Tania Chandler on Dead in the Water: The book that almost killed me

by |October 10, 2016

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The book that almost killed me:
The truth about writing the second novel
by Tania Chandler

Dead in the Water is my second novel. It came out at the start of October 2016 and I was so happy to hold a copy. However, I didn’t always feel that way about it.

At the start of 2014 I took my three kids down to the Wishing Tree on the Yarra Bend. It’s this tree strung with pieces of paper on which people have written wishes. While my kids wished for lollies and iPhones, the wish I tied to a branch was to have my novel published.

In August my wish came true: my manuscript (Please Don’t Leave Me Here) was picked up, unsolicited, from the slush pile. By September I had a two-book publishing deal – for Australia and the UK, and the rights for both books were quickly sold to Germany. My head spun with how quickly it happened. One minute I was sitting in an RMIT writing class thinking I’d never be published; the next I was in my publisher’s office signing the contract. It felt like winning TattsLotto. Twice.

One minute I was sitting in an RMIT writing class thinking I’d never be published; the next I was in my publisher’s office signing the contract. It felt like winning TattsLotto. Twice.

It was all champagne, rainbows and lollipops. Until I got the email from my publisher asking when I would be delivering that Book Two (Dead in the Water). I was hesitant to give an exact date. Ballpark? he said. Since I already had 30K words I suggested March, which would have given me six months. My publisher said May, just to be safe, and he wouldn’t hold me to it. Heaps of time, I thought. Too easy. However, the wording looked a lot scarier on the contract where it says:

  • The Publisher may terminate this agreement if the Author does not deliver the Work by the Delivery Date.
  • In the event of termination, the Publisher is entitled to recover any and all monies advanced to the Author.
  • The Publisher will not be obliged to accept a manuscript which is unsatisfactory as to form, content or otherwise or that is not professionally or competently written.

I remembered that old saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’ when Dead in the Water wasn’t working. Most of those 30K words I’d told my publisher about were written during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers Month). This is a challenge for writers, to write the draft of a novel in a month. Yes, one month! Some people think it’s terrific, but I failed miserably and not many words that weren’t crap came out of it for me. I ended up deleting at least half of them.

I’d finished my writing course and no longer had the weekly feedback and support from the classes. I realised what a slow writer I was. There was no way I was going to meet my deadline. I dreaded emails from my publisher, and felt stressed most of the time.

Everything got worse as the deadline drew closer. I knew I had to ask for an extension, which terrified me, but when I finally built up the courage, my publisher was fine with it. But then I had to ask for another extension. In the end my wonderful publisher told me not to worry about the deadline – it will be done when it’s done, he said. I am so thankful now for his patience but, at the time, I thought I was letting him down. I felt it all slipping through my hands. The first book was a fluke and there was no way I could write another one.

In hindsight, I should have talked to somebody about how I was feeling. But I didn’t. And I did finish the book, somehow. With 4am starts, anxiety, depression, insomnia, sciatica and weight gain (no time for the gym), not to mention financial stress as I stopped working so I could get it done.

In the end, I set my own deadline to finish before the summer school holidays because I didn’t want to still be working on it while the kids were at home. I remember sending the manuscript off just before school pick-up on the last day of the 2015 school year, in tears, thinking it was so bad that it would be rejected as unpublishable; I’d have to pay back my advance, and all those other scary things it says in the contract. But – I laugh now (hysterically) – my publisher actually liked it better than the first one.

I remember sending the manuscript off just before school pick-up on the last day of the 2015 school year, in tears, thinking it was so bad that it would be rejected as unpublishable.

I dreaded editing Dead in the Water – the difficult second child, the book that almost killed me – because I never, ever, wanted to see it again. But when it came time for edits, after a couple of months distance from the manuscript, I saw that during those dark days of pain and panic, of pulling out my hair and pulling apart the story and putting it back together, something magical had happened and it was far, far better than I’d thought. Thank God, or the muse, or the writing fairies from the Wishing Tree – whoever or whatever helps writers to write.

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Praise for Dead in the Water

Chandler creates believable characters, having the ability to make the struggles of ordinary people compelling. Brigitte is an original hero — an ordinary person, with her own struggles, drawn into extraordinary events. The domestic drama is as compelling as the crime investigation – Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project

Tania Chandler delivers again. A crime writer who cares about her sentences as much as her characters, her atmospheric writing is taut and terrific –  Aoife Clifford, author of All These Perfect Strangers

Dead in the Water unsettles with an all-too-imaginable homegrown brand of suspense – Honey Brown, author of Through the Cracks

About Tania Chandler

Tania Chandler is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. Her debut novel, Please Don’t Leave Me Here, was selected for State Library Victoria’s Summer Read program, and has been shortlisted for best debut novel for both the Davitt and Ned Kelly awards. Dead in the Water is her second novel, and is a sequel to Please Don’t Leave Me Here.

Dead in the Waterby Tania Chandler

Dead in the Water

by Tania Chandler

The superb follow-up to Please Don’t Leave Me Here, which was shortlisted for best debut novel for both the Davitt and Ned Kelly Awards for 2016.

When Brigitte and her family moved from the city, they were supposed to be happier. And safer. But soon her crime-writer ex-boyfriend turns up in town to promote his new novel, in which a woman is found dead - murdered - in a country lake. Hours later, Brigitte watches the police pull a body from the water near her Gippsland home...

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