So What Actually Is "Once We Were"?

If you've been following along for the past year, you'd know that I worked on a little project titled "Once We Were". As a core requirement to complete my degree, I had to curate a project from start to finish over two semesters, implementing the project management and curation skills I'd acquired from the program.


What I think shocked most of my cohort was the expectation on day one to know what we were producing and whom we were collaborating with. Our previous projects over the years had ranged from extravagant showcases to theoretical proposals, so with the university having a habit of not releasing course content until only a day or so before the semester commences, no one had been thinking too deeply about the major project - why would we when we didn't have the information we needed to prepare? Until we were sitting in our first tutorial, we didn't know what the course expectations were, so whilst we could dream up big ideas, no one bothered to make any real plans. Well, unless you're me.


I'd gone into the degree knowing about the major project being the end game. I'd chosen to commence studies in the creative field purely to further my knowledge and skills in the writing and publishing industry. Unfortunately, I'd been disappointed by the results as the industry within the greater creative industries was often neglected in the core courses. In my specialisation of this field, I leant mostly different styles of writing and was offered only one course in developing publishing skills that, as of 2020, will no longer be offered for 'Writing and Publishing' majors (yeah, that's right - if you missed that goss you can read it here). It became pretty evident that if I was going to be spending over twenty hours a week working on this project, I needed to work on something I was passionate about - and since enrolling that passion had always been to write and publish a novel. Even when I pondered with other ideas, like creating a short film, I always came back to this idea. So it was decided that that was what I was going to do.


However, things didn't exactly go to plan.


I had a lot of resistance in Semester One when it came to my original project proposal. With a new tutor unfamiliar to us, rather than someone who'd been with us from the start and knew our strengths and weaknesses, we didn't feel that we had a strong support network behind us, so it became difficult to find the balance between 'shooting for the skies' and a realistic expectation for our final projects. For me, this led to many false starts before I gained approval to proceed and officially began working on my final proposal, which was a variation of my original proposal (now with no publication). As such, I didn't commence work on "Once We Were" until Semester Two, which left me with thirteen weeks to write a proof-copy manuscript based on a story concept and rough first draft I had a year prior (read about that here).


During that semester things ran a lot more smoothly, particularly as we had a new tutor, someone we knew and would support our creative visions during the final stages. Almost everybody had commenced their project, and if not, they had a solid plan on how to proceed. With approval to finally go ahead on my project, I spent a lot of my time between August and November rising early to write on my balcony or visiting coffee shops for a change of scenery. Majority of this period was spent writing and perfecting each chapter via several drafts, with a very short window left at the end for a final edit before submission to my tutor. I also had some assistance from my friend, Caitlin Young, who helped edited and gave suggestions for my novel during the writing phase, and from my former tutor, Amy Lovat, who's writing workshops helped me gain immediate feedback from an audience regarding the authenticity and enjoyment of the narrative, in addition to ways to improve the storyline.


Despite the delays and hiccups to get where I needed to be, what I loved most about this opportunity was the ability to explore my skills and knowledge unlike before (because writing novels wasn't new to me, I'd done it a few times before). Many of my previous tertiary projects were for someone else, while this one was a passion project, something I needed to do for me amongst the chaos of my busy life. It allowed me a space to take a break and be creative, time to actually work on my craft and play with the medium, as well as learn to work with a tight deadline. Whilst I didn't get to publish as part of this process, I had acquired a greater knowledge of the processes involved in the self-pub model. Ironically, the only feedback from was that task was that I would've got a higher mark if I had published the manuscript.


So I guess the lesson here folks is to stick up and fight for what you believe in from day one.

Keighley performing her live reading

And to answer that question I lured you in with, "Once We Were" is a manuscript for new adults based around the value of truth and loyalty in friendships. It features protagonist, Bea James, and best friend, Alex McClay, in an adventure of finding themselves and where they stand in their quirky and unusual friendship as changes happen in their lives. The narrative itself is set between 'Then' and 'Now', transitioning between their hometown of Sydney, and their travels in Paris and Tuscany. And yes, it's a romance - of sorts. The tale was inspired by author Colleen Hoover, whose romance novels I often find authentic and emotionally grabbing - something that can be rare within the genre, and as such was an element I wanted to experiment and incorporate with within the piece.


Late November I read an extract of this manuscript at the UoN Student Reading Night at The Beaumont, hosted by academic and local creative Bastian Phelan. It was my first 'professional' live reading outside of the classroom, and honestly? I found not being graded and marked while being on stage made the experience more enjoyable, and in turn, my confidence in front of the crowd a lot stronger.





© 2019 by Keighley Bradford

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