First, the backstory. For the past 15 years I have worked as an editor, helping authors to realize their ambitions for their books. I started out in the O’Brien Press before setting up a freelance editing business in 2004. Since then, I have been fortunate to work with a very wide range of authors and projects, across almost every genre. In terms of books the general reader would immediately recognise, I edit the Ross O’Carroll-Kelly series, Amy Huberman and Sinead Moriarty, all for Penguin Ireland. I have edited a strange mix of memoirs, from Austin Curry (All Hell will Break Loose) to Sheamus Smith, the former Irish film censor (Off Screen) to Orla Tinsley (Salty Baby) and, recently, the controversial story of a recession-bitten middle-class mother turned high-class prostitute (Between the Sheets). I have worked on political books, archaeological studies, travel guides, history books and fiction – children’s and adult. You can see why I love what I do for a living – it’s diverse and never less than fascinating.
I think we have established that I have an enviable job, so why did I decide to squeeze in the job of writer on top of all that? Well, I began to feel like I’d spent a long time on a small island, deliberately giving the island’s central mountain range a wide berth: in other words, it was inevitable I would write with intent someday, I just put it off for as long as possible. I had witnessed first-hand the challenges of writing, so I was well aware how demanding and difficult a task it would be. A writer has to have extraordinary self-discipline in order to sit down, plot out and write an entire book, but alongside that is the challenge of getting that book published, promoted and into the hands of eager buyers. It’s a long and lonely path most of the time, and I couldn’t kid myself that it would be otherwise. If I hadn’t known all that I knew, perhaps I would have plunged in years earlier, but there was no way I could ignore the layers of demands placed on the published writer. Instead, I concentrated on becoming the best editor I could be, leaving the writing to one side while I built up my business.
That all changed two years ago when I decided that if I didn’t tackle the mountain range, I would die wondering what the view would have been like from the top. I had been writing stories, scenes, ideas all my life, I had become an editor because of my love of books and I was terrified of going public with my own writing because I valued writing and reading so highly. The case against was watertight, but still the pull of the written word proved too forceful to resist. I put together an idea, submitted it to Puffin Books and embarked on a process that would lead, in May 2012, to the publication of my first book: Ghost Detectives, The Lost Bride, a novel for 9–12 year olds.
In some ways, it was an unnerving transition. As an editor, I am surefooted, decisive, in control; as a writer, there is quite a sizable element of feeling about in the dark, besieged by self-doubt and fear. That was the first striking difference and I had to learn to push aside those negative thoughts and give myself over to the written word in a new way. I found that the writing ‘head zone’ was very different from that required for editing. It wasn’t possible to write and edit at the same time, for example. I had to allow the writing to come first and rein in the editor’s voice, which was chomping at the bit to rearrange sentences before they were even finished. I had to find a way to allow that flow to take over, to convince myself to leave the editing for later. It was necessary to separate those two halves of myself because, essentially, writing is about intuition, while editing is about nuts and bolts: one is ethereal, the other mechanical.
I did, however, benefit from the editor in me, too. I plan a novel in great detail before I start writing (I’m writing book 2 in the Ghost Detectives series at present), giving much thought to structure, pace and plotting. I have met writers who say that they simply start writing and write their way into their story. I couldn’t do that. I have to pre-plan, make copious notes and work it all out in my mind before I’m ready to open the blank page in Word. It’s just the way I work and there’s no point going against the grain.
Another benefit was that I knew how to pace the narrative and use strong chapter endings to retain the attention of the child reader, something of which I was very aware as I wrote. Finally, I found that all the work I had put into the Ross O’Carroll-Kelly series (almost twelve books in and still going strong!) also came to bear on my own book. I am hoping that the Ghost Detectives will go beyond book 2, and I planned it out with that in mind. I work closely with Paul Howard, Ross’s alter-ego, on the long-term planning of the Ross series, and that forward-thinking proved very helpful when it came to planning the various key strands of The Lost Bride.
So, did I need an editor? Absolutely, yes. And that was, perhaps, the biggest transition involved: to move from being a private writer to being an edited writer. There is a world of difference and it does take some time to readjust. Once I had performed that mental readjustment, I actually enjoyed the editing process and learned a lot about writing for children, all of which I am – hopefully – pouring into book 2, The Missing Dancer. It was a valuable tool that helped me to produce a better book.
Since the publication of The Lost Bride, a few friends have asked if I’m more an editor or a writer now. For the time being, the editor side remains strongest, possibly because I feel I haven’t yet earned the title of ‘writer’, given that I am on the bottom rung of the ladder in that regard. By comparison, I am very comfortable to say that I am an editor, and a good editor at that, because I have fifteen years’ experience holding up that statement. On the one hand, it does feel like I have embarked on an important transition that will take me further and further into writing, but on the other hand, the word ‘transition’ doesn’t really fit because I feel more like a hybrid of the two. When I hear other writers talk about writing, I feel like I’m coming from a slightly different place, like I’m not in exactly the same sphere as they are. As a result, it can sometimes feel a bit lonely in this editor/writer space, but then, I’m filled with curiosity and excitement about where it will lead me.