Rachel Cartland, author of the new memoir, Paper Tigress: A Life in the Hong Kong Government (Blacksmith Books, 2013) guest blogs about her path to becoming an author! Here’s Rachel:
I became an author by giving a talk to the YWCA and then sending the text that I’d used to a publisher whose name I’d found on Google. On the basis of that, he agreed that I might write a memoir of my life as an English girl graduate who became a civil servant in Hong Kong and that he would publish the result. This meant that I had to write a book, despite the fact that the longest thing I had ever previously authored was a thirty seven page document, Support for Self Reliance, which was the name that we chose for our policies to get people off the welfare rolls and back to work. And even then I had really just tweaked the draft prepared by a talented member of my staff.
I had, on the other hand, read plenty of books. One which I had not read but which sounded encouraging was All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten. In my case, it was at secondary school that I had learned all I needed to know and, specifically, from Mrs. Croydon, the English teacher who had shown us how to structure examination answers in a logical way. Drawing up the framework for a book is just the same sort of thing on a rather larger scale. I was helped by the fact that since I was essentially writing my life story there was an inherently logical sequence to be followed.
With this framework in hand, I had a rendezvous with Pete the Publisher in a juice bar and over a blueberry smoothie or two we signed a contract. Pete is possibly the most relaxed person I have ever met and literally years went by until I saw him again. Even our e-mail communication was scanty and he did not lay down the law on the question of what I should write nor how. Before he disappeared from sight he did, however, give me an invaluable piece of advice which was that as I went along I should send the draft to anyone mentioned in it; this turned out to yield corrections, additional anecdotes and much useful assistance.
Our agreement was reached in 2009 and by the end of that year I had carefully crafted Chapter One, and similarly 2010 saw completion of Chapter Two. Things slackened off and all I achieved in 2011 was three pages of Chapter Three; our daughter’s wedding had taken place then but she and her fiancé had taken the lion’s share of the organization so this was but a lame excuse.
I did a simple calculation involving rate of writing to date and likely life expectancy and concluded that a drastic new strategy was required. My bureaucratic habits came to my rescue. I had always prided myself on meeting deadlines, even self-imposed ones. Accordingly, I blocked off several months of 2012 in my calendar and wrote down for every day the number of words to be completed before I allowed myself to go to bed. During those fallow years I had been constantly tumbling around in my mind memories and the words with which to shape them and now, not entirely painlessly, in the quiet small hours of the day they emerged onto the page. And thus my book Paper Tigress was born!