Forging a Writing Career while living the Gypsy Life
Guest post by Beverley Eikli
For twenty years I’ve been the ‘trailing spouse’ of a pilot husband.
Eivind and I met in the early 90s after I’d taken two months’ leave from my job as a journalist to manage a safari camp in Botswana. Chatting with this gorgeous Norwegian bush pilot around a campfire I knew it was love at first sight but unfortunately I was due to return to Australia the following day. To my delight, my attraction was mutual and after eight months of letter-writing Eivind popped the question, a date was set, and my life went from predictable and ordered to the very opposite as I flew back to Botswana to live with my new fiancé in a thatched cottage in the middle of a mopane forest.
So how did I make a career as a writer of historical fiction in the midst of what would be such a gypsy, topsy-turvy life?
Writing about love and adventure was my escape during the lonely and difficult times, when my husband was away, or later when I was the only woman on survey contracts and then after my husband broke his back. During my long apprenticeship I wrote five 5 manuscripts, repeating the same mistakes regarding plot and approach, and adding to my thickening folder of rejections. I was not a member of any writing organisation to show me how to research publishers and make a professional pitch. I had no critique partners to give me feedback on where I was going wrong.
I didn’t know that these things were as important as any formal training in pursuing success.
My first job after getting married was as an airborne geophysical survey operator working the computer in the back of low flying aircraft during a year’s contract in Namibia with Eivind. Later, during three-month contracts in French Guiana, Greenland and Sweden, writing romance was my escape when I was tired of playing cards or didn’t feel like drinking beer with the boys at the end of the day.
After we returned to Australia in 1998 for a couple of years, I got work as editor of a craft magazine in Sydney, and later, as a journalist on WA Homes & Living magazine when we moved to Perth. I also joined Romance Writers of Australia, which was the first truly sensible thing I did with regard to my writing career.
During the two years we lived in the Solomon Islands in 1991 and 1992 after Eivind got the job of Chief Pilot, I wrote the first drafts of what would be my first three published books. The expat lifestyle was conducive to juggling a vibrant social life with mothering our two-year-old, and with lots of help in the house and garden, and guided by the mentoring I received from RWA, I got a lot of good, structured writing done.
I’d written my first romance when I was seventeen, but drowning the heroine on the final page showed how much I had to learn about the genre. It would be 23 years before Robert Hale published my first book in 2009. However, since joining RWA I’d starting winning writing competitions, though I was having trouble completing a workable manuscript without overcomplicated plots twists and unnecessary tangents.
Unfortunately South Pacific politics proved volatile and unexpectedly we found ourselves without work or a home. My dad’s farm in South Australia provided six months’ refuge before my husband got a job flying in Antarctica, and we moved to Adelaide where I was pregnant for five of the months Eivind was flying south during the summer season.
Polishing my first book, Lady Sarah’s Redemption, kept me occupied during long, lonely evenings when I wasn’t playing with our now four-year-old. I sent the manuscript to various publishers but my rejection folder was growing thicker.
Shortly after my husband returned from Antarctica and four weeks before I was due to give birth, my husband broke his back while renovating the South Australian property we’d bought from dad. Our first child had been delivered by emergency caesarean but with my husband in rehabilitation I was hoping for a natural birth so I could be on my feet in the shortest possible time to look after Eivind and a newborn. I was lucky. Lillie was a respectable 8lb 3oz and a textbook birth.
Now living in Adelaide, South Australia, writing fell by the wayside as I looked for work to pay the bills. Moving around such a lot meant it was difficult for me to find the kind of work I was trained for. I remember the desperation of walking into a temp agency on a Friday morning saying I had to have something – anything – by the following week. Sure enough, on the Monday I was working at Medicare Head Office only to have to phone in with my apologies on the Tuesday because the entire family had come down with bronchitis. My husband’s vertebrae had all been sheered off and were a floating mass amidst the scar tissue which, combined with the Golden Staff infection and now bronchitis, spelled agony.
