Mt. Novel: The Fatal Climb

It's November 2012 and I'm at the QWC/Hachette retreat. I've spoken to Vanessa Radnidge from Hachette about the first draft of “my novel”.  An hour of power wherein she tells me how to make it fabulous, and maybe, no promises, there's a chance it might be picked up. As I leave the meeting, the epiphany hits me-

Sir Edmund Hilary had it easy. Climbing mountains has nothing on writing a book.

I've suffered pain and strained nouns. I've invested countless days lifting heavy verbs. I’ve spent weeks chipping at sentences, months climbing paragraphs – now I've reached the top of my mountain and finished my book. Do I get a Knighthood? No.

All of a sudden, I realise I haven't even reached the summit. It’s still up there, the peak barely visible through a dense cloud of prose. There's more editing to do before I scale the pinnacle – wherein lies, joy of all joys, my shiny, published book. Right now, it seems further away than ever. And I'm sick of it all. Exhausted. Not sure if I can do it.

And it’s then I do what countless climbers before me have been warned not to do. It's a novice mistake. A stupid error, which could cost me everything.

I look down.

Below me is a sheer cliff. Rocks litter the base and as I peer into the abyss I see dark, red, bloody smears and the bodies of other hopeful writers. The palms of my hands grow cold with fear as I realise - I could fall too. Even if I do everything Vanessa says, which means months of hard work, my book might still be rejected. And I may never have another chance to reach the top. Writers block could fall, permanently barring the path.

I think of all the sacrifices I made to climb my mountain. Every moment I missed with my children. Every invitation for coffee I turned down. The movies I've missed, the times when there just wasn't a moment to get my hair cut, or to sleep in, drink too much, sing until midnight, and instead I went to
bed early and rose at dawn, ready to work on ‘my manuscript’.

All the things I could have done if I hadn't climbed Mt Novel.

Mt Novel, really just a few hundred sheets of scrap paper with words, some kilobytes on a USB, which may never be published.

And it's then I make a crucial decision.

I will never look down again.

And so I clip on my chapter scaling crampons, recoil the imagery ropes and sharpen my pencil ready to slash through the prowling clichés hidden in Mt Novel. Because at the end of the day, published or not published, this is now part of who I am…

A writer.

Cathy McLennan was selected to participate in the 2012 QWC/Hachette retreat. Saltwater People is the true story of a twelve-year old aboriginal boy from Palm Island charged with a horrific murder. The case has many twists and turns. In the book we see firsthand the battle for justice on Palm Island, a violent and beautiful tropical paradise reported in the Guinness Book of World Records as: “the most dangerous place on earth outside a war zone.”

Cathy worked as a defence lawyer in northern aboriginal communities for seven years. She now works as a barrister in Brisbane (not to be confused with barista – she makes bad coffee) and is a sitting member of a Federal Appeals Tribunal.  She has a masters-of-law from the University of Queensland specialising in litigation and dispute resolution. Cathy was also selected to participate in the 2011 QWC/Allen & Unwin retreat for her book, Shiver Giver, a spaghetti western starring one boy, his nose and a noodle impasta.

Cathy is now represented by literary agent, Selwa Anthony. Her blog can be found at

The QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program is open again in 2013! For information on the program and how to submit, visit the Manuscript Development Program page. 

Comments (2)

  1. Cathy McLennan:
    Sep 17, 2013 at 07:11 AM

    I've just signed with Random House. Saltwater People is due for release mid-2014. But I'm still climbing, there's still more edits till I reach the pinnacle of Mt Novel...

  2. Sophie Overett:
    Sep 17, 2013 at 09:24 AM

    Congratulations, Cathy! That's wonderful to hear. Great to hear that you're still climbing that Mt Novel and we certainly look forward to reading the result!

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