In recent interviews, I’ve been asked about the writers who have inspired me. This is a difficult question for me to answer with a snappy, erudite soundbite. I tend to waffle on about my love of the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen, before harping on about how much I admire Philippa Gregory and Rose Tremain. But it’s an important question because – whether I am always conscious of it or not – there are many, many writers who I admire and who have therefore inspired me.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet or talk to some of them, and on the day that will see me officially launch my debut novel (complete with too-high heels and a glass of wine in hand), I felt it was a good time to reflect on those who have helped me and inspired me along my strange and meandering path to publication. Whether they know it or not, their words and encouragement have been incredibly important to me.
Firstly, there was the wonderful Monica McInerney.
Monica taught an Inkwell writing workshop I attended in April 2010. I hung onto her every word and left the venue at the end of that day wanting to achieve everything Monica had achieved. I was totally in awe of her calm professionalism and her warmth. At the end of the day, she offered to sign some copies of the books she had brought with her. I hesitantly asked her to sign a proof copy of her novel, The Alphabet Sisters. She couldn’t have been kinder and wrote the words: ‘To Hazel. With warmest wishes and very best of luck with your writing.’ That book sits on the shelf above my desk and I have looked at those words so often.
Next, there was the brilliant Jojo Moyes.
I interviewed Jojo when her novel The Last Letter From Your Lover was published – this was before Me Before You and all the amazing things that have happened to Jojo since writing that book. I adored ‘Last Letter’ and was delighted when mine was the winning bid (£50 I think) for a signed copy as part of the Authors for Japan auction after the tsunami. Jojo asked me what I’d like her to write in the book. I said ‘something inspiring.’ She wrote the following: ‘To Hazel. Thank you for your v. kind donation – and good luck with the writing. Persistence is everything! Jojo (3 unpublished books 1993-99).’ I have read that inscription many, many times – especially after getting another crushing rejection. The book (a hardback) is much loved and sits on the shelf above my desk. I often wonder what I’d have to bid for a personally signed copy of a Jojo book now!
And then, there was the mighty Philippa Gregory.
I met Philippa in person in September 2012 when I interviewed her for writing.ie To say that I was star struck is a huge understatement. I was nervous and excited to meet the author whose books I have devoured and whose approach to historical fiction has definitely influenced me. I showed some restraint by only taking three of Philippa’s novels for her to sign. She was kind enough to ask about my own work and I hesitantly mentioned I’d self published a novel and was working on a second. She wrote the following words in my copy of The Queen’s Fool: ‘For Hazel, Very best of luck with your own writing!’ She later invited me to send her the early chapters of the novel I was working on and gave me some invaluable feedback. The book she signed that day is also much treasured, and sits on the shelf above my desk. I look at her words often.
Next, there was the brilliant Kate Kerrigan. I interviewed Kate at the 2013 Waterford Writer’s Festival and again, she was very interested in my writing. She’d heard about the success of The Girl Who Came Home as an ebook. When I later asked her if she would be comfortable to give me a cover quote for the paperback, she couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. She said: ‘I loved this book. Hazel Gaynor is an exciting new voice in historical fiction.’ – and I fell off my chair. I am so proud to see her words on the cover of the new version of the book and am thrilled that she’ll be helping me to launch The Girl tonight.
And finally, before all of these established authors, there was my great university pal, Steve. I recently found an inscription from him in a strange little book called ‘The Epiplectic Bicycle’ by Edward Gorey.
The inscription says: A line (of poetry) will take us hours maybe, Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought, Our stitching and unstitching has been naught’ William Yeats (Adam’s Curse) – H, Merry Christmas; keep trying!’
I’m so very glad that I took his advice.
These small treasures will always be on the shelf above my desk, as a reminder to me to of other people’s generosity. I also hope that one day, my words and support might inspire somebody else to keep trying.