As my position in head office at Medicare had since been filled, I was relegated to the data entry hall. I knew it was only a matter of time before my supervisor would twig that I’d never done data entry in my life but I slogged on, hating every minute of the work, living in a twilight world of exhaustion and fear of exposure. When that moment did arrive, the timing was in my favour. I got ‘the call’ advising me I’d no longer be needed at the very moment my husband was pouring us a glass of sparkling burgundy in the kitchen and announcing he’d got a job with Ozjet, a business-class-only airline flying Melbourne to Sydney. Naturally Eivind had to be off all pain relief, and as pain was – as he put it – his ‘best friend’ for about six years, that was hard. Pilots have to be so careful about the medications they take, as even most cold and flu medications are on the prohibited list.
With the pressure off, I threw myself back into writing and looking after Eivind and the children. Things were looking up for the family.
However, several months later, Ozjet folded. Another three months of unemployment followed and then the company was up and running again, and Eivind was rehired with a basing in Melbourne. We packed up, moved cities and were in the car, driving to sign for our new house, when we heard the radio announcement: Ozjet had folded. This time for good.
During the next few years my entire approach to my writing changed. I learned how to really be focused and to utilise every minute I could, in between looking after the family and working a variety of jobs, including waitressing, proof reading and teaching English as a Second Language with an occasional freelance article to write. I was still getting rejection letters for my romances but had started regularly winning competitions and getting requests from Avon and Berkley for the full manuscript.
In 2007 Eivind got a three-year flying contract in Japan and the family packed up again. After a year, though, a job offer flying the Boeing 737 with Virgin was too good to turn down and and we returned to Australia.
For six years we’ve now been living in a pretty country town an hour north of Melbourne. It’s lovely to put down roots, to have the children attend the same school and to live with a husband who is mostly pain-free these days. It’s also lovely to have eight books under my belt, to be looking forward to my next Choc Lit release, The Maid of Milan, in March, and to have just learned that my first release with Choc Lit, The Reluctant Bride, has been shortlisted for Favourite Historical Romance of 2013 by Australian Romance Readers Association. It’s my third nomination.)
So much has happened since my first book was published by Robert Hale in 2009. My first three books with them all went to Large Print, I wrote six e-books for Totally Bound, Pan MacMillan Momentum and Ellora’s Cave, and then I won Choc Lit’s Search for an Australian Star for The Reluctant Bride.
Gradually I’ve secured contracts to teach creative writing contracts around Melbourne and these provide the bread-and-butter money between my book contracts. Last year was the first that all my income derived entirely from what I love doing most: writing stories and teaching students how I go about making them, together with my ‘History through Costume’ talks where I dress in Georgian clothing and discuss the historical background to my books. (Costume making and corset-making are other great loves of mine.)
Life’s never been better. My lovely husband is employed full time in what is, essentially, his hobby. He now flies the Boeing 777 long haul to Los Angeles where he keeps a motorbike and explores California when he’s away from us, while back home I write stories of strong, brave women triumphing over desperate circumstances.
My writing journey has been a slow, convoluted one, but weaving tales of love and adventure has sustained me through adversity. At times during my 23-year-long apprenticeship I felt like giving up, but then I remembered that making up stories of the heart with lots of passion and a happy ending is what enriches my life. Despite the seemingly futile hours when it seemed I was plugging away with no return, the payoff has definitely been worth it.
Hopefully, like the endings of my books.
Beverley Eikli is the author of eight historical romances. In 2012 she won UK Women’s Fiction publisher Choc-Lit’s Search for An Australia Star competition with her suspenseful, Napoleonic espionage Romance The Reluctant Bride, which has just been shortlisted by Australian Romance Readers for Favourite Historical in 2013.
She has worked as a journalist, a safari lodge manager in the Okavango, and owes her biggest job promotion as an airborne survey operator to the fact that at half the weight of her male colleagues she offered her company an enormous fuel uplift advantage.
Having made her home in more than twelve cities in too many countries to count, Beverley is back in Australia teaching in the Department of Professional Writing & Editing at Victoria University. She also teaches Short Courses for the Centre of Adult Education and Macedon Ranges Further Education.
You can find Beverley at www.beverleyeikli.com