Moonlake: Hi, I’m Moonlake Ku and welcome to the Writer’s Awakenings interviews. Today, we have author Colin Palmer with us. Firstly, tell us about yourself and your journey into writing, Colin.
Colin: My name is Colin Palmer and I am a writer!
I’ve been writing fiction for almost all my life, that’s over fifty years. When I was about eight years old, I wrote a short essay at school, like we all have to do when we are school children. THAT essay, a story, I think the quintessential “What I Did on My Summer Holiday” type of deal, became the catalyst of a writing life. It wasn’t writing the story but the response from the teacher and some of the students when I read it aloud. I even remember hearing gasps because my story was a fiction take of my holiday which had actually been quite boring. I made it exciting with ghosts and goblins and I remember the scary suspense as the words materialised in front of my very eyes. Some few years later on but still at school, it was the act of creating that became the thrill, not the response from the reader (except me). To this time, I chase that thrill nearly every single day.
Moonlake: I totally get you- I’m a chaser of the process as opposed to the result too. So when is it that you first decided to pursue writing in a serious way and what are the circumstances?
Colin: When my life changed in a big way. My job, my personal life, everything seemed to go down the toilet all at the same time when in reality it happened over a period of about six years. In that dark place I had to find something positive, something to hold onto and keep me going . . . I found that notebook that I’ve been making little notes of interesting things that I observed in my work that involved a lot of both domestic and international travel, and with that notebook was a floppy disc. The floppy disc had eventuated because it was “new” technology of the time and whilst at work one day, I had transferred all my jottings, short stories and novel synopsis onto it. I bought a desktop computer and began – writing, reading, discovering the internet (so painfully slow in those days). That turned my life around.
Moonlake: Sounds good. What happened next after this turning point?
Colin: I managed to finish the first novel even with the distractions of the internet at my fingertips plus I re-edited many of my short stories. I submitted two short stories into competitions run by separate magazines and managed to win one and receive an honorary mention in the second (accompanied by a personal note informing me that I was the judges favourite but they couldn’t give me first prize because it included printing the winning story in the magazine, however my story, good as it was, was simply too “dark” and unsuitable for publication in their family magazine!) About the same time, having researched the necessary on the trusty internet, I finally scored an Agent after so many refusals that I’d lost count. Those days, the 1990’s, all the major publishers only accepted submissions referred from an Agent, no direct submissions were taken from unpublished authors.
Moonlake: That’s exciting! Was it smooth sailing ever afterwards with the agent?
Colin: No. My Agent offered many excuses over the coming months about why she wasn’t submitting my manuscripts to publishers but mostly they were to do with the quality of editing. So I did a Creative Writing Course as she recommended. What a waste of a week, complete and utter frustration from an instructor older than God and with ideas from the same vintage. His catchphrase was “write what you know” and when I asked how it was possible for the science fiction genre to exist if authors only wrote what they knew, he would laugh and say it wasn’t real writing. He also required all students to write in a particular way, his way and his way only – anything else was deemed unacceptable. I failed the course because I refused to toe the line but I did learn some valuable lessons. I took on board things about sentence structure, plotting, and the most needed editing and I began applying them to my existing stories.
Moonlake: Hmm… I guess there’s still some positive out of that negative experience but yeah, I’m not a fan of sticking to some hard and fast rules in writing. So things weren’t going well for you with an agent, did another turning point come later though and what was it?
Colin: Well, on the internet, I had taken to amending funny emails before sending them on to friends and family. My quirky and rather sarcastic sense of humour meant some of my amendments should have been subject to censorship (bad words or inflections, not nudity or the like) and besides, I was careful about who I forwarded those emails on to. But one day, I got an email back from a very well know International Publishing Company enquiring the identity of the person who had sent the attached email, one of mine of course. I mulled it over for a full day, thinking I was in trouble with copyright or censorship laws before finally responding and admitting it was mine. As I said earlier, I got discovered!
As it turned out, the Company was looking for a spam writer, still a relatively new employment category then. The person I was corresponding with asked if I would relocate to Sydney where they would offer me a full time position on a two year basis, that two years to include a six month probationary period. I refused and told them I was a writer, the emails just for fun. She asked for some examples of my writing and I asked for some credentials, even then the internet was full of anonymous crooks. Her credentials were awe inspiring, the Managing Director of Sales and Marketing of the largest international publisher based in Australia so of course I sent off some of my short stories and synopsis for three novels. She said to give them a week to look at my work.
Two days later she sent another email asking for my phone number, which I gave. She rang immediately and asked for a personal meeting; she would come to me or they would fly me to Sydney. I was excited but when I enquired about my writing, she dismissed it and said it was too early to say yet. I asked why the personal meeting then, she told me she was just being proactive and positive. I was still very excited of course and accepted but told her she would have to come to me because I couldn’t leave work on such short notice. She agreed and five days later we met in the luxury surrounds of the Sheraton Mirage Resort on the Gold Coast. She had all my manuscripts and synopsis and worked through them all one by one with the advice of their substantial editing department plainly evident on every page. I learnt more about editing in that one day than I had in the previous forty years.
Moonlake: Wow, on a roll here! What happened next?
Colin: I eventually did go to Sydney and was introduced to several influential editors who were incredibly friendly and open but more importantly, familiar with my work. We discussed this for two days then I was told to get an Agent. I informed them I had an Agent and after identifying the person, was told they were ineffectual and to get another Agent. After telling them it had taken nearly four years to find that particular Agent, they said leave it to them and they would appoint an Agent on my behalf. Go home and wait I was told but you should be very happy with our future proposal, around a month to wait while they processed my now complete manuscripts.
Moonlake: Warning lights are coming up in my brain but please continue.
Colin: One thing I had divulged to them was that time permitting, I used to write about three thousand words per day and over a period of a month, I was around fifty thousand words and sometimes more. They considered this prolific and ask me to prove it to them by finishing my current work in progress (WIP) whilst submitting daily updates about word count and weekly submissions of my actual work. I finished the novel in about ten days and was greeted with congratulations and the identity of my new “Agent”, a person who I never met or even corresponded with. I was further advised that my writing speed would mean a possible enhanced proposal but the proposal was actually delayed again due to absences of key personnel from the office.
After around two months, they finally advised me that unfortunately, they had another “new kid on the block” and that I would not be offered a contract at this time however, I should contact my Agent as they believed there was another publishing offer available. Of course I contacted my “Agent”, to be told she had no knowledge of me or my work. I appraised her of the situation and she said she would investigate and get back to me, which to her credit, she did do. She got copies of my work from the publisher and information about the other offer, which was a small firm located in New Zealand with no international affiliations. The Agent also told me she was not in a position to represent me as my genre was not in keeping with her normal practice.
I was devastated. I was right back to where I’d been four months earlier, no Agent and no idea where to go. I did another writing course which proved marginally better than the first and kept on applying for Agents. I was writing, reading and applying new editing skills to my work. But the devastation kept coming back to bite me and in turn, my writing suffered so much that I actually stopped. I saved everything and put it away for another decade. I gave up….
Moonlake: Okay, readers, we won’t challenge your short attention span anymore than the previous interviews so this one will be parcelled into two. And no, I’m not doing the devilish thing which is to let you all wait another week for the second part.