Well OK, I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek – but still, I’m amazed at how, suddenly, everyone I need to help me make it happen is turning up out of the woodwork, so to speak.
The people behind Pentridge Voices have been supportive from the moment they found out about this memoir through one of my posts on Instagram. One of them invited me to a book launch they were having. I explained that I live much too far away from Melbourne these days; then asked, out of curiosity, if this was a PV publication. She said no, self-published by the author, but she was the cover designer.
‘Aha!’ I said. ‘I need a cover designer.’
We started a conversation, tossed around ideas….
I had morning tea with a friend-and-neighbour. In telling her what I’d been up to lately, I said I’d found a cover designer for the memoir, and was still trying to decide on the artwork. Then it dawned on me.
‘You’re an artist!’
Long story short, she was thrilled to be hired for this commission, and has already delivered the result to the cover designer. (I love what she did, but I’m not making it public until the book appears.)
Recently I put out a call for any photos of me which anyone might have from the time in which this story took place. I discovered I didn’t have any myself! (It was the era of polaroids, and mine haven’t lasted.) This was for a cover idea my artist friend had. We got one – not at all suitable for what she had in mind, but it will be a good one to put somewhere else in the book to indicate how I looked then, in place of a newspaper photo I had which is too grainy and also poses copyright problems. Meanwhile the artist found an even better idea for the cover.
Then I decided to add to the story. I had hesitated to include some details for fear of swamping the social history aspect with the personal – then I realised that everything I could say was contingent on it having happened in a prison anyway, that prison in particular, and that there were things I needed to include to give a fuller picture. But how and where to insert that material into a manuscript I had considered complete? I went into overwhelm.
A writer friend posted on facebook a semi-humorous complaint about trying to rewrite and edit her memoir and deciding it was all a load of crap. I made a comment about fellow-feeling, adding that I thought I needed a good professional editor but didn’t know where to find one. My friend immediately alerted another friend of hers who happens to be one. We agreed on a manuscript assessment rather than a full edit of something that’s been very well workshopped, plus some small tweaks she ‘couldn’t resist’.
I’ve noticed that many self-published books are let down by poor editing, but I think my English expression is pretty good. Also, I’m afraid I have a very low opinion of some editors I’ve encountered, who have lacked emotional intelligence, allowing theoretical correctness to take precedence over the needs of the story, e.g. correcting slang or bad grammar used in dialogue, even though it was true to the character who was speaking.
This lady, however, seemed to understand exactly what I needed, and came recommended by a trusted friend – and I was feeling desperate.
Her suggestions were few but crucial. They made me realise that my writing had become a tad idiosyncratic over the years, which may be fine in poetry but not necessarily right for non-fiction. I couldn’t fail to see how her advice improved the work. Furthermore she was beautifully sensitive to keeping my voice and honouring what I wanted to convey.
Also she knows her background stuff, and was able to inform me that the Tolkien estate is notoriously difficult about granting permission to quote from his published works – so there went a quote I had planned to use as a motif. I did some rewriting of an early chapter to convey a similar idea without plagiarism. Then I had some free marketing advice from a good friend who is a professional in that field, to the effect that I needed the word ‘prison’ in my title.
The book is now called Breaking Into Pentridge Prison, with the subtitle: Memories of Darkness and Light.
So the text is now complete, the cover is happening, and the various other practical things which have to be handled are all falling into place.
I’m planning to simultaneously issue a new edition of Blood from Stone, the poetry anthology which grew out of the Pentridge workshops. The intention is to publish in the second half of this year.
Meanwhile, I’d like to get renewed permission from the poets in Blood from Stone to use their work in the new edition. It’s not absolutely essential but it is preferable.
I have permission from those I’m still in touch with.
Can anyone tell me where to find the following, or their families if they are deceased?
George Brinkmann, Lou Burchielli, Peter James Dawson, Allen Fairless, Mark Houching, John J. Price, Cheryl Rolland, and the cover artist Allan Williams.
Photo above, of the entrance to Pentridge, © David A Nissen 2023.