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‘Well-behaved Women’ launch speech by Louise Allan

Published 18th November, 2019 in Behind the Book
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I first met Emily in 2013. But I’d been following her blog, The Incredible Rambling Elimy, for a year or two before that.

So I knew she worked in a bookshop, that she loved reading as evidenced by the 100+ books she reviewed each year. I also knew she was an aspiring author, and had a creative writing degree with Honours. 

From reading her blog posts, I could see that this young writer was incredibly committed to writing and reading, that she was articulate, insightful, intelligent. That she could read the subtext of a book and that she was more than capable of turning a nice phrase herself. 

So in 2013, when I had a completed draft of my novel, I was looking for a writing group—fellow writers who were at about the same stage as me, with whom I could share my work and get feedback, and vice versa.

And so I met a young writer called Emily Paull and we began reading and critiquing each other’s work. 

Now you might wonder how a woman in her late-40s and one in her early 20s might become close friends.

I don’t know if that’s a testament to Emily’s maturity or my lack of it. 

But we did, and I think we can thank writing for that. There’s something about sharing your writing, because it is so personal, that enables close friendships to be forged. 

And there’s something about sharing the writing journey, the ups and downs, of which there are so many, that no matter the age difference, once you’ve been through that together, you can’t help but become friends.

All that aside, the maternal side of me wanted to adopt this pretty, young, book-loving, vintage-frock wearing, red-lipstick-loving girl as my daughter—sorry Mrs Paull.

Over the next few years, Emily and I read each other’s work countless times. 

Now, my novel’s been published and Emily’s is yet to be. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what that says about my feedback compared to Emily’s? She’s also the one with the editing degree. 

So if there’s anyone in the room tonight looking for a manuscript assessor, I’d be asking Emily, not me.

It didn’t take long for me to see that Emily had everything she needed to succeed as a writer: 

She had talent—she could turn a beautiful phrase. 

She was keen.

She was determined—don’t be fooled by her innocent look. Underneath is steely determination. 

She had self-discipline and a strong work ethic—she could sit her bum in her writing chair no matter what. 

And she had a deep love of books and literature. 

So I knew straight away that one day she’d be published. 

Now, anyone who’s ever been anywhere with Emily, knows that she always carries a notebook, usually one with a pretty cover. If you’ve sat next to her at author talks, you’ll know that while you might be listening and hoping your sieve-like brain will retain a fraction of the information, beside you Emily, who has an impeccable memory anyway, will be scribbling away, noting every word of wisdom the author has to offer. 

In the early days of our writing group, we used to meet in a cafe in Leederville, and before we’d start giving feedback, Emily would get out her notebook, ready to take down everything we said. 

I remember the first time we gave her feedback on the first few chapters of her novel. As every writer here knows, it’s never easy to hear feedback on your work. Yet Emily sat at the table, with her notebook open and her pen in her hand, head down, writing every word we said. She did not say a word in defence of her work or ask us to stop. But nor did she let us see her face. She just kept writing. 

My heart went out to her as I watched this crestfallen young woman take that feedback on the nose.

A couple of years later, Emily told me she’d gone home that night and cried in the bath.

But a few months after that night, she handed over a redrafted version of her story and, like the trooper she is, she’d not only incorporated our feedback, but she’d thought about it and taken it further. 

Choosing the life of a writer isn’t easy. 

It takes more than talent.

It takes determination and self-discipline. 

It takes learning to be alone.

It takes years learning the craft during which time you earn little or no money. 

I know, too, that Emily spent two years studying a professional writing and publishing graduate diploma at Deakin Uni, which costs money and time.

It takes sacrifices. Emily works part-time, thus making a financial sacrifice, so she has time to write. 

It takes learning to take criticism of something that’s very personal on board. Of drying your tears and getting back to your manuscript, and trying again.

It means a lifetime of rejections and disappointments, no matter how good you are. Being rejected for literary journals, writing residencies, unpublished manuscript awards, and getting over the disappointment and turning up at your desk again, fingers on the keyboard again, ready to go again. 

I’ve seen Emily do all of this. I’ve seen her down, but I’ve seen her pull herself back up, and get back in the writing saddle ready to try again. Try harder. Each time learning and each time improving. 

I’d read a few of the stories in this collection in their draft form, and to read them now and see how far she’s been able to take them, bringing out their layers and themes, but never overdoing it, is a testament to her skill and perseverance, and her maturity. 

It’s been an absolute honour to watch Emily develop as a writer. To see her voice and confidence grow. To see her dedication pay off. 

I’ve learnt much from watching her, about self-discipline, practice and patience, and supporting fellow writers. She’s a great role-model. 

I’m full of admiration and respect. Not just for Emily’s writing, but for her as a person. For her resilience, her integrity, her kindness, her compassion and understanding. For her gentle feminism. 

Because this is a feminist collection.

As I read this collection, I kept thinking, how has she managed to do this? To get her message across with subtlety. 

It’s because she could capture her characters so realistically. It takes a special writer to be able to that, at any age, let alone in your twenties.

I don’t think Emily realises what a special collection of stories she’s created and how much readers will relate to her characters. Because the glue of this collection is the characters—they are so true.

We’ve all been well-behaved at times.

We’ve all misbehaved too. 

We’ve sought revenge, like Miss Lovegrove. 

We’ve taken risks for the thrill of it, like Damian’s mother in ‘The Sea Also Waits’. 

We’ve gone out with or stayed married to men who’ve treated us badly. 

We’ve felt lesser than our more important spouses. 

We’ve felt survivor’s guilt. 

We’ve not finished reading the book for book club. 

We’ve worried about being judged on our ability to cook a curry. 

We’ve felt out of our depth amongst society women. 

We’ve been rejected for someone else.

We’ve been overweight and bought diet books in the hope of finding love. 

This book captures moments in the lives of young women, older women, sisters, mothers, teachers, a step-daughter, a grand-daughter. 

These stories are about young love, first love, new love, old love, familial love. Unrequited love. Lost love.

They’re about women sticking together, with their sister, their friends, their mothers, their grandmothers. 

Not all of these stories wrap up neatly, there are unanswered questions, as there always are in life. 

But by the end of the book, you’ll find yourself wondering—what is a well-behaved woman anyway? We’re all here, battling on, doing our utmost, trying to live the best lives we can. 

It gives me great pleasure to launch Well-Behaved Women into the world, and I say: watch out world, Emily Paull is on her way!

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