My Path to Publication: Home by Cailean Steed | Magazine | Crime | Interviews

By Cailean Steed

Sometimes, people ask me when I decided I wanted to be a writer. That question is tricky to answer, because I can’t remember a time as a child when I didn’t have an unshakable – and entirely unearned – certainty that I was going to grow up to write books.

Well, actually, I didn’t think I was going to grow up to write books. I was fairly certain that I’d have published my first novel by the time I was 11. (I owned a series of books called ‘The Garden Gang’, by Jayne Fisher, who wrote stories about fruits and vegetables being friends and having adventures. She was also 9 years old. I figured that my stories would be a bit more highbrow, so generously gave myself an extra couple of years to reach my publishing target.)

Puzzlingly, I reached secondary school age and was not yet a published author. This was despite the fact that I’d submitted one (1) short story to my favourite magazine (who had written back and gently explained that they did not, in fact, publish stories). I kept plugging on, writing a total of three novel-length works over my high school years, chapters of which I regularly inflicted on various long-suffering English teachers.

I ended up going to art school, at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, and lost my enthusiasm for writing for a while. I had one story in particular that I unearthed from my hard drive and tinkered with now and then – a much-rewritten 10,000 words about a girl escaping from a secret government facility for training child assassins – but it never seemed to go anywhere.

My art school career didn’t really go anywhere, either. I’d discovered that I enjoyed (and was far better at) writing essays about art more than I enjoyed actually making any artwork. Eventually, I left and took a place in the second year of an English literature degree at Aberdeen University. I had to take first and second year courses together to catch up, so I didn’t have time on my timetable to attend the sole Creative Writing class – but the teacher, Wayne Price, generously allowed me to sit in anyway. A little spark, long since smouldering, flared to life.

Profile photo of Cailean Steed looking directly at the camera

I moved to Dublin after completing my English degree and teaching qualification, and spent a couple of years subbing in various secondary schools. I had never been in a private school before, or an Irish medium school, or a religious school, so a lot of it was quite a new experience for me. The very first school I was employed in had bare walls, with only a large wooden crucifix on one wall. This was different to what I was used to, which was walls plastered with pupils’ work, colourful and clashing and enthusiastic. The simple, stark decoration of this classroom was striking to me. And later, tinkering with my silly child assassin story, I remembered those classroom walls. Perhaps, instead of a government facility, my lonely, confused kid could be growing up somewhere else. Not a religious school, exactly, but somewhere that went beyond that, somewhere that was isolated and remote. Somewhere with its own rules. Somewhere that didn’t even acknowledge the outside world.

Writing now in my early twenties, I felt like the story of a child growing up in and ultimately escaping a cult lacked something. I added an older voice in a ‘Now’ timeline – the child, but grown up and safely away from the cult … or so she thinks.

Setting what became my debut novel Home partly in Dublin seemed natural to me, because Dublin very quickly felt like home. The warmth of the people, the beauty of the city, and the vibrant local scene was wonderful, and although I later moved back to Scotland, it was with a lot of reluctance. I visit Dublin often, to see family and friends, and always feel as though I’m coming home.

Scotland became the other setting, but far north, among the mountains and forests, where a large group could set up and live in isolation, far from the prying eyes of unbelievers. I’d always been fascinated by cults, and although I assumed for a long time it was quite a niche interest, anyone to whom I’ve mentioned that my book is about a cult has always replied with some variation of, “Oo, I love cults!” There is no shortage of documentaries, books, and podcasts about cults and ex-cult members. Researching the topic was fairly easy, and anyone I talked to on the subject was eager to recommend their own favourite cult documentary.

I was lucky that my path to publication was pretty straightforward. I signed up to a literary agency’s open day through Twitter, and met Robbie Guillory, who read and enthused about my first chapter. He requested the full manuscript, which was great – except there wasn’t a full manuscript. Luckily, he was patient, and six slightly frantic months later I sent him a somewhat polished first draft, on the back of which he offered to represent me.

The following summer, after further polishing, the novel went on submission to several publishers. A couple of months passed before Raven Bloomsbury came back and said they liked it but wanted to see fairly extensive edits before making a final decision. These edits included cutting about 20,000 words from the beginning, and focusing overall on making the book a tighter, pacier read.

I could see that the changes proposed would make the book better, and thought I had nothing to lose by spending a couple of months making them. Just before Christmas that year, while I was sitting in a classroom doing a formal observation of a student teacher, an email pinged up on my screen informing me that Raven were going to publish my book. Home had found a home.

So ultimately, I was 36 rather than 11 when my first book was published. 9 year old me is happy I finally got around to it.

(c) Cailean Steed

About Home by Cailean Steed:

The cover of the book Home by Cailean Steed

Someone has broken into Zoe’s flat. A man she thought she’d never have to see again. They call him the Hand of God.

He knows about her job in the cafe, her life in Dublin, her ex-girlfriend, even the knife she’s hidden under the mattress.

She thought she’d left him far behind, along with the cult of the Children and their isolated compound Home – but now he’s found her, and Zoe realises she must go back with him if she’s to rescue the sister who helped her escape originally. But returning to Home means going back to the enforced worship and strict gender roles Zoe has long since moved beyond. Back to the abuse and indoctrination she’s fought desperately to overcome…

Going back will make her question everything she believed about her past – and risk her hard-won freedom.

Can she break free a second time?

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Cailean Steed is a writer, teacher, and aspiring dog owner. Their first novel, Home, is out now from Raven Bloomsbury.

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