A snapshot of my work in progress – Daughter of Hanoi

After posting about my writing goals on Monday (thanks to everyone that has dropped by to read it), I wanted to start sharing some of the stories behind the book I am currently working on. Thew working title is Daughter of Hanoi, although I have no doubt that will change.

About halfway through last year, I had a great idea for another book. (I should say straight up that it feels a little fraudulent to talk about my second book when my first book is still only 90,000 draft words that haven’t even had the first edit.) This was quite exciting as one of the things that had stopped me from writing in the past was the belief that I didn’t have any good ideas. I was still trying to finish the book I had started during Nanowrimo 2017 but this new idea was so tempting. But I listened to the advice from many experienced writers about finishing my first draft first. I wrote down as much as I could about this new idea and then went back to finishing the first draft. I was actually a great motivator to get the first draft done and when Nanowrimo started on 1 November, I was excited to be let loose on my story.

Sarah is 35 and a political journalist in the Canberra press gallery. The book starts with Sarah coming home to Broken Hill after the break-up of her relationship with a married politician. She finds her father collapsed on the lounge clutching a photo of himself, with a young Vietnamese woman and a baby. Tony is actually being treated for cancer, which Sarah did not know. But this is not the biggest shock. Sarah learns that the woman in the picture is her mother and that she was born in Hanoi when Tony was a diplomat.

Sarah has been brought up by Tony in Broken Hill where he reinvented himself as an artist. Growing up as part of the artist community, Sarah has never really wondered about her mother but Tony explains her mother has recently been in contact and Sarah agrees to go to Hanoi to meet her while Tony finishes his treatment in Australia.

The idea for this story came from listening to a colleague in Hanoi talk about courting his wife during the 80s by cycling around Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi. He was one of the first foreigners to be allowed to marry in Hanoi at that time. I liked the idea of Sarah going to Hanoi to uncover more of her father’s story and also learning about Vietnam’s culture and history.

Hoan Kiem lake Hanoi

While my posting to Hanoi from 2011-2014 would ultimately mark the end of my diplomatic career, it was a fantastic opportunity and a very special place to live. I still wonder how we survived that first year though – we arrived with a two-year-old and a three and a half-month-old, and after a few weeks language training (to consolidate the year of training I had in Australia), started a job that often involved 10 hour days and lots of travel.

For me, setting a book in Hanoi is an opportunity to relive some of our 3.5 years there. As I write, I get to ‘visit’ my favourite cafes and restaurants. I hadn’t planned for Sarah to end up in Hoi An but I was struggling as to where the story would go once she realised the guy she was seeing was her half-brother – who is not happy learning about a secret half-sister and all but chases her out of Hanoi. Hoi An, with its beautiful beaches and old town, was our happy place in Vietnam and the place we would escape from the pollution of Hanoi and the stress of my job at the Australian Embassy.

Lane 76 – our home for most of Hanoi posting

I have now been working on it for a bit over two months (although probably only about a month of solid writing) and I am about a third of the way through. Given things are likely to change significantly over the course of writing and editing this book, it is probably not too much of a spoiler to say Sarah travels to Hanoi, visits many of the places Tony and her mother Bich had taken her as a baby (Tony has kept a suitcase hidden of photos and things from Hanoi), meets her mother (who is now a senior government minister) and meets Hai, who she has a brief flirtation with until learning he is her half-brother and escapes Hanoi to Hoi An in the centre of Vietnam with Ben, the much younger son of her father’s old friend Tom. This is where the story is at the moment, with Sarah working at an orphanage, having decided to stay in Vietnam until Tony visits in a few months time.

Riverside in the old town in Hoi An

Unlike my first book, I did not have a plan for how this story would play out. I had an idea and in starting to write, I decided I would write in a more linear fashion (rather than dipping in and out of scenes as I had with my first draft) and I would see where the story went. I am not entirely sure where the story will end up, but I would like her to have a relationship with her mother, without trying to have too much of an ‘everyone lives happily ever after’ type ending.

In 2016, my first Nanowrimo attempt was a memoir of our time in Vietnam, drawing also on a diary I kept during my first visit there in 2003. In telling Sarah’s story, I am drawing on a lot of this information to explore some of the things about Vietnam that I find most interesting – from the role of women and the importance of the extended family unit to the way that Vietnam’s long and often turbulent history informs people’s behaviours. And of course, there is the amazing food, architecture, coffee and landscapes. We were last there for a 10-day visit in mid-2016 and as I write, I am finding myself becoming quite homesick. Of course, one of the key reasons for writing about Vietnam is knowing that if there is a chance of this story ever being published, I will need at least one research visit.

