Author Interview with Vanessa McCausland

Sydney author Vanessa McCausland is about to release her novel, The Lost Summers of Driftwood, which is set on the south coast of NSW.

It's rare for a writer to successfully make landscape a character, but Hesse does it, Heather Rose does it, Tim Winton does, and it now seems Vanessa McCausland joins that list too. The opening scene hooked me in from the very start - I felt a physical recognition of place, of water, of the sun on our skin - this is certainly a scene that for many Australians will ring authentic. I had a chat with Vanessa to find out a little bit more about her writing process and what the south coast means to her.

Tell us a bit about your new novel The Lost Summers of Driftwood.

Part mystery, part family drama, it’s set on a river on the NSW south coast. Two sisters return to the place of their childhood holidays, searching for why their elder sister left a message in flowers before walking into the river.

What was your experience of writing the book?

It took about a year to write but the idea was stewing in me for a few years and I just had to wait for it to fully reveal itself. I kept getting this image of a woman on the end of a jetty and I needed to know what had happened to her. I knew I wanted to set a story on the beautiful river where I spent all my childhood holidays. I wanted to capture the nostalgia that’s so linked to a sense of place. I also lost my beloved grandmother who lived on that same river in a tragic accident and so I think I was working through the feelings of grief that can also be attached to a special place. In a way I wrote this book to immortalise this place on the river for my family because it contains so much of our history, both beautiful and sad. I didn’t have to travel to the south coast much as I found the place was so ingrained in me – the smell of river salt, the sound of speed boats cutting through the silence and the feeling of being so far from everything while sitting on the end of the jetty. My family has sold the property now so it’s lovely to have this book to remember it by.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process and the road to publication?

Writing books is a very long, drawn out process. Anyone who doesn’t have the patience of a saint need not apply! No, it is all completely worth it. It is a very slow road but I think that’s what makes it so beautiful. The novel and reading are unicorns in today’s fast-paced tech-savvy world. The same goes for writing and publishing a novel. You need to make time and space for your imagination and have the self-belief to keep going because in the year it took me to write this novel doubt was my constant companion. But you have to push through that and keep following the whispers from your characters, keep tuning into your intuition…and tuning out of social media!

Once you’ve written your book and refined and honed it the best you can, that’s only the beginning of your writing journey if you’re to be published. Finding an agent can be just as challenging as finding a publisher but I would say keep going, keep believing in your work. Take on board any criticism or advice you receive. Writing and stories are subjective. You just need one person to believe in your work. You just need to touch one reader. The rejections will fall away then and you will forget they ever happened.

Once you’ve secured a book deal you must be open to change and flexibility because you are going to have expert eyes assess your work and push you creatively like you’ve never been pushed. You will probably cry a bit in the process! The book that is in stores is a world away from the book that your publisher acquired. Your manuscript usually undergoes a structural edit, where the big picture is addressed – the plot, your character’s motivations and how it all hangs together. There can be a lot of rewriting and cutting and rearranging happening here. After this is a closer copy edit but still, you may need to change things structurally and make your writing as succinct and powerful as it can be. In other words, this is where all the work, and some say, the magic happens.
I think being an author is much more than just writing a book. It is being able to collaborate creatively and to take on board criticism and make your work better for it. All this can take months. But don’t give up! If you’re a writer you won’t even have a choice…you’ll just find a way to keep turning up because deep down you know that putting down the words nourishes you like nothing else in your life. And one day, your words and thoughts might nourish and inspire readers the same way.

The Lost Summers of Driftwood is out through HarperCollins.

Written by SCWC

Posted on December 04, 2019