10 May Celebrating the launch of Growing Old Outrageously
This Monday, hot off the plane from London, I attended the launch of travel memoir Growing Old Outrageously. Held in Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre it was launched by comedienne and journalist, Wendy Harmer.
Both the authors, Hilary Linstead and Elisabeth Davies, are now in their seventies and the book hilariously chronicles their friendship and journeys post-retirement. Known as Hil and Liz, the pair went to school together in England and re-met after 35 years. As Liz so aptly says, their book could herald the launch of another sub-genre of travel writing—’old bird lit’.
In many ways the pair couldn’t be more different. Hil is outgoing, loves food and shopping; Liz is solitary, prefers a museum over a fancy meal and always travels light. While Hil left England aged 21 and emigrated to Australia, becoming the first theatrical agent for directors such as Baz Luhrman and Gillian Amstrrong, Liz stayed in grey London working as a civil servant.
I was especially excited to be at the launch because I mentored Hilary when she was writing her part of the memoir. She came to one of my travel workshops in 2009, told me the gist of the book, and asked if I’d take her on. I could instantly see the attraction of the story—and believed that her exuberant personality could carry it through.
At that time she was struggling with how to weave together their disparate journeys over a sixteen-year period and their two different writing styles. It’s hard enough writing your own book, but co-writing it with someone who lives thousands of miles away is really tricky.
Initially Hil and Liz tried to write a chapter each, but that didn’t work. So straight away we worked on finding ways to seamlessly link their journeys. Sometimes this meant focusing on one trip over another, and leaving some places out altogether. We also looked at how to smooth out the voice, to create a single coherent narrative.
On and off, over nine months, I worked with Hil as she wrestled with her sprawling manuscript. In between, she negotiated with Liz and together they wrote and re-wrote their memoir. Much of Liz’s contribution was the imagination, skilful editing and a strong narrative line, needed to knit the book together. The result is a humorous, rambling and inspirational globe-trotting account, which shows the development of a friendship—and their staunch differences.
At the book launch, Liz thanked Hil for all her efforts. She said, if it wasn’t for Hil’s ‘vision, hard work and persistence’, the book would never have been finished.
I thought that really nailed what is required to write—and most importantly—complete a book.
Vision — you need that in the beginning when you are just starting out. But you need to hold on to it during the writing. It will inspire you to carry on, even on those dark days.
Hard work — you don’t necessarily have to be a trained writer to tell a story. You do need to be prepared to do drafts and re-drafts to make the story the best it can be.
Persistence — it’s one thing to bang away at the computer, it’s another to grit your teeth to the end. So many writers, many of them very good and talented, don’t make it that last mile to see the manuscript through.
But when you do succeed, and you are lucky enough to get a book deal, it’s all worthwhile. There’s nothing like holding your first book and celebrating it amongst your friends, family and peers.