My path to publication led me to some interesting places along the way. Various day jobs. The dole office. Sleeping on my sister’s fold-out sofa in New York. Working as a childminder. The dole office again.
During those years, I had to have faith that all the time I spent writing would add up to something. I had to trust in a future I couldn’t see. It’s one thing to type this out now, with the gift of hindsight and the knowledge that it adds up to an international book deal, with a published copy of my debut novel Hidden Lies on my desk beside me. But back then, all this was a pipe dream. Having faith wasn’t always easy. I would sometimes catch myself playing the game of comparison with friends who’d followed traditional career paths, with their stable incomes and pension plans – a dangerous game for an arts graduate.
Any time I caught myself enviously watching my peers, I’d give myself a stern talking-to. “You chose this,” I’d say. “You could’ve studied something sensible. But you chose this uncertain, meandering path, because you thought it looked interesting, and you wanted to see where it might lead. So stop complaining, and get back to work.”
These kind of tough-love pep talks were quite effective. So I kept my head down, I wrote and I wrote and I wrote – and then came the fairy-tale twist. My agent picked my unsolicited manuscript from the slush pile, signed me (an unknown writer, with no contacts in the publishing world!) and sold my book to Simon & Schuster in Canada and the US, and Little, Brown in the UK. I hope that story gives some encouragement to any unpublished authors out there who find themselves staring into the void, wondering where they might be if they’d put all this time and energy and dedication into studying law or becoming a polyglot.
The opening scene of my novel, Hidden Lies, appeared in my head as I was walking home one night. It was late and dark, windy and atmospheric – the perfect conditions for cooking up a suspense novel. As I walked, a series of images flashed through my mind. I saw an icy park, a lonely playground, a mother calling for her son. These images told a story, a story that sent a shiver running all the way down my spine.
I rushed home and wrote the opening pages, almost exactly as they are now, on the spot.
Not all of the book came so easily to me. There were scenes I had to fight, grapple with, force into shape; plot points and strands of story that were difficult to untangle. During the editing process, the notice board above my desk was covered in pink, green and orange post-its, scribbled with notes to myself, many of which would have read as indecipherable gibberish to anyone else: “MAKE SURE A DIALOGUE ECHOES PROPERLY – CHECK 37” and “SERIOUSLY, IS ‘GOTTEN’ NOT A WORD?”
Somehow, with the help of my incredible editors, and a lot of trial and error, I managed to weave the ideas and characters and images in my head into a finished book. I see the novel as a patchwork quilt; the editing process as a lot of finicky cutting and stitching. It was time-consuming, intricate, delicate work, and it made my eyes and head hurt sometimes, and there were days I spent so long working on one tiny bit that I almost forgot it was one part of a whole – but somehow, piece by piece, I got it done.
There’s no clearly sign-posted route to becoming a published author. I think that’s why so many people are interested in hearing from writers – and actors, and artists, and all kinds of creatives and entrepreneurs. It’s not that their lives are any more interesting than those of people in other professions. It’s merely that they’ve followed a path that isn’t clearly marked, and so people are interested in hearing how they’ve managed it. There’s a sense of calling out to them over a marshy swamp with no visible road across, saying “Hey! How the hell did you get over there?”
The answer is, usually, that we went the long way around.
On the meandering road I took to get here, when my fairytale twist was still in the future, unknown, I learned a lot. I learned tenacity, and I learned to embrace uncertainty. I had to figure out my own definition of success, and stop worrying about what my life looked like from the outside. Those are the skills I recommend other writers attempt to cultivate, along with the more traditional pieces of advice like “write a lot, read a lot” and “learn the art of finishing things.”
For much of my twenties, I worked as a childminder. I often say that being a childminder is a good job for a writer, because it’s active, physical work. Being on your feet all day makes it easier to sit down in the evenings and write. During the day, I brought the kids to the park, pushed them on swings, sang them songs: at night, I polished the manuscript that would become Hidden Lies until it shone. I believed I’d written a book many readers of psychological suspense would enjoy, but had no means of reaching that audience without a book deal. I’m immensely grateful that the book is now making its way to readers across the world.
The past year of my life has been peppered with surreal, head-spinning moments – being signed by my incredible agent; the day the book sold – but perhaps the best was the first time I saw an effusive five-star review of Hidden Lies. A stranger had read my book and loved it. To connect with a reader in that way, to provide someone with that immersive experience of getting lost for a few hours inside a story – that’s what I’m striving for, every time I write suspense. And, in this instance, I’d achieved it. The bigger moments had left me giddy and exhilarated and nerve-wracked: this one left me feeling calm. All that time spent writing had added up to this.
(c) Rachel Ryan
About Hidden Lies:
What if your child’s imaginary friend was real?
All children have imaginary friends. It’s perfectly normal.
But when Georgina’s young son Cody tells her about his ‘New Granny’, a mysterious friend from the park, the words send shivers down her spine. Georgina’s beloved mother died only months ago.
Her husband Bren is certain the woman is an invention, Cody’s way of grieving for his grandmother, but there’s something in the way Cody talks about his new friend that feels so real.
Is someone out there, watching Georgina’s family from the shadows?
Is Cody’s imaginary friend not so imaginary after all?
A gripping and haunting thriller with an emotional punch that will take your breath away. The perfect suspense novel for fans of Liz Nugent, Lisa Jewell and Jane Corry.
‘I didn’t put it down until I had turned the final page’ LIZ NUGENT
‘Gripping . . . a bright new voice in psychological thrillers’ ERIN KELLY
‘Tense, unsettling’ T.M. LOGAN
‘Full of twists and chills’ PATRICIA GIBNEY
‘Pacy, clever and tense’ JO SPAIN
‘Gripping and unpredictable – my heart is still pounding!’ SAM BLAKE
‘Eerie and unsettling’ CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD
Order your copy online here.