The events of the past few weeks have been dream-like. On several occasions, I’ve had to pinch myself to ensure that, yes, I am indeed wide awake, and this is happening. In July of 2017, Poolbeg offered me a 3-book deal. My debut novel, Home to Cavendish, was published on February 1st. The last week has been a whirl-wind as I did radio interviews, enjoyed witnessing my local book shop sell out of copies of Home to Cavendish and watched all the excitement build on social media. It has all been quite unbelievable.
In the midst of this, I have been struck by the kindness and support I have received from my fellow writers. The writing community is a supportive place and I was overwhelmed by the well-wishes and encouragement I received from writers, many of whom I have been following for years. Over the last few months I have felt there is an army behind me, willing to give advice and share their experiences with me, in order that I can drink from the well of their knowledge.
With that in mind, over the coming weeks, I will be writing a series of articles for writing.ie in the hope that I can pass on some of the knowledge I have gained over the last year and a half. This first article is the story of how my writing journey began.
As is the case for many writers, my writing journey began with rejection. A lot of rejection. You could say I have always been a writer. English was my favourite subject at school and after school I studied English and History at NUI Maynooth. Once I finished my degree, I did a post-grad in communications and from there embarked on a career in broadcast journalism, working as a news reporter on local radio. From there I moved into public relations and that’s where I’ve worked for the last fifteen-plus years. Every day I write press releases, speech notes and briefing documents. While I have always enjoyed my day job, working in corporate communications means that any writing done, is done within strict boundaries, where creativity can be somewhat stifled.
When I am not working, I can usually be found with my head stuck in a book and prior to getting my book deal I normally managed to devour a book a week. Then, about ten years ago it occurred to me that maybe I could put my writing skills to use outside of work too. Each time I finished a book, there was a little voice in the back of my head saying, maybe I can do this, maybe I can write a book.
I have the type of personality where I don’t usually sit around and think about things for too long so without much thought, I set about writing my first manuscript. It was awful. No, that’s a lie. It was beyond awful. I had no clear idea in my head where the story was going, I spent no time developing my characters or building my plot. When I think about it now, I didn’t even have very strong feelings, either good or bad, about my characters. That should have been enough to know it was never going to go anywhere, but I carried on regardless.
Having finished my first three chapters, I began to submit to publishers. Yes, read that last line again! With just three chapters under my belt and no idea where the story was going, I felt confident enough to share my writing with publishing houses and agents. The naivety of youth!
As you might expect, I was greeted with rejection after rejection until one day, a letter arrived from Poolbeg asking to see the full manuscript. I was nowhere near close to finishing it and what followed was an embarrassing episode where I struggled to complete it while sending Poolbeg emails full of excuses as to why they still hadn’t received a full first draft.
Eventually, I pulled it together and sent it off but as was to be expected Poolbeg came back to say that while the writing was good, it was missing something. The decision had been made not to offer me a publishing deal.
I cringe now when I look back on my arrogance and stupidity. The only excuse I can offer up is that I was young and really had no idea what I was doing. After that I put the writing to one side and went back to concentrating on the day job. That worked for a while but then a series of not very pleasant life events occurred and, as I have now come to realise, when things are not going well for me, writing gives me solace. My marriage broke down five years later. In a bid to escape the trauma of that, I turned to writing again. Writing my second manuscript was a very different experience. I was raw and distraught and poured my heart into it. Similar to the first time though, I didn’t do any planning, I just jumped right in and began to write. While that may work for some people, it certainly doesn’t work for me.
I made by way to about seventy-thousand words before I started submitting. This time, when Poolbeg came back looking to see the full manuscript, I was ready to go. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough. The rejection letter again praised my writing skills but said that the women’s fiction market was going through a rough time – it was 2009 and the country was in a recession. Books sales had plummeted. They said there was something missing, but had I sent it to them five years previously the answer may have been different. The letter finished by requesting that should I write anything in the future, they would be happy to take a look.
I decided there and then to put my fictional writing career to bed. Obviously, I didn’t stick to that for very long and I will be back next week to tell the story of how I moved from rejection to publication.
(c) Antoinette Tyrell
About Home to Cavendish:
The Irish Civil War is raging across County Cork, and sixteen-year-old Edith Cavendish, bored within the confines of her privileged life, embarks on a forbidden love affair with local rebel Tadgh Carey. But Edith is unaware of the dark secrets surrounding her, both outside Cavendish and within its walls, in the very rooms through which she walks.
Eighty years have passed, and Elenore Stack has inherited her beloved childhood home, Cavendish Hall, from her recently deceased parents. Charming and magical, if in need of much loving and expensive care, Cavendish is woven into the tapestry of Elenore’s life. She must somehow find a way to ensure its survival while preserving its dignity.
Then she meets and falls in love with Donnacha O’Callaghan, a property developer, and together they begin to work on changing Cavendish into the family guest house of her dreams. He, however, unbeknownst to her, has plans that will change the house beyond recognition and wipe away her precious childhood memories.
As Donnacha’s past shady dealings surface and the prospect of losing Cavendish looms once more, Elenore’s life begins to unravel. Then a fateful discovery in a forgotten corner of the house links her to a young woman from Cavendish’s past – Edith Cavendish – and becomes her lifeline.
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