Iced egg coffee at the Hidden Cafe

In the coming weeks, I will update you on the story and I’ll also post about some of my favourite places in Vietnam, my favourite foods and places to shop, the history and holidays and my favourite books about Vietnam.

Have you been to Vietnam? Have you read any good books based in Vietnam?

New writing habits for 2019

This year I have decided not to get caught up in making any big resolutions. I am excited about 2019 but I know that resolutions and year-long plans are not the solution for me.

2018 was a frustrating year, to say the least. I didn’t make the progress I would have liked to in my writing and as a family, I felt like we were all on a treadmill of busy. The end of the year threw us some curveballs, with Simon’s surgeon deciding he would need to replace the prosthetic bone that had been fitted in March 2016 when a cancerous tumour was removed, and in November Simon’s Mum died after a long illness.

Throughout December, I read so many posts about setting goals and making resolutions. I could have gone with my standard get fit and healthy, write more and be more organised but I knew that wouldn’t work, even if I made them into SMART goals. I also knew from the experience of 2018 that life changes from month to month.

In 2018, I struggled to consistently set aside time to work on my novel and my copywriting. In late October, I eventually finished the first draft of the novel I started during Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) in November 2017. The novel tells the modern-day story of a young woman moving to the Barossa. As she re-creates a new life for her and her daughters, she uncovers her Aunt’s life story and the family’s history. It is now ‘sitting’ quietly and when I am ready, I’ll print all 90,000 words and start working on a second draft. The story definitely needs more fleshing out and I have a lot of historical research to do, but I am really happy with my first attempt at a first draft. If I can take anything out of 2018, it is the fact I now believe that I can write a book. I started a second book, based in Hanoi, in Nanowrimo 2018.

As I was being bombarded with posts about New Year’s Resolutions, I was trying to find the motivation to return to my writing.  I had lost both the enthusiasm and interest to write – and yet there was so much I wanted to work on – blog posts, my novel, and building up my copywriting work.

I put the call out in a few writing groups asking whether people preferred a word goal or a time goal. There were many different approaches and when I explained the reason behind my writing slump, I was surprised by how many people suggested I should just take it easy and perhaps let my writing go for a while. While there was no clear-cut solution to breaking my writing drought, the suggestions and the encouragement had just the right effect and I found myself deciding to go with a time goal of a 30 minutes a day of writing. I started then and there and ended up adding 800 words to my novel.

As New Year’s Day arrived and I started the year with a 5km parkrun, I decided to set a fitness goal for the month. Moving 30 minutes every day. And because I like a list, I decided that I should complement my 30 minutes of writing and moving with 30 minutes each of learning and reading. Two hours a day to start making some small steps towards some big goals. It is probably no surprise that reading for 30 minutes a day is almost a given but by adding it to my goals, I’m not feeling guilty about taking the time out to do it.

The learning goal was something I decided to add when I looked at how many courses I had signed up to during 2018 and not completed. Writing them all down was a bit daunting and I wasn’t sure where to start. There were courses on copywriting, SEO (search engine optimisation) and feature writing that I knew I needed to work through to progress my copywriting and fiction writing and so far, dedicating 30 minutes a day to learning something new has felt good.

But a plan on its own doesn’t mean much and even recording it in my gorgeous Emma Kate Co planner isn’t going to help. As Timehop reminded me this week, I also started 2018 with the goal of writing and moving for 30 minutes a day. Given I had completely forgotten about those goals, it obviously didn’t last long.

So far, the enthusiasm is still there and I’m enjoying ticking each task off my list but when this starts to wane, I’ll be calling on friends and family to keep me honest. I already have some good fitness buddies and I’ve joined Running Mums Australia for some extra encouragement to get my running back on track. My network of writing and blogging friends is growing which I know will provide both encouragement and accountability.

When all else fails, I am also looking at this as a set of goals just for January. In February, we’ll be back at work and school, so I might need to set some different goals. But for now, I am hoping that spending 30 minutes on each of those activities with make them more of a daily habit rather than a chore.

When it comes to making the most of 3.5 hours of dedicated writing time a week, I won’t just be working on my novel. Thanks to some great discussions with Emma from A Simple Living Journey, I’m planning to blog more about my novel writing process and the inspirations for these stories.

I’m looking forward to sharing more of my writing during the year and I hope you enjoy it.

Do you have any resolutions or goals for this year? What are you writing in 2019?