Brooke Davis’s debut novel Lost and Found has been a bestseller here in Australia and now it’s taking the rest of the world by storm. So how did she manage to get her foot in the door and get her book published?
I know lots of my readers have questions about how to get published as a writer. In this occasional series, I hope to inspire you by sharing the stories of other writers who’ve managed to achieve the holy grail of a published book. Brooke’s story is one of patience, determination and dedication and I hope you enjoy it!
1. How long did it take from the time you began writing your book to the time it was published?
Brooke: About six years. I jotted down my first notes in Croatia in 2007, near an island called Miljet, and I wrote the final paragraph in a café in Leederville in 2013.
2. What inspired your book?
Brooke: The book is very much a work of fiction but it comes from a really personal place. About seven years ago, I was on a trip around the world and rang home to find out my mum had died in a freak accident. Before she died, I had never felt the kind of grief where you don’t know if you’re going to be okay or not. After she died, I was trying to understand how to live without her, and how to live with the knowledge that this was how life worked: that anyone I loved and depended on could die at any moment.
The novel became my way of working through my own thoughts on that. I wanted to spend time thinking deeply about what it meant to grieve, and what it meant to live with the knowledge that the people you love will die.
I was particularly interested in the concept of grief not as a process that begins and ends and is only about sadness, but as a part of life. As something that we have to work out how to live with, in among everything else there is—the good, the bad, the indifferent.
3. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Brooke: Ever since I knew that what I was reading was written by a human being, and that I, too, was a human being, yes!
I’ve kept journals since I was quite young, and there’s a line in one when I was eight years-old that says, pretty precociously, ‘I’m determined to become a writer.’
When I was nine or ten, I wrote this nonsense poem in the style of Roald Dahl in primary school about my little brother called The Pest. My teacher asked me to read it out loud in front of the class—my classmates laughed in all the right spots, and I was urged to do a sequel. The sequel was terrible and didn’t have the same impact, but I remembered the feeling of giving people pleasure through my writing. I wanted more of that feeling.
I did get a bit distracted along the way—I spent a large chunk of my early teenage years playing tennis and cricket, and wanting to be Steffi Graf/Monica Seles/Belinda Clark—but I eventually found my way back to writing in my twenties.
4. Did you ever have stages during the writing of the book where you felt doubtful about what you were doing and whether it would be successful? How did you overcome that?
Brooke: Absolutely, all the time, every day, most moments of every day! I just kept doing it. Stephen King calls it ‘bum glue’: I just sat down every day and gave it my best shot, and sometimes I felt good and sometimes I felt terrible. I began to understand that it’s the way it works; that’s how you write a novel. You feel good, you feel bad, you never know how it’s all going to turn out, and yet, underlying it all is this weird (completely unwarranted!) faith in yourself that keeps you from chucking it all in. I don’t know where that comes from, but I’m glad it’s there.
5. How did your publishing opportunity come about? Were you actively pursuing publication and pitching to publishers and agents? Or did your publication contract come about in another way?
Brooke: I wrote Lost & Found as part of a PhD at Curtin University in Perth. When I finally completed the PhD, a bookseller friend of mine in Perth read Lost & Found and told a mutual friend of ours—Todd—about it, who happens to be a Hachette account manager. Todd rang me and said, ‘Would you like me to take this to head office at Hachette and see what they think?’ And before he’d even finished the sentence, I said ‘Yes, please.’
I was picturing teetering slush piles and not expecting to hear back for months, if at all. But within a couple of weeks, Vanessa from Hachette had rung me and made an offer, and suddenly I had an agent, and the contract was negotiated and agreed upon. It was a bit of a whirlwind.
I was actually on holiday in St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada at the time, and after everything had been finalised, I took myself off to this pub and propped myself up at the bar, and I just sat there on my own, kind of giddy with it all. I got to talking to some people, and by the end of the night, all these lovely strangers were buying me drinks to help me celebrate. It was a truly gorgeous moment in my life.
6. Do you have an agent?
Brooke: I have a lovely agent called Benython Oldfield, who Craig Silvey (author of Jasper Jones) very graciously put me in touch with. I had no idea if I needed one or not—authors seem to have varying thoughts on this—but I’m so glad I have him.
He’s got this lovely balance to his professionalism that really gels with me: he’s caring and attentive and nurturing but he’s also not afraid of courageous conversations when they’re required. Things most definitely would not have turned out the way they did for me if he wasn’t on board.
7. What is the one piece of advice you would give to other writers who are in the same position you were in a couple of years ago, writing a book and hoping to be published one day?
Brooke: I think it’s good to know that you need to work hard. I’m a huge fan of Stephen King’s ‘bum glue’ idea: attaching yourself to your chair (or wherever you write, or have ideas) and just working very, very hard.
Ira Glass said, ‘It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions…It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You just gotta fight your way through.’ (Full quote is animated here). I plan to be working on closing that gap for the rest of my writing life.