I’m delighted that my first collection of short stories The Accidental Wife has just been published in the USA by boutique publisher Sowilo Press, and I’m counting down the days until it’s available in Ireland too. It does feel very weird not to have an Irish publisher, and to know that some of my American friends have seen the book before my Irish friends and my own family! Here’s the story of a slightly unusual route to publication.
I started writing four years ago and I had a flurry of early success, with publication in the Fish Anthology, the Chattahoochee Review, placing and short-listing in a few prizes, including the Penguin/RTE Short Story prize, Fish Short Memoir, Valhalla Press and others. I had a story nominated for a Pushcart Prize (which you can read here) and that’s when I completely lost the run of myself. Despite all the dozens of articles I had read warning me not to do this, I went right ahead anyway, and submitted my partially-gestated baby to every Irish publisher I could find. Cringe!
Irish writers are so lucky that we have open-submission policies here — that anyone with an internet connection and a brass-neck can submit their work directly for the consideration of the editorial teams of our indigenous book publishers — but I surely can’t be the first fool to send in raw, unpolished work. Most of the publishers didn’t respond, those who did were kind; the book didn’t suit their needs.
Then I had an extraordinary piece of luck. Following a disastrous technology issue, I lost all my files (I know, don’t bother telling me how stupid that was!) Frantically, I begged one of the Irish publishers to send me back my paper submission, and they were kind enough to do so. What a horrible shock. What an immensely valuable lesson. The editors had annotated my stories in pencil, probably slightly more honestly than they might have, had they had any idea that I would one day read their notes. Glancing through the brief, acerbic notes was awful, truly horrible, but the real kick came when I realised they had stopped reading at story number five. The book didn’t “not suit their needs”. The book sucked, and it sucked badly enough that they hadn’t come close to finishing it. I think I learned more in that half hour of horror in my living room than I might have learned in an MA classroom.
I spent a full year rewriting, and then rewriting, the book which has now become “The Accidental Wife”. Everything remained the same; the characters, the stories, the plots – everything except all the actual words! I kept my annotated manuscript, and it sits beside my writing desk, as a little reminder to make haste as slowly as possible.
Embarrassment at my rookie mistake prevented me from resubmitting the collection in Ireland. Was that another mistake? Who knows? Life’s a process of learning.
I researched other avenues to publication and chose a route that I thought seemed appealing. On the invaluable writing website of short-story specialist Paul McVeigh I found three submission opportunities. I entered the book into three worldwide competitions for debut novels and story collections. I was particularly keen on the Eludia Award, a contest run by a small press in Philadelphia PA, and after a long wait, the director of Sowilo Press, the publishing arm of the Hidden River Arts Centre in Philadelphia, sent me the email I had hardly dared hope for! My manuscript was selected from hundreds of entrants, as winner of the Eludia Award 2014. The prize? $1,000 and the holy grail, a publishing contract.
If I had thought things were slow before…
Eighteen months later, the book is finally ready. I’ve learned so much. Being with a tiny press like Sowilo has allowed me to be involved in every aspect of the publication process. From re-writes (yes, again!) to copy-edit, font-selection, galley-design, cover-design, I have had final say in every aspect of the book. I’ve worked with great professionals to craft a beautiful-looking book. Every comma, every em-dash, I take full responsibility for them, mistakes and all.
My book exists out there in the world, I have photos of friends and family in the US clutching my book, while I sit here in Ireland, and some have been good enough to review it too, which I am delighted about. I’m counting the days until my Irish community gets the chance to flick through my pages too. Just a few days ago, the book went live on Amazon.co.uk (click here!) . It will also be available from my website, www.orlamcalinden.com and from my two wonderful local bookshops, Farrell and Nephew in Newbridge, and Barker and Jones in Naas, Co Kildare. (Not to mention one heck of a launch party, sometime in the Autumn. Wine! Chocolate! Short speeches, very short…!)
Will anybody else buy it? If they do, will they read it? When they do, will they like it? All those matters are out of my hands now. I, and a whole lot of time and effort, have created the best book I could, at the time that I did. Onwards and upwards, and here’s hoping that when I submit my second book, The Flight of the Wren, the Irish publishers won’t remember how silly I was the last time!
© Orla McAlinden
About The Accidental Wife.
Described by Martina Devlin as “authentic and visceral” and by Anthony J Quinn as “lyrical and intelligent…resonating with universal truths…”
Set against the tense background of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, The Accidental Wife follows the twists and turns of the McCann family over seven decades. How many generations will these secrets destroy? Marion Smith has a secret. So does Colette McCann. Why did Matthew Jordan slip his passport into his pocket before he kissed his wife goodbye and drove to work? In a land riddled with suspicion and fear, secrets are not easy to keep. How long can Marion Smith hide what happened in Derry at the height of the Second World War? How many generations will her secret destroy? Lies, half-truths and omissions litter the stories of the McCann family, spanning seventy years of Northern Ireland’s turbulent history. Who will come through unscathed and who will pay for the sins of the fathers?