Posted on February 27, 2019 by ACT Writers Centre
Chloe Higgins is the Director of Wollongong Writers Festival. She was the 2016 KSP Writers’ Centre Emerging Writer-in-Residence and the Varuna/Ray Koppe Young Writers’ Resident. She won the 2017 Feminartsy Memoir Prize and placed third in the February 2018 Glimmer Train Family Matters competition. Her debut memoir, The Girls, explores grief, guilt, family dynamics, and socially-stigmatised sex. The Girls will be published by Picador in September 2019 and was recently named in the SMH Spectrum’s ‘What to read in 2019’ list.
Chloe participated in the ACT Writers Centre’s HARDCOPY (nonfiction) program in 2017. Applications for 2019 close on Friday 15 March. Apply Now
Where are you up to with your writing?
Ten days ago, I sent my almost-final debut manuscript to my copyeditor at Picador. I signed with Picador around April 2018 and have had the privilege to be working on the macro-level edits with my editor, Mathilda Imlah, since then. It’s been a beautiful back and forth conversation and I feel lucky for it to have unfolded slowly and over an extended period of time as it has. Handing the manuscript over to my copyeditor was scary as it still feels like there’s so many micro-level issues (timelines etc) to further finetune but my structural editor and friends tell me that’s part of the process and there’ll still be multiple rounds of edits before anything is final so I’m taking comfort in that (I think I mistakenly thought the copyedit was the final run-through). Concurrently, my manuscript is out with some early industry readers who’ve agreed to do some cover endorsements for the book, so I’m waiting for those to come through. All of that is out of my hands though so my real work at the moment is writing the final chapter.
My book, The Girls, is a literary memoir about grief, guilt, family dynamics and socially-stigmatised sex. The book chronicles my family’s grief after the loss of my two sisters in 2005. Early readers were quick to point out my sisters were absent from the manuscript, a fact that came as a shock when I first heard it. But avoidance has been my coping strategy for more than a decade now, and so it’s time to finally revisit stories, photos, home videos and other rituals tied to remembering my sisters. The final chapter follows this process and finally introduces the girls into the work. My editor and I are also having some back and forth about the cover. I don’t do any other form of writing (corporate, magazine, short stories etc) to ensure I keep a high level of mental and physical spaciousness around me, which is how I prioritise my long-form writing.
When you look back on your HARDCOPY experience, what are your reflections?
I feel so much gratitude toward HARDCOPY. There were obviously other things that opened the doors to me writing the work I write prior to HARDCOPY (I came with a full draft of my MS), but in terms of industry access and knowledge, HARDCOPY gave me so much. I met the most stunning humans, and I now count a few of the participants as good friends. Mary Cunnane also continued to informally mentor me after the program, without whom I would have been much more bewildered during the process of signing with an agent and then publisher. Also, the magic of spending several weekends in an interesting city with a group of other people also obsessed with writing and who were going through the same joys and struggles was bliss. I get cravings to go back. Nadine’s workshop in particular was a standout to me – I’ve been taught by writers many years over but there was something new and insightful about being taught by an editor. The industry education week was another standout. I’ve been writing for more than a decade now and had never been given access to this kind of inside knowledge, so my mind was blown again and again. And obviously, the weekend where we got to get feedback on our work from various publishers and agents was wonderful (although super intense!).
What was the most productive part of HARDCOPY for you?
The whole thing. I cannot rave highly enough about HARDCOPY. It led to me signing with my agent Jane Novak, and later my publisher Picador, so I am perhaps a bit biased but even besides those things: the people, the place, the programming – all of it was so fruitful.
What’s your advice for those considering applying to HARDCOPY?
Book your flights and accommodation in such a way that you have time to hang out with people before/after each weekend. That was one of the highlights of the program for me – getting to know the other participants. In terms of the actual application – I don’t know – the same as with any application. Start early so you have time to let it percolate in the back of your mind, workshop the shit out of it with friends before submitting, etc etc. I do also wonder if it might be worth waiting until you have a full (workshopped) manuscript until you apply? I guess for me, HARDCOPY was a pretty smooth lead-in to where I’m at now and although I took three months or so to do another edit on my MS before submitting it to the interested agents, I think already having done a lot of work on the MS meant that was a possibility. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t completely raw either. I feel like it’s a super, super rare opportunity to get your work in front of so many publishers and editors if you make it to the second round so I feel like it might be worth having your manuscript edging toward being ready for that stage (or at least making sure you’ve allocated time during the HARDCOPY year to do that level of work on your MS after the first round).
What’s next for you?
My book is coming out this September so I’m finishing this final chapter, and then will need to begin the de-identification, legal checks etc etc process on the MS. After that, it’ll be publicity preparation, I think, although I’m not 100% sure how that all works as this is my debut. Otherwise, I’m just making sure I keep my writing routine (two hours of writing, two hours of reading) the centrepiece of my day. I’m doing a PhD and am Director of Wollongong Writers Festival so am also about to start the theory component for university and begin curating the 2019 program for the festival.
Follow Chloe via Twitter (@Chlo_Higgs) and/or Facebook (@ChloHiggs) and/or Instagram (Chlo_Higgs) and her website is at https://chloemareehiggins.com. You can read an early version of the opening chapter of The Girls here: http://feminartsy.com/things-we-cannot-say/