All I can remember about that first morning, is seeing hundreds of bodies sandwiched together, shouting to be heard, in a language so foreign to my ears, I could decipher nothing. Rusty old food carts on every corner, their owners selling strange things barely recognisable through the large plumes of smoke; tricycles, tuk tuks, busses, all fighting for space on the roads (and footpaths), the noise was deafening! It seemed like everyone with a horn at their disposal was using it. Giant LED screens reminiscent of the 21st Century cut through the historical buildings with their wing-tipped roofs. And a 1300 year old Pagoda stood tall, staring back at me defiantly. Apparently thousands flocked to see her from all over the country. But not a westerner in sight.
China had me rendered speechless that first day and for many months on.
Some of you no doubt saw the gradual change in us, from feeling like aliens who’d just landed from Mars, right through the two and a half years, to a family who, while we would never truly blend in, felt like we kinda belonged.
It was then as I tried to understand this curious and kind culture of people outside the typical stereotype of loud, boisterous and pushy locals living under a Communist regime in one of the world’s largest economies, that the seeds of my book began to sprout.
I set about interviewing as many locals from all walks of life (with the help of a translator, aka my best friend Chao) as I could…I interviewed expats who’d made China their home for a decade plus. By the time we moved back to Australia, I had 100 interviews under my belt.
As a journalist, interviews I could do, but actually writing a book, that I was still pretty clueless about.
Back in Sydney, I had the opportunity to start really learning the craft. I enrolled in as many courses as I possibly could. One was called True Life Writing with Patti Miller. Straight away she told me I had to put myself in the story. It had to be a memoir.
Say what? *Quickly Googles the meaning of ‘Memoir.’*
Oh yes, ‘It was to be my journey,’ she said…’Everyone will want to know about your story.’
Oh God. Really? Ok. I’ll try.
I joined a monthly writing workshop with three other ‘seasoned’ writers and our fearless leader Bernadette Foley of Broadcast Books. A veteran of the publishing world.
‘Imposter Syndrome’ hit hard. I had thousands of words on a page, but no idea how to make them into a single chapter, let alone a book. What do you mean chapters should be varying lengths?
I persisted…month after month for two years (and counting) inhaling as much wisdom from these wonderful women as I could. 160,000 words later, I had chapters, so many of them, I had made a manuscript. A first draft.
Little did I know, it would be the first of dozens.
Now I had too many words, too many chapters. Given the average word count for a book is roughly 90,000 words, I had my work cut out for me, literally. I had to cut.
Bernadette edited it down to 120,000 words, enough to be able to send it out into the world. We set about carefully crafting a proposal to tell publishers why they wanted ‘China Blonde’ in their life. Each publisher needed a tailor-made approach. A tailor-made synopsis. I even made a short video – ‘Look at me – I’m your girl!’
We hit send and we waited…and waited…for weeks, months.
A few nibbles, but no takers. ‘Love the title.’ ‘Thanks but no thanks.’ ‘It’s not quite the right time.’ Then, a well known publisher asked for a face to face meeting, in Melbourne; they were venturing into travel books….and liked the sound of ‘China Blonde’.
Nervously I put on my best dress and went to meet them, my hopes high. We talked options, marketing and sales.
‘Could I rewrite five chapters though?’
“Of course,’ I said, ‘Whatever it takes.’
I spent five weeks re-writing, but still, it wasn’t enough. In the end, ‘China Blonde’ didn’t quite fit their market.
Should I give up? The thought crossed my mind as I wallowed deep in self-pity. That was until Bernadette told me in no uncertain terms, ‘Just because some one writes a book doesn’t meant they’re entitled to have it published.’ How right she was. With publishers receiving around 100 manuscripts a week and around five of those published a year, the odds of ever hitting the shelves were slim to none.
Still, I picked myself up and dusted myself off. I might be counting on a miracle to get published, but bloody hell, I wasn’t giving up.
I reminded myself J.K Rowling got rejected by 12 publishers.
I scoured Google for more potential publishers, casting my net far and wide all over the world. I made lists, sent more emails. Waited.
Then Bernadette happened to talk with a small, boutique publisher in Sydney. They wanted to meet me. They liked what I stood for. They loved the sound of my book. And, they loved me. They wanted to publish ‘China Blonde!’
I skipped out of that office in October last year, my grin so big my cheeks hurt for days.
And so it began. Another professional edit was required, another 25,000 words cut. My next task — go through all the suggested changes, re-write, re-think, re-imagine China life….. check place names, change people’s names. Check every Chinese word in the book, re-check, write it in pinyin, triple check. Leave no stone unturned.
Then the cover design….. ten amazing covers were sent to me. (‘What do you mean I have to be on the cover?’ Really? Ok. I guess.)
How on earth to choose? Many colours, designs, fonts spiralled back and forth; I even had them printed out in life size form and put them on actual books — to see how they looked (lined up around my lounge room)! My face scarily glaring out at me!
Finally, we settled on the best and most beautiful hybrid version of them all.
Now I needed a tagline… again, a million versions bubbled around in the air, fellow writers workshopped it into the ground with me until we settled on the perfect one.
A blurb for the back cover please? Convey the story of ‘China Blonde’ in three paragraphs, make it compelling enough that someone wants to rip it right off the shelves and devour it. Challenge accepted.
Another edit, this time, line by line. More changes.
Acknowledgements, forewords, testimonial requests, and….a final proof-read. At last the typeset. The way ‘China Blonde’ will look in print.
And here we are. She’s real. She’s beautiful.
Pre-orders are up! The first copy has been sold.
And now the real journey begins.
Thank you for being a part of this labour of love…..of our journey…. it means the world.
I have a new, fancy website for the book and my work where you’ll find that back cover blurb, but Mint Mocha Musings the blog will stay, for now.
Now go get yourself a signed copy and tell me what you think!!
All my love,
P.S. No matter where you are in the world, I promise I’ll get it to you.
P.P.S… I apologise in advance for all the book spam you may get from now until beyond….. 😉
And just for fun… my first official testimonial.
“A former Kiwi girl turned international news anchor, Nicole is a blonde out of bleach, stranded in a 5-star bubble in mainland China, anchored by her frantic hotelier husband and small daughter, and driven by a determination to not only survive. Follow her as she confronts the hilarity of medical exams China style, the heartbreak of goodbyes, and the hope that comes with finding her tribe of likeminded misfits.”
Former Sky News Reader, now Media Advisor, Sydney Trains.