Veronica Sweeney has been a published novelist for twenty-eight years. She wrote her trilogy, The Emancipist, after nine and a half years of research. It was first published in one volume by Pan MacMillan in 1985 and reprinted consistently for twenty years by publishing houses such as Century Hutchinson, Simon & Schuster, Avon Books, Bantam and HarperCollins. “I was surprised that the publishers didn’t want a trilogy,” she says, “It was published as one book, which I had to cut in order to make the single large volume … much was left out, and I was very happy to discover Kindle, so the eBook contains material left out of the original.
I ask Veronica which books or authors inspire her. “I like the works of Ruth Rendell and PD James – they produce great stories with fine writing. I love Terry Pratchett, clever writing with a heart. Other than these I read everything from Jane Austen to Eric Fleming. No Fifty Shades fan here, then? “Not much into modern romances,” she replies, “too predictable!”
Veronica expands her answer, revealing a characteristic charm of her work: “Publishers have always complained that my work is ‘quirky’, and I like books that are slightly different and have the author’s own voice without being too formulaic. I love it when I want to read a sentence twice because it’s so clever or insightful. I like having to admit, ‘Jeez, I wish I’d written that!’”
As for inspiration, Veronica names only one thing: “My mother read to me all through my childhood – following the words on the page meant that I could read at the age of three. She also read me poetry – there were loads of books of poetry in the house. So I think I grew up with the cadence of words, and their power. She bought me a book on stories from Shakespeare, which inspired me to read the originals. I read all the plays of Shakespeare at thirteen and I think … that this was a pivotal time for me, the inspiration of a rattling good yarn beautifully written. Something to aspire to, but unattainable of course!”
Veronica is an established novelist with an international reputation, but when she recently made the switch from traditional publishing to self-publishing, she knew she was taking a risk. “But I needn’t have worried,” she said, “It’s been fun … and – I can’t stress this enough – to be able to choose my own covers and design after twenty-eight years as a professional novelist has been the best part.” Lettertec, the printing press in County Cork with a self-publishing imprint Selfpublishbooks.ie, is producing The Emancipist in three separate volumes this year.
I ask Veronica how self-publishing caught her eye: “Amazon Kindle first of all – it’s levelled the playing field for writers at last. We’re back to the early days of the printing press, like Erasmus! Get a good idea and take it to the printer – before publishers and agents became involved!
Any other reason? “Despite the advent of reading devices such as Kindle and Nook, so many people really like the physical feel of a book, and The Emancipist was the obvious choice, as it’s my favourite of all my work, the one people are always asking me about – and complaining because it’s the size of a house brick! The new version from Lettertec, being in three volumes, solves that!”
I also asked Veronica if she had any advice for writers thinking of self-publishing. “Anyone going the way of self-publishing for the first time really should pay the bit extra to have their book checked by a professional editor … The way I work is to finish the seventh, eighth, ninth draft, then put it in a drawer for several months and then come back to it. Self-publishing is no place for wishful thinking … the writing has to be tight and professional, or no one will buy your book but your family.”
How was the printed product? “Far better quality than any book I’ve had published. Some paperbacks seem to be printed on newspaper. This version of The Emancipist is a real collector’s copy, limited edition. The first run of Pan MacMillan’s was 100,000 copies! But I’m very proud of my limited run Emancipist – it’s the book I always wanted to see.”
Every author has her favourite. Veronica happily imparted hers: “Shannonbrook [Book Three of The Emancipist] … by then Aidan is in middle-age, and very much a product of all that has happened to him. He’s successful, but still believes he can control his environment. … When I did the book tour of Australia, half the women I spoke to said he was a thorough rat and a rogue, and the other half said he was so real that he must exist!”
She gleefully adds: “It was fun to create his children, who give him a great shock in refusing to be what he expects.”
What’s next, Veronica? “Editing – again – Books Two and Three before sending them to Lettertec, and after that I’ll be uploading my Australian thriller, Dark Obsession – though the title will now be His Dark Obsession – to Amazon Kindle. But there’ll be more books printed by Lettertec, deciding on which ones depends on which ones my readers ask for!”
Book One of The Emancipist – titled The Big House – is available now. Books Two and Three will be available in early December, ready for Christmas.
(c) Eadaoin Lynch October 2012