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Three months of turmoil

To say the past few months have been chaotic doesn’t cover it.

A period of ups and downs, tumultuous. Good news, bad news. A little from column A, a little from column B. Insert relevant cliché here.

I finally took the plunge and subbed manuscript no. 1 out to agents, sending either queries or the opening chapters depending on their submission guidelines, and received some feedback and a couple of no thanks.

I’d printed out manuscript no. 2 ready to read it for the first time in months ahead of a workshop with the wonderful Nadine Davidoff and several HARDCOPY buddies. I had a plan, timelines set out, deadlines lined up to meet.

Then my husband lost his job.

This is how I'm in the system at Centrelink.  I'm neither a 'writter' nor a farmer.

It was sudden, unexpected, brutal, and understandably shot his confidence to pieces. After a day of calling family and banks, and trying to explain to our son what was going on, I received a full manuscript request. On the same day. What was arguably the high point of my writing career so far came on the worst day of my husband’s professional life. And it’s hard to be excited when someone close to you is hurting.

The following weeks blurred into counselling appointments, applications and dealing with Centrelink and recruitment agencies. But don’t get me started on those last two.

Okay. Just a small rant. But I’ve stuck it at the bottom so you can avoid it if you want to. I’ll only say this: The recruiter looked at my resume and said, and I quote:

“So, freelance… Is that where you work for free?”

This did not instil me with confidence.

Mr F started a new job last week, but we’re all still recovering. After being a brilliant, stoic and understanding little guy our son’s behaviour has gone downhill because he liked his dad being at home, and we’re all adjusting to Mr F working 90 minutes away instead of 20.

I’ve picked up some work proofreading thanks to a friend who recommended me, and as a result she never has to pay for coffee again. I’ve also gained work for an educational publisher after sending out cold call letters, was shortlisted for a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship, and had an article accepted. But all of these things were in the pipeline and would’ve happened regardless.

The biggest boost has been my appointment as Writers Victoria’s Write-ability Goes Regional and Online Local Mentor for the Central Highlands. This part-time role started with the Own Voices forum in Ballarat in late April, and will continue until December with a writing group once a month, with the first on 17 May. I’m absolutely thrilled to be appointed to this role, and can’t wait to get started on the workshops.

Also, our support network has been amazing. For the most part, our family and friends have gone out of their way to be there, offer us shoulders and advice and hot cuppas – and for that we are grateful. And we didn’t lose the house and found professional support for my husband when he needed it.

And what about my writing? How’s that going?

I realise that I was in a fortunate position before of not needing to work (a decision we made as a family as our son needs extra support) but my writing has, like many people, had to take a back seat to earning an income. The workshop was brilliant, and I know what I need to do with MS#2 – mostly. There’s a plot point I need to change and I’m struggling to think of alternatives. But it’ll come to me. I’ve been reading a lot for friends – full and partial MSs, grant applications and cover letters. I’ve entered comps and submitted articles. I’ve been making copious amounts of notes about the changes I need to make to MS#2. Once things settle back into a routine I’ll hit the keyboard running.

I’ve gone through patches when I’ve wanted to throw it all in, and when I’ve resented the impact Mr F’s job loss has had on my career. It feels like right at the point where I should be pushing myself out there more I’ve had to pull back, and my ability to attend writing events in Melbourne has again been restricted. But, hey, you can only do what you can do, right?

Hopefully this blog helps explain why I’ve been slack posting over the past few months. That and I was on crutches for three weeks after ripping the ligaments in my ankle while moving the ride-on lawnmower. But that’s another story.

Fun with Centrelink: A rant in list form

  • Dealing with Centrelink in the first place. HOURS, either on the phone – if you can get through at all – or in person at their office.

  • The system is not designed for jobseekers with a professional background, and assumes everyone is trying to rort the system and no-one is in genuine need.

  • The requirement that you meet with a recruiting agency within five days of your phone appointment in my case meant I was placed with an agency that does not deal with professional backgrounds, told me I wouldn’t get retail work because I hadn’t worked retail since uni, and the office volunteering I’d done wouldn’t be enough to get me admin work. No advice on what work I would be suitable for was given. And I asked.

  • The requirement to apply for 20 jobs a month does not seem to consider factors such as living in a rural area, childcare, and a general lack of jobs. And also forces people (based on both my experience and Mr F’s) to apply for jobs they aren’t suitable for – wasting both our time and that of the employer.

  • A ‘job’ entails working for someone else with a regular salary, and the recruiter couldn’t tell me if freelance work/grant applications/competitions/publication submissions/article pitches counted.

  • There is – believe it or not – no mechanism other than calling or attending a Centrelink office to inform them you have started a full-time job. Both the phones and offices are only open during office hours. When people are working full-time. See the problem?

  • Someone has put me in the system as ‘Writter Farming sole trader’, which is wrong on so many levels. And I can’t edit it.

  • I’m going to stop now because it’s making me angry.

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