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The Fruits of Perseverance by Tanya Farrelly

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Article by Tanya Farrelly ©.
Posted in Resources (, ).

After thirteen years of hard work building up my writing CV, it seems that success comes in twos.

Last year, I was absolutely thrilled when Alan Hayes, publisher at Arlen House, told me that he’d like to publish my debut fiction collection. It may sound OTT, but I had literally been waiting for that moment since I was born. I’ve been writing stories since I was a child and I can’t remember ever not wanting to be a writer. Exiting this world without having at least one publication would have meant that I had failed at what I’ve been put here to do.

When I received an email from Lucy Dauman saying that she absolutely loved my novel and wants to publish it on the Killer Reads list (an imprint of Harper Collins), I read the email several times to ensure that it wasn’t a hoax. The novel, The Girl Behind the Lens was a long time in gestation. The characters first came to life in a short story that I wrote in 2002 entitled Where Did You Go?, which was shortlisted for the Francis MacManus Awards in the same year and broadcast on Radio 1. I felt at the time that there was more to those characters than the confines of the short story permitted and the idea for the novel began to take shape.

An early attempt resulted in much frustration. I wrote the first 50 pages maybe three times, and having received a lot of conflicting advice from those around me – I was in a writers group at the time – I abandoned it, but the story and more importantly, the characters, never went away. It was 2010 before I made a second attempt at getting it right – and this time – an extra layer had been added to the story, which seems to be, for most people who have read it, the most exciting part.

The novel, which was originally told from the viewpoint of one character, Joanna, is now two inextricably entwined stories, told from alternating points of view of the two main protagonists. So, what’s it about? It’s a psychological thriller, which centres on Joanna Lacey and Oliver Molloy. Joanna, is a 26-year old photography student who lives alone with her mum. She’s never known the identity of her father, having been told that her conception was the result of a one-night stand. This explanation is detonated however by the arrival of a stranger late one night who calls to the house to say that Vince Arnold, Joanna’s father, has been found dead in the canal, trapped beneath the ice. The novel is set in the aftermath of the big freeze in Dublin in 2010.

The other principle character in the story is Oliver Molloy, a 42-year old philandering solicitor, who has accidently killed his young Spanish wife, and is unlucky enough to come across the body of Joanna’s father forcing him to go to the police, whose attention he absolutely wants to avoid. The two stories come together when the characters meet and become involved. Joanna, attracted to this older man, has no idea what she is getting herself into.

That’s the general gist of how the story kicks off, so I’m not giving anything away that you won’t find out in the opening of the book. There are many twists and turns along the way – with the highlight for most readers being the arrival of Carmen Hernandez, Mercedes’s femme fatale sister, whose presence means trouble for Oliver.

As I mentioned, it took a long time to get this story right. In 2013, I thought I’d finished the novel. I sent it out to a few agents, some of whom gave me very interesting feedback. Two ladies who read it and whose advice has been instrumental in what has resulted in the final product are Arlene Hunt and Faith O’ Grady. Arlene highlighted the plot points which she felt stretched credulity and Faith said that while she loved it, the final quarter of the story didn’t quite work. I left the book aside for over a year because I knew that there were some elements of the plot that didn’t tally. I then went back to it, distance had given me the objectivity to figure out what was wrong – but fixing it required a lot of hard work. In the meantime, I met (my now husband) writer, David Butler. (The Judas Kiss/ City of Dis)David volunteered to read the book and when he gave me feedback, it turned out that we both agreed on the points that needed addressing. And so, reluctantly, but knowing it was necessary it was back to re-writing for me. I spent a further six months tearing the novel apart. I would say that I cut and rewrote a third of it. It was a lot of work, but I knew in the end that it was far stronger than it had been – and that Faith had been right – it is the last third that has been totally rewritten.

In the end, it seems that my perseverance has paid off – both with the novel and with my short story collection. I don’t have an agent, so I’ve had to put all the work in myself. If there are any nice agents out there interested, I’d certainly be happy to talk! Who wouldn’t?!

I am hugely grateful to Alan Hayes. His commitment to publishing short story and poetry collections is a result of his passion for both genres. In a time, when so many are interested only in money (which of course is an added bonus), Alan publishes books because he loves it.  He does it mostly without funding, and produces beautiful books with original artwork by contemporary Irish artists on the covers. We are launching my debut collection When Black Dogs Sing (my greatest hits 2002-2016 J) at the end of November.

My novel, The Girl Behind the Lens, will be published as an eBook on October 14th.

My advice to anyone out there writing is to persevere. Send your work out to competitions and to journals, build up your reputation and don’t be afraid of rejection – God knows we all have our share. I generally update my FB page when I receive good news but I’m sometimes tempted to post up the rejections too, to show the reality of the situation – but all that falls away when finally you get what it is you’ve been fighting for. Keep writing. If there’s cream there, it will eventually rise!

(c) Tanya Farrelly