The readers' reports are in - well almost all of them - and now we move into the next phase of editing the project. The feedback has been extremely helpful and insightful, and there's very little I will reject or ignore (entirely). To give you an idea of the kind of matters and issues the readers' feedback addressed, here's an outline. I am not listing typos etc in this list and there were a few found by the readers. There will be more of those to come.
Two readers indicated the story has an arc that needs strengthening - the sense of Girlie's journey and personal growth from the story start to end requires work. This is, of course, the challenge in taking a factual life and moulding it into more than an historical list of events, which is the purpose of this project. I will work on that closely.
The readers were happy with the development and sense of places, although one correctly pointed out a glaring historical error which is now amended. I'm re-checking the others as I go through this second major edit.
Language became a point of discussion - Australian slang and swearing in particular. Curiously, while swearing was not uncommon, it was often contextual and also reflected social class, or an attempt to belong to a social class in the 1940s and 1950s. Girlie's parents did not abide swearing and so the children grew up with an abhorrence for it, as I've reflected in the novel. This was at odds with one reader who expected more robust Aussie expression, but that's one of the oddities that fascinated me in researching this project - the lack of 'bloody' and 'bastard' and so on in the Bonney family that is sometimes incorrectly considered synonymous with Australian culture. It's not that some of the lads couldn't or didn't swear either - but not in front of children or girls and ladies - and it was strictly followed by certain groups of people in Adelaide.
All readers concurred that they felt the dialogue felt real and advanced the story, but I will still check it thoroughly on the second key edit. For what it's worth noting, I read dialogue/conversations aloud when I write them. It helps me find emotional authenticity in each character, even when the dialogue is trivial conversation. Dialogue is a key component to my story-telling style and I need the characters to sound and feel real.
I've now interviewed three more surviving members of the family about a range of incidents in the story - the family living on Brighton beach, the number of moves the family had to make in the homeless period, and the fates of the younger children when they were forced to live in foster homes. Many of these events won't make it into the novel, but I now have a richer tapestry of what was happening to her siblings when Girlie was in Melbourne and Tasmania.
I've also learned that while the father was a philanderer and put the family in dire straits during the post-war period, fascinatingly he never abandoned them entirely - finding them places to stay, sometimes work - and some of the children remember him with fondness: the elusive TD as he was nicknamed by the boys. I learned that while he was not invited to Girlie's wedding to Bill, which forms the closing chapter of the novel, he was there, standing on the Morphett Road bridge overlooking the church. This poignant fact will now find its way into the story.
I have one more interview to hold, to gather additional facts and confirm others, during this second edit period. This is the point where I now work steadily through the draft manuscript, adjusting and correcting sections in line with the reader's feedback and the new interview information, and embellishing the creative components of figurative description and character reflection.
Time to work harder on the project. Second edit is underway!