An excerpt from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scrapbook by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary:
A newcomer to the SBWC in 1978, Colleen McCullough was riding a wave of publicity for The Thorn Birds which included a $1.9 million price tag for the paperback rights. “I worked on it for five years,” McCullough said of The Thorn Birds. “I rewrote the whole thing 10 times. Whole chapters were added and dropped, new characters were created and others were ‘unborn.’ I stayed up for four or five days in a row sometimes without sleeping at all.”
Like Colleen, for some, it wasn’t about the money and glamour. In fact she shocked conference attendees and guests by saying, “I hate the book. I’m not just saying that — I hate it [The Thorn Birds] with a passion.
“I think it’s flat, dull, uninteresting, ghastly, and a complete embarrassment to me. I can’t see any virtue in it at all.”
As incredible as that may sound, it is exactly those kind of insights into the life and craft of writing that many conferees came back to glean from the conference workshop leaders, speakers, and published authors.
For many, there was something deeply moving about such raw honesty delivered succinctly, and although Ms. McCullough was featured speaker on the first full day of the conference, the audience felt her pain as if they’d already spent a week baring their own souls, scars, and open sores to the creative process. In truth, all writers share that toll that writing takes — some just wear their experiences more gently.