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Lost Pages: The Book See What I Have Done Might’ve Been

In the beginning naivety was the greatest gift. I had no idea how long writing a book would take me, how many drafts I’d complete, how many false starts would become false ideas of failure. 

I went along, wrote the words, went along, and then after a time I began to feel the enormity of it all, what it takes to write a book. Sometimes I couldn’t breathe. Many writers will tell you that to write a book is to run  a quiet marathon, others a test of character. The only thing I know about writing books is this:  you need to be able to sit within yourself day in day out, be able to block out the inevitable hate-noise that will thunder for you, be able to recognise the gold days when they arrive. To write a book you need to accept the repetition of it all and still be able to make something new.

Your book is never going to be the work you have planned in your head. You’ll start writing those first words and from that moment the book adapts to the environment it’s in, adapts to the molecular changes in your own bone structure, muscle fibre. Adapts to your growth as a writer and human.

Since publication I constantly rewrite the novel in my mind, fantasise about new chapters, new plot points, new characters. I rewrite what already exists. A few weeks ago I caught myself digging out an old, half-used notebook from 2015, ready to begin writing a new section for Benjamin, this character I seemingly can’t get enough of. But I stopped myself. The past is the past. I can’t unwrite See What I Have Done. It’s the best book I could write with my abilities at that given time. 

The only thing  I can do now is write another book, a better book, one that matches the writer I am today, tomorrow, next week, the years until it’s done. 

Is See What I Have Done the book I imagined it would be? There is yes, there is no. But it’s as close to the original idea I had…which is something because for a long time it veered in directions I never knew it could go. I mourn the book I lost, the one that came to me in a dream all those years ago. If I’d been able to work faster, would I have saved that version? Instead I took the slow route and created a ‘thing’ I never thought I could or would. It exists, flaws and all. And it’s the version that has allowed me to begin my second novel. 

So what might a different version of See What I Have Done look like? Easy. It was once called FALL RIVER and I have a selection of old sections here:
In the beginning Benjamin had the ability to change into other people. I was playing around with identity and duality, inner and outer lives, the ways in which we can fabricate our own stories to suit a narrative. He was many people living inside one body. Does this mean he had multiple personalities? No. For many reasons (perhaps I’ll share them with you at a later time) this version of Benjamin wasn’t working the way I wanted him too and it didn’t fit the story I was building. But the original idea of him appeals to me so much and I hope I can use him again one day, somehow.

Below, Benjamin is in his form as ‘James’ circa 2012. Reading this again for today’s post I can see that quite a bit of this was used in some form in the final version of the book. But it’s also lazy writing.

In the same year I was getting to know Emma, who at the time was a relatively new narrator. I had no idea what to do with her in some parts and so I often wrote her in quick points, just to get something down on the page. Almost a sketch:

And now structure. I found a contents page from the time I submitted to the woman who is now my agent. I’ll let you figure out what changed:


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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


  1. Hiding In A Very Deep Hole says

    Hi Sarah, I have enjoyed reading your blog posts and have started reading See What I Have Done.

    Are you planning on writing about how you published See What I Have Done? Did you find a literary agent? Did you consider self publishing?


    • Hi, thanks for stopping by. I usually write what I feel like at the time of posting so it’s a possibility that I might (but no plans to do so in the immediate future). But to answer your question: in the end I did get a literary agent and I never considered self publishing, even after receiving rejections from publishers early on.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hiding In A Very Deep Hole says

        Hi Sarah, thanks for replying. That sounds like a great idea. I was just wondering as there has been a lot of talk about self publishing compared to traditional publishing. Did you find the process easier with a literary agent?


      • You don’t need an agent to be published traditionally but it can help. In my situation it meant I was able to sell my manuscript into several territories before publication. Getting an agent isn’t easy and doesn’t guarantee ‘success’ (but then nothing is ever guaranteed). I think self publishing can have its place but just remember: it means exactly that. Self. So that means you’ll have to do everything from writing the book to marketing, distribution, advertising etc etc. self publishing isn’t as ‘easy’ as many assume. I think the best thing to do is concentrate on making your work as best as it can be and think about publishing later. Because writing and honing your skills and craft is what will eventually get you over the line in the end.


      • Hiding In A Very Deep Hole says

        Thanks for the info. What did you find hard about getting an agent and what did you find easy about getting one? What did you find hard getting a publisher?


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