I had never planned to be a writer. I wasn’t even that big of a reader in my youth. I didn’t study English in college, and I wasn’t editor of any student magazine. I used to write slanderous poetry when I was younger as a weapon against my older siblings, but it was more Pam Ayres, less Seamus Heaney, and it was certainly never destined for publication.
But the beauty of life is in its unpredictability, and here I am, in my early forties, a published novelist. It started with an evening class in creative writing, taught by the excellent Helen Bovaird Ryan. All she asked of us was a short story. But for me, that short story led to another few short stories, an attempt at a TV script, a successful self-published novel, a number of published broadsheet articles, a few short plays, a full length play, a screenplay, another short story or two, and then a second, traditionally published novel, with a third, simmering away in the oven.
Once I started writing seriously, my aim was to write two novels. Not one novel, two novels. My thinking was, lots of people write one novel – I’ll only really consider myself a writer if I manage two.
My first, A Gathering Storm started life as a job advertisement. I have a mild obsession with the science behind the weather, and when I saw a job advertised for a meteorologist in an investment bank, it struck me as a perfectly unusual career for a main character in a novel. Not without some help from Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin and her Inkwell writing seminars, I finished A Gathering Storm in 2012 and began the slow and painful process that is submitting to agents and publishing houses. Although I got no offers of representation, after six months of trying I had a considerable collection of positive remarks and lots of encouraging feedback and so I decided to self-publish A Gathering Storm as an ebook and print-on-demand paperback. The book sold over a thousand copies, was a quarter-finalist in Amazon’s Novel of the Year Award and was selected by Easons for distribution to bookshops in Ireland. In short, although it hadn’t been traditionally published, A Gathering Storm was successful enough to give me the confidence to write my second novel, The Lake.
Not for the first time, Vanessa and her seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm managed to get The Lake in front of my now agent, Ger Nichol, who loved it and wanted to represent me. The process of submission to publishing houses is no less agonising when it’s done via an agent, however at least this time I had someone fighting with me in my corner making the experience a less lonely one. And when a publishing house tells you that they also love your book and want to publish it, well, it’s nice to have someone there to celebrate with too. Aside from all that, I had written two novels. By my standards, I could finally be called a writer.
Writing is a lonely business, and writing novels is particularly so. It can take some amount of ego to persist with writing a second when the first was rejected by those whose opinions count. Writing blindly for more than a year with no clue as to whether your work is any good is tough. I’m not sure if I would have been able for it, were it not for a few mini confidence boosters along the way which came in the shape of short-listings in short story competitions and published commentary pieces in national newspapers. A television drama script was also longlisted for a writing prize by the BBC. Entering these competitions is a risky business – being on the losing end too many times can be crushing – but when your work does get noticed, it can help to remind you that might actually be worth finishing your novel, even on the day when you most feel like deleting the file on your PC and using the many printed drafts as kindling. Especially on that day.
And so here I am, publication day for my second novel The Lake. The HarperCollins Killer Reads imprint under which it is being published is a digital first imprint which in itself is exciting. The Killer Reads books will be made available as ebooks in the first instance, with paperback to follow (in June 2015 in my case). The idea behind this imprint is to embrace the ebook phenomenon, and to market and sell the book digitally to the millions of readers worldwide who get their daily literary fix from an eReader or a tablet. Having self-published previously, this approach was very attractive to me, particularly in the level of input into marketing and promotion it allows the author. It feels very modern, very relevant, and the time to publication is far shorter than with traditional publishing.
So here I am. I never intended to be a writer. But with two novels written and another in the making, I suppose, now, I am. Lucky me!
(c) Sheena Lambert
The troubled history and raw beauty of the Irish landscape were the inspiration behind Sheena Lambert’s novel The Lake. She grew up in County Dublin, where she worked as an environmental engineer before becoming a full-time writer. Her stories, novels and screenplays have been shortlisted in a number of prestigious international competitions.
About The Lake
A body is discovered in the receding waters of a manmade lake in the Irish midlands, and for Peggy Casey, 23-year-old landlady of The Angler’s Rest, nothing will ever be the same. Detective Sergeant Frank Ryan is dispatched from Dublin, and his arrival casts an uneasy spotlight on the damaged history of the valley, and on the difficult relationships that bind Peggy and her three older siblings. Over the course of the weekend, Detective Ryan’s investigation will not only uncover the terrible truth behind the dead woman’s fate, but will also expose the Casey family’s deepest secrets.
Secrets never meant to be revealed.