Cadance bell: I Knew I would write a memoir one day

Today we’re talking to Cadance Bell, for our ‘Behind the Book’ segment. Cadance ‘Cady’ Bell is an Australian storyteller whose writing has appeared in publications including the Guardian and the popular queer blogs Rainbow Roo and I Miss Pockets.

She has written, produced and directed dozens of award-winning short films, music videos and TV commercials. Her documentary films include The Rainbow Passage for Network 10 and Screen Australia and Who I Am, the world’s first documentary exploring the intersection of gender diversity and neurodivergence. The All of It: A Bogan Rhapsody is her debut memoir.

When did you first think of writing your memoir- The All of it?

Cadance- Subconsciously, I think people who write their own internal stories can better deal with the ups and downs of life; it’s a survival tactic at a base level, perhaps. As a piece of art, I made the conscious decision to write my story down about four years ago. 

Instead of jumping straight into it though, I took the time to develop other skills – presentation, media, pitching and most importantly a voice for the memoir, knowing that I would be pulling no punches and dealing with some BIG topics which demanded sensitivity, humour and heart. 

I spent three years testing my writing with audiences before I wrote a single word of the book.

Did you always know that you would write a memoir, not fiction?

Cadance- I’ve always known both, actually. 

I knew I would write a memoir one day (it’s a very trans thing to say that I think – we so desperately want others not to struggle!), and I knew I wanted to approach it very differently from other LGBT memoirs I’d read. Rather than it being a pure stream of consciousness memoir, or journal style, or topical or as a snapshot of time, I wanted to write narrative non-fiction and pin the reader into the cart to take them on a ride.

And at the same time, I’m writing fiction, too. My next book, Letters to Our Robot Son, is out mid-2023 as an Audible Original – it has songs and everything! The best fiction has a rooting in truth, and as I move forward in my career, I’ll dip into a bit of both – fiction with a bit of non-fiction inside it and the reverse, to taste.

Writing a memoir is never easy. What was your driving force when you got stuck in writing? Did you want to give up?

Cadance- It’s not a very groovy thing to say perhaps, but money & deadline. 

I lost so much work as an artist during Covid that there were noodles & water weeks for a while. Films & shows were shut down, and my pitch to Penguin was pushed back a year because no one was sure whether all the capitalisms were even still going to happen for a while there.

When my contract was signed, I got to work immediately and wrote the first draft of about 196,000 words in two months and wrote and rewrote it over the next four months or so. I think my feeling of being so close to the financial edge (living off of superannuation) during Covid shoved a lot of fear into me to get the book done fast. Which is actually a great thing for me – I crave deadlines. 

It might not be popular to say, but I look back on that second year of Covid fondly. The first year – terrifying, but the sense of purpose and focus on a creative task in year two was delightful. At no point did I want to give up, though there certainly were times when I cried.

How many rewrites did you go through while writing The All of it?

Cadance- Two big-huge-major, four or five significant and many thousands of tweaks through editing.

Looking back at your journey, is there anything you’d want to say to your younger self?

Cadance- This is THE trans wish, so the words are always the same: “transition sooner”. I think of how much more love I could have let into my life if I’d loved my body faster.

As readers, there’s so much that we are taking away from reading your book, but what has been your biggest takeaway from writing it?

Cadance- I’ve been quite surprised how prepared people are to respond to vulnerability and how pushing through the most terrifying shit in autobiographical writing can create handholds for others to climb. I get genuine satisfaction in hearing that people have discovered more of themselves by listening to tales of my lunatic antics.

When is the best time for you to write? Do you follow a solid writing routine?

Cadance- Tim Winton once said that if you don’t turn up to your keyboard, no one will do it for you. I have to clear myself of niggling tasks – or otherwise, I will procrastinate myself into sheer avoidance, but once I sit down, I fall into writing.

I try to write between 9am and 6pm, though that will often involve breaks of varying lengths. If I’m developing work – designing, brainstorming and the like – I tend to do that quite late at night, and usually in varying states or using little creative tricks (like sleep hacking or just good ‘ol meditation). I’m a little bit strange in that I can go method for my fiction. Always for locations, but sometimes for characters, too. There’s a character for something coming up where I’ve been just kind of hanging around the pokies late of a night, absorbing the details like a weirdo. And I looooove riding on buses to pick up dialect & conversation habits.

Constantly, I need to read a book for a while or watch a movie as a kind of gravity assist too – the inspiration I get from those other sources is a huge kick in my creative arse. I NEED to consume content each and every day – on days when I haven’t had the creative thoughts of others dance across mine, I tend to get pretty sullen and uninspired.

Did you have to go through some initial rejections while getting your book published?

Cadance- No – I was incredibly fortunate, which I put down to intense planning, saying Yes a lot and a good dash of luck (the ingredients for all success).

Now that the book is out, how does it feel to see the labour of your love at the bookstores?

Cadance- For a chickie who works with words: indescribable. 

It feels like levelling up and validates so many years of perseverance. And there are so many wonderful surprises – like when someone sends you a letter or a message, or you walk past your book in an airport bookshop, or you find someone reading it on a train.

Being an author is… Very. Fucking. Addictive.

Do you have any tips for the new aspiring writers who are working on their first book?

Cadance- Learn the industry! Learn how it works so well you could practically apply for a job there (because you kind of… are!). Be open to experience (but keep an eye on people who will exploit your talent, too – we all come across them!). Strategy. Strategy. Strategy.

Lastly, what are you working on next?

Cadance- Letters to Our Robot Son – my epic sci-fi Audible Original, out next winter! And my next film, Who I Am – the world’s first documentary exploring the intersection between gender identity and neurodiversity comes out on a major streamer in February.

The All of It was published on 5 July 2022 by Penguin Books Australia. You can purchase the book here.