The Story Behind the Book

Just Another Week in Suburbia and The Hachette Manuscript Development Program

The Hachette Manuscript Program is a joint initiative between Hachette Australia and the Queensland Writers Centre, which involves a week of workshops on writing, editing, publishing, marketing, agents, among other things.

Entrants submit fifty pages. If they’re chosen, they submit the rest of the manuscript, then go to Queensland to participate in the Program.

In 2013, I submitted Just Another Week in Suburbia and “Prudence” (the book I wrote immediately after) and, as had become my wont, didn’t expect anything. However, Just Another Week in Suburbia was shortlisted.

It was gratifying given it was the novel I’d designated as THE ONE (as in the one where I was determined that it would be a breakthrough manuscript).

When I arrived in Queensland, I immediately caught up with Inga Simpson. She and Nike Bourke had run the Olvar Wood Fellowship (a similar affair to the Program), for which my novel Pride had been selected in 2009. Inga had mentored me through a redraft. She had also been selected for the Program a couple of years earlier, and was experiencing breakthrough success with her poignant novel, Mr. Wigg (Hachette 2013). Inga worded me up on what to expect.

I then went to the Queensland State Library to meet everybody else, including the other seven authors who’d been selected.

Kim Lock and Kim Paul had written contemporary novels; Laura Elvery had written a middle-grade novel; Sarah Ridout and Kathy George had written Gothic novels; Mhairead MacLeod had written a historical novel; and J.M. Peace had written a crime thriller. We’d also been assigned a mentor, Charlotte Nash, who’d gone through the Program and was now published.

At one point, I sat down with then-Hachette fiction publisher, Bernadette Foley, to discuss my novel. She identified its schizoid nature (she did it much more diplomatically) – most of it was this exploration of suburban domesticity, and then there were these overt action moments – and challenged me to find the balance true to the story I wanted to tell.

Once we’d revised, we were invited to resubmit to Hachette for their consideration. At this point, everybody was hopeful although, ultimately, Hachette didn’t pick up a single one of us. Except for Kim Paul, who took a break from writing, the rest of us stayed in touch and persevered.

Kim Lock and J.M. Peace were later picked up by Pan MacMillan; Laura Elvery’s middle grade book hasn’t been picked up (yet), but she has had two critically acclaimed short story collections published; Sarah Ridout’s agent believed she’d exhausted every avenue, and then Sarah submitted to a publisher of her own accord, and was picked up out of the slush pile; Mhairead MacLeod had no luck in Australia, but then a Scottish publisher picked up her novel; and Kathy George had her novel picked up and published in 2021.

It shows that the publishing journey is neither simple nor straightforward. Some few people have the dream run. For most, it’s about weathering the rejections and persevering.

Below are the authors from my Program and what they’ve published since then – I’ve bolded the novels that were selected for the Program, but then published elsewhere:

These sort of things are always worth entering because they offer so much in return. Besides the friendships (and network connections) you make, they’re a fast-track in learning about the industry and gaining experience, and do provide the remote chance of getting published.

I’m unsure of the strike rate in other Programs, but six of our eight authors got their selected novels published, the seventh has had other books published, and the one exception is only an exception because she stepped away from writing.

Next Week: Revision: Part II in Just Another Week in Suburbia.

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