Lizzie Borden, process, Walk
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Writing aftershocks #1

It’s been roughly three weeks since I finished the latest draft. I haven’t written a word since. It feels strange. The usual self-loathing-writer-crap pops up from time to time: I hate everything I wrote and I now realise where some of my problem chapters should’ve gone. I’m disappointed with myself that I could only figure this out after I handed in. Complaining to a writer friend, she told me to give my brain some time to relax and free up creative space and while that’s been great (I’ve finally been able to get some reading done!) it’s made me slightly unhinged.

The first thing that happened when I stopped writing was temporary ‘loss’ of hearing in my left ear: blocked for a week, it felt like I was stuck in a thick concrete tunnel, unable to regulate how loud or soft my voice was. More than once I was told at work that there was no need to shout.

Then the dreaming started: Lizzie came every night, whispered and laughed in my ear. Every time I woke up it felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. Then a character I almost never dream about, Benjamin, started digging in through my ear and into the dark spaces. One night I woke up to see a figure standing over me, moving their long arms over my head. I could feel their breath on my face and the tap-tap of fingers on my forehead. There was just enough street light coming in through the wooden blinds for me to make out the figure was a man. I balled fingers and hand into fist, took a swing and sat up in bed. The figure walked to the bedroom door and I reached for my pillow, started swinging it around and around.

My partner woke up beside me, told me to go back to sleep. ‘There’s no one there,’ he said.

‘He’s right by the door. Look at him!’

I swung my legs out of bed, cold floorboards. My cat jumped from the bed, curled her tail around my legs, made me feel trapped at sea. The figure stood there and as soon as I stood up, it went down the hall way.

‘There’s no one there, Sarah.’

But the body knows what has been felt. I stalked the night, walked through the house. I thought of people breaking into the house, thought of them watching me as I searched. My name was called, called again, but I kept searching, unable to find the figure. It occurred to me he may have gotten in through the ceiling. I stood in the laundry, turned on the light and looked up.

I’ve seen this figure twice since that night. And every time I do, I get thoughts of the novel, all the things that still need to be done, how wrong it all feels, how weak so much of it is. It’s overwhelming to think of the failure and how I’m going to fix it.

Walking helps. And walking helped during the writing process.

Look at this jawbone I found on one of those walks:

jawbone walk

It gave me a lot of ideas for the next novel. It also made me curious about the animal this came from: where was the carcass? Where was the rest of the jaw? The skull? I picked up the bone, was surprised by how light it was in the hand. I wanted to take it home, study it further. But did I really want to have it in the house given the dreams I’d been having?

It was on these walks that I started seeing crows everywhere, noticed the way they looked at me as I passed each tree. Crows have a memory.

This entry was posted in: Lizzie Borden, process, Walk


writer, observer, reader, procrastinator. My debut novel, See What I Have Done, published by Hachette (ANZ), Tinder Press (UK), Grove Atlantic (US), Piper Verlag (German), Editions Payot & Rivages (French), Hollands Diep (Dutch), Edizioni Piemme (Italian), GW Foksal (Polish), Palto Publishing (Turkish), MunhakDongne (Korean) Represented by: Pippa Masson, Curtis Brown Australia Dan Lazar, Writer’s House (US) Gordon Wise, Curtis Brown (UK) SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE (Awards and Some Praise) WINNER OF THE ABIA LITERARY FICTION OF THE YEAR 2018 WINNER OF THE MUD LITERARY AWARD 2018 Longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2018 Shortlisted for the Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction 2018 Shortlisted for the Strand Critics Awards for Best First Novel Longlisted for the ABIA Matt Richell Award for New Writers 2018 Longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2019 For the originality of its voice and the power of its language and imagery, See What I Have Done deserves to be considered a Gothic classic - THE SATURDAY PAPER See What I Have Done is a meticulously researched and boldly imagined book that crackles with tension throughout. Schmidt's portrayal of Lizzie is haunting and complex, a deeply psychological portrait that forces the reader to question their preconceptions about what women are capable of - for better and worse. Both disturbing and gripping, it is an outstanding debut novel about love, death and the lifelong repercussions of unresolved grief. - The Observer Schmidt is a consummate storyteller whose account of the Borden murders is utterly compelling. - Australian Book Review Schmidt's writing is rich and confident, painting a vivid portrait of a household with something rotten at its core. It's a strong debut that promises much from an original and compelling new voice in Australian literature. - The Guardian There are books about murder and there are books about imploding families; this is the rare novel that seamlessly weaves the two together, asking as many questions as it answers. - Kirkus Reviews [An] unforgettable debut ... Equally compelling as a whodunit, 'whydunit,' and historical novel. - Publishers Weekly Heralds the arrival of a major new talent ... Nail-biting horror mixes with a quiet, unforgettable power to create a novel readers will stay up all night finishing. - Booklist This novel is like a crazy murdery fever dream, swirling around the day of the murders. Schmidt has written not just a tale of a crime, but a novel of the senses. There is hardly a sentence that goes by without mention of some sensation, whether it’s a smell or a sound or a taste, and it is this complete saturation of the senses that enables the novel to soak into your brain and envelope you in creepy uncomfortableness. It’s a fabulous, unsettling book. —Book Riot Eerie and compelling, Sarah Schmidt breathes such life into the terrible, twisted tale of Lizzie Borden and her family, she makes it impossible to look away. —Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train

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