Tuesday 11 March 2014

The Gestation of Convict Jack

© Jill Blee

It was not until my children started primary school that I realised how little I knew of the history of this country. What history I had done during my school days was British with an Irish slant provided by the Mercy sisters who taught me.

We had moved to Sydney where the convict history of Australia speaks out loudly from the sandstone buildings just before the children started school. As Gough Whitlam had made tertiary education free about the same time, the opportunity to rectify the flaws in my education was there for the taking. And I took it.

While I soaked up everything I could about the establishment of the convict colony of New South Wales, I was disappointed with the quality of material available on the subject for young readers. It was not until the mid nineties that I had the time and the head space to do anything about it, but I decided to tell the journey of the First Fleet through the eyes of a young convict.

My first attempt called Me Name’s Jack was far too wordy, had too many characters, and too much information about the issues surrounding the bizarre decision of the British Government to ship 750 convicts plus marines and navel personnel to a spot on a map which only one other group of people had stumbled upon eighteen years previously.

Quite understandably I didn’t find a publisher willing to take the manuscript on. In the meantime, I had embarked on more study and on writing for adults. There novels followed, all with an Irish/ Irish Australian theme, and one also dealing with the more gruesome history of our convict past.

Jack emerged from the bottom drawer where I had consigned him once these novels were published and gone from the creative space in my brain. I read children’s fiction widely to more accurately determine what should be in my story and what could be chopped before I embarked on another draft but before I could finish it, another project loomed. I was commissioned to write a series of histories so Jack was returned to his drawer.

A couple of years ago I decided to do a masterclass series with the well known and many times published Nic Brasch. I got Jack out and started again, trimming and refining slabs of the manuscript to present to the class. Nic loved the finished product and wrote a glowing commendation of it but while I got several letters from publishers which said words like beautifully written, delightful, extremely well researched, they also followed up with less cheerful advice that it would not fit their list, they couldn’t be sure of the market, and other platitudes.

By this time the story had had several name changes. Another writer had published a story called I am Jack. Although it is on a completely different topic, I felt I could no longer use my title so I changed it to Dorrington’s Extraordinary Journey as Jack’s surname is Dorrington. Then I decided it was too complicated so I decided on Transported. Now, at long last, it is going to be published as Convict Jack by Eureka House. It will hopefully make its appearance this month. Details of when and where it will be available will be announced on www.eurekahouse.com.au   

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