Writing ‘Soldier Out of Time’ for Eighty Nine


Soldier Out of Time, was my first attempt at serious fiction writing. I had penned stories before; spent entire days writing as a teen, and had numerous semi-complete works, but I had never taken it seriously enough to think I could be published. Before I talk about the story and writing for Eighty Nine, I just want to give you a bit of history on this most excellent of occasions…

Enter good friend Janette Dalgliesh who was writing a story for the Literary Mix Tapes anthology Nothing But Flowers, based on love in a post apocalyptic setting. Janette had been telling me all about this project she was involved in; crowd-sourced short fiction stories and the editor and brains-behind-it all, Jodi Cleghorn. I was immediately in love with the whole concept and couldn’t wait to read the NBF anthology – to know my friend was a published writer, was so incredibly cool, I just had to stay in the loop! I hadn’t even considered becoming involved in it myself, at this stage.

When the NBF anthology came out I tweeted and Facebooked like crazy – I had read the eBook as soon as it was available to buy, and I was in awe of the calibre of writing in its pages. I didn’t have any expectations on quality, but I’m a voracious reader and I know what I like and don’t like. I thoroughly enjoyed the short story format (something I had not really read before) and each one was like a sweet little morsel in a big fat cake of anthology goodness. Through promoting the book to my networks, I finally met Jodi and it wasn’t long before I was able to meet her in person. Jodi, her son Mr. D, Janette and I had lunch together and nattered like little old women for over an hour – it was awesome and I was stoked to meet her. It was at this lunch that I first had ideas of getting involved in LMT. I had no idea how or even if I was good enough, but I wanted to be in on it.

So rather long story cut short, when Jodi announced the Eighty Nine speculative fiction anthology had spots open for new writers, I put my hand up like a shot and scored a spot. I was seriously excited and incredibly nervous all at the same time. I had never even shown Janette, let alone Jodi, anything I’d written. What if I sucked?! …

The song prompt I received for Eighty Nine was Martika’s Toy Soldiers. You remember the song right? Step by step, heart to heart… etc. rinse and repeat. I always liked the song and the video clip growing up and admit I had a slight crush on Martika with her short bobbed hair and dark brooding eyes.  I was pleased with my prompt and couldn’t wait to get started on my story. The first thing I did was research historical events and the music of 1989. Pop culture references were also a biggie. Globally, 1989 was a massive year for political upheaval, revolution, terrorism and all-round bad shit. It all seemed to happen at some time in 1989.

I thought about alternate history – what would have happened if the Berlin Wall hadn’t come down? Or if George Bush Snr hadn’t become US President? Or if no one had protested in Tiananmen Square?  There were so many options that were based on such indelible historical events, that I ended up freaking myself out. I decided to leave it all alone for a couple days to see what might peek up above the fog of facts and 80’s trivia.

In the mean time, I’d been talking to my partner about his memories of 1989 as a young kid newly emigrated from the UK, living on the sunny east coast of Australia. He still waxes lyrical about his adventures during that time; the freedom he and his brother had to run wild in the bush, doing boy things, the days spent at the beach, surfing, arcades and chiko rolls. For a pasty skinned British kid, there was (and still is, for him) no better place to be. So this got me thinking and I sat down to write something. I didn’t have a plan, just a couple of characters that were wheedling away in my mind. Thinking back on it now, they were (to my mind!) quite stereotypical – Tracey was the ultimate bogan skank with her Winnie Blues and brand new walkman blaring Madonna. David was the big kid always getting in to fights because kids his age where too dumb to reason with. David’s single mother who was trying her hardest to raise two boys but have a life of her own – a new relationship with the single father of David’s sworn enemy – despite their recognisable traits, I rather liked these guys. The story came easy and I loved most of the scenes. My first draft was pretty lengthy and it took me a few goes to get it down to the word count – this was my first experience of ‘killing my babies’ and it wasn’t pleasant! After going through some great beta comments from my Eighty Nine and LMT co-authors and first round edits from editor in chief Jodi Cleghorn, I knew a total re-write was needed.

Firstly – it wasn’t speculative fiction. I’d never written spec-fic before and I’m not a reader of sci-fi either, so this genre was threatening to be an utter bastard to me. I struggled to take on ideas of futuristic technology entwined with my small town character mentality. I didn’t want to lose the charm of the relationships my MC (David) had developed. The whole thing called for a drastic do-over.

Secondly – I was starting to doubt myself big time. I couldn’t for the life of me work out how to write this story that wanted to be written, the way I needed to write it for inclusion in the anthology.

Lastly – I copped a massive whack of writers’ block that crippled me and my story. I had to ask for extensions (granted by the ever patient and believing Jodi) but every time I went back to it, it wouldn’t play the game. When I finally did come back to Jodi with my penultimate re-write, it still wasn’t good enough for my liking. While the bones were there, it was a little fractured. I needed to dramatically condense it to get it as concise as I wanted.

Eventually, I figured it out. I started the story much later than I originally had. It was now set in two time lines – the underlying premise being a time-travel story (there’s my spec-fic element) centred on a futuristic couple wanting to escape autocratic and predestined lives, who somehow manage to go back in time, rather than forward as was their plan. This then linked back to my original MC, David, still in 1989 Australia. I was able to connect the two (you’ll have to read the story to find out how) in a way that is hopefully humorous, sweet and spec-fic enough! In the end, Martika was relegated to a spot on Rage (the iconic Australian music show from the ABC) – which when I think about it, is her rightful place for the time!

Soldier Out of Time is my first short fiction story, published by Literary Mix Tapes (2011) in the Eighty Nine anthology. I am honoured to be a part of it and to share its pages with twenty five other amazing authors. Thanks to them all and to Jodi for being awesome.

Now let’s party like its 1989!

One response to “Writing ‘Soldier Out of Time’ for Eighty Nine

  1. Congratulations on your first publication, Laura.
    I can completely understand the frustration when a story doesn’t want to work properly. I went through major revisions and even considered dumping my idea and start again. Love it when the subconscious is allowed to compost and percolate.
    A fascinating look behind the scenes.
    Adam B @revhappiness

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