Australia had authorised an early print run of The Rift especially for OCC, with a fun promo-competition alongside, and this was my chance. I whittled my elevator pitch down to a 20-second fireworks show with jazz hands, hurling trigger words at cosplayers like: mysterious island, dimensional-rift, smokin’ hot Rangers, hell hounds, top-notch kissing. One woman with prosthetic elf ears stopped me at ‘dimensional-rift’ and said, ‘I don’t need to hear anything else – I’ll take it.’
I whittled my elevator pitch down to a 20-second fireworks show with jazz hands, hurling trigger words at cosplayers like: mysterious island, dimensional-rift, smokin’ hot Rangers, hell hounds, top-notch kissing.
It wasn’t always like that. When I first attempted to articulate my nebulous idea for a story set on a mysterious island with a dimensional rift to my editor, Mary, in 2016, I butchered it. Her eyes glazed over and her hmmms grew ominously polite. Finally, she said, ‘Take your time, take a break and let the idea develop.’
The deadlines for the Spark trilogy had been intense, only one year between each new release – the way of Young Adult fiction. I needed time to recalibrate and time to earn a living. In 2017, I took a fixed-term position at our local girls’ school, teaching drama part-time. The hours were great, better than the relief teaching I’d been getting by on, and the subject was a return to my roots. Unlike teaching English, it wasn’t paper heavy. There was none of the endless weekly marking that erodes evening hours and weekends. I could still write … and mum and wife and teach.
However, I did have to patrol the borders of my writing hours like a junkyard dog, snarling at anything that threatened to encroach on my time. Groceries? Grrr. Laundry? Grrrrrr. Housework? Grrrrrrr! My goal was to get something to Mary by March that year, finished or not.
I finished the first draft by November 2017 and while the manuscript was with my publishers, I helped my senior students through their exams and prepared my CV for the next round of job applications. Conveniently for my writing schedule/inconveniently for my bank balance, I missed out on the two jobs I was eligible for, giving me time for structural edits in term one of 2018. Meanwhile, I was offered another fixed-term position back at the same school – this time teaching English and, oddly enough, Legal Studies – just a couple of periods short of a full teaching load. I started in term two and haven’t written a single word since.
Teaching is consuming. I love English. I adore my students. I get to teach poetry, short stories, novels and share my love of words. I have a lot of marking but it’s a great job. Yes, I miss writing – so much it makes me wobbly inside. Mostly, I’m cool about it. I tell myself, this is just for a season. I remind myself, writing isn’t all I am. I lived thirty-four years without writing a novel, didn’t I? Just because something is deeply fulfilling and uniquely connected to your sense of self and self-expression doesn’t mean you should just get to do that thing whenever you fancy and make a living out of it. Right?
Yes, I miss writing – so much it makes me wobbly inside. Mostly, I’m cool about it. I tell myself, this is just for a season. I remind myself, writing isn’t all I am.
Next year, who knows what will turn up? I might get more hours. I might get another fixed-term position. I’m good mates with the lady who organises relief staff, but there’s a possibility I’ll be unemployed again. I have a mortgage, three kids, and bills to pay. Earning a regular income is awesome. My husband loves it when I have a job.
I know I’m not alone in the balancing act of juggling a creative life with making ends meet. The theme of the New Zealand Society of Authors National Writers’ Forum this year was Writing to live, living to write. Chatting between sessions with other writers, I was reminded again and again, we’re all fighting the same fight. Everyone is making sacrifices. Everyone understands, it’s hard. Rejection and disappointment are frequent.
Opportunities are rare – paid writing gigs and invitations to appear at events are few and far between. The unexpected, magical moments when a door opens – like a Storylines tour, a writers’ festival or Oz Comic Con – on those occasions I think, Make it count, Rach. There might not ever be another door. So, when I launch The Rift in November, I’ll put on my Spanx, my mascara and my high-voltage smile. Shameless.
The RiftWritten by Rachael Craw
Published by Walker Books
Out 1 November
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Rachael Craw is the award-winning author of the Spark trilogy, published by Walker Books Australia. She writes Speculative Fiction for Young Adults and draws inspiration from classical heroes and popular culture. She lives with her husband and three daughters at the top of the South Island of New Zealand where she divides her time between writing and teaching English and Drama. Visit her website at www.rachaelcraw.com.