• www.inkwellwriters.ie

Those Maeve Binchy Vibes: Writing a Debut Novel by Sally Hanan

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Getting Started
Sally Hanan

Sally Hanan

With a debut novel entering the world at the age of fifty-four, I’m a bit late to the game. But that’s not to say I’ve been farting around until now. It’s just that there’s a time and a season for everything, and now that I finally have my life back to just me and my hubby, I can commit to just doing the things I love.

So now that I’ve provided the Save the Cat opening image, I can move to the theme stated—my debut novel. I first had a glimpse of an idea for this novel when I saw a picture of an old woman looking out her window on O’Connell Street, Dublin. She looked very lonely and sad, and the window overlooked the very spot where I would hop off the Donegal bus many Sunday evenings after a weekend with a boy I liked.

I thought about other people on the bus who might have hopped off with me, and then somehow my brain created a runaway—a girl who thought she had no choice but to leave her family and the boy she loved to protect him. The story developed from there.

Setup: Once I had what I thought was a decent first draft, I entered it in Pitch Wars, a yearly mentoring program “where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each, read their entire manuscript, and offer suggestions on how to make the manuscript shine for an agent showcase.” I had two requests and some effusive praise, but I ended up not getting chosen.

Catalyst: But that praise kept me going because it was confirmation that I was on to something (or on something, but we won’t go there). So I sent it to who other than Vanessa at The Inkwell Group, who asked Mary to do a Reader’s Report on it. Mary’s comments were amazing, and she pointed out all the weak and strong parts of my writing and gave me great pointers on what to work on to make it stronger, better—Six Million Dollar Man style. (We can rebuild him; we have the technology.)

Debate: Back to work I went. Once done, I sent it to some beta readers, who had quite a few suggestions, but the general consensus was that it was only lovely in most places, not all.

Break into 2: I sent it to a developmental editor, who very quickly knew how to fix the final issue, and once that was done, and beta readers loved it, I knew it was ready to query.

B story, fun and games, midpoint, bad guys close in: I sent about 200 queries over the next eighteen months. Five agents requested fulls.

All is lost: None of them wanted my book.

Dark night of the soul: I let myself feel a bit aimless for a while, but I finally decided to shelve the book I loved and get cracking on the next one.

Break into 3: COVID happened, and all this time I had in the back of my mind what one agent had said in her rejection email: “It’s a beautiful book but it’s too quiet of a story for me to sell.” And at the same time, I came into a tiny bit of money, and hubby said hands down, we needed to invest it in this book rather than spend it on stuff we needed. Tears.

So that’s what I did. I paid for copyediting, wrote the jacket copy, paid for a cover, did my own typesetting (because I do that as a job), paid for PR in Ireland and the UK, and paid for Netgalley.

It went up on Netgalley last July. I was bricking it for days waiting for the first reviews to come in, and about three came in the same weekend. They were all lovely, and I cried in happiness on my hubby’s chest because these were strangers saying it, not people who wanted me to still like them after their reviews. And the comparisons to Maeve Binchy’s book vibes were the icing to it all.

Finale: At the time of this writing, My Heart Went Walking has 80 ratings and 71 reviews on Goodreads, with pretty much all of them positive other than the one girl who said, “Full disclosure: I didn’t much like this book.”

I have the eBook, hardback, and paperback up for preorders on all the online bookshops, and the files for my audiobook are being mastered right now. Book bloggers are ready to post their reviews. I have some radio interviews and newspaper reviews and book signings lined up. We’ll see how it all goes down in launch week.

Shoutouts—it really does take the gift of everyone’s talents and support to get a good book out in the world.

  • ALLi, an online writers’ support group founded by Orna Ross that doesn’t allow any bullsh*t or self-promotion on the Facebook page, just gives solid advice.
  • Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, obviously, for her fabulous services to Irish writers.
  • Netgalley, because there is no way I’ve have more than one review without them.
  • IndieReader and Booklist for their great review services for indie authors.
  • Writers’ support and encouragement on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Friends and family.
  • Bryan Cohen’s free 5-Day Author Ad Profit Challenge —only learning about this end of things now.

Summary: Being an indie author is hard work, but it’s work you have to do as an indie author if you want your book to be read and enjoyed by more than your best friend. And it costs money. But sometimes it all works out at the right time of your life, and you hop on the bus and hope it brings you to your destination, just like my main character.

“I just walk down the steps and out into the capital city of Ireland. It feels a little warmer down here, but I’m still shaking a bit. … Everything is so gray and dreary, but the view opens up a bit the closer I get to the river. The air is smoky, and I could swear the pavement is mixed with soot. It’s a far cry from home.”

(c) Sally Hanan

About My Heart Went Walking:

The only man she’s ever loved is seeing her sister.
And now they have to save her together.

Sally Hanan’s sublime debut mixes the prose of Sue Monk Kidd with the dialogue of Maeve Binchy. With captivating warmth, she pulls us in to how it felt to live in Ireland’s changing culture of the ‘80s, and how it often made a woman’s decisions for her.

“I can’t bear to keep walking. But you can’t keep a secret in this town unless you leave with it.”

Kept apart by their love for one man, two sisters embark on their own paths towards survival, love, and understanding, until they finally meet again in the worst of circumstances. And the reality might break them all.

My Heart Went Walking is a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that sweeps from the small Irish town of Donegal to the “big smoke” of Dublin City; a book that celebrates the pull of family and the chance of redemption. It is a novel for everyone who feels connected to the Irish approach to life—that of grit and laughter—and also for everyone who loves an overriding message of hope and restoration in all things.

Order your copy online at Bookshop.org | Waterstones | Amazon

About the author

Sally Hanan was an Irish export to the US in the ’90s. Readers have described her writing as “inspiring,” “captivating,” “funny,” and “profound.” She is a 2021 Readers’ Favorite gold medal winner for her nonfiction and has won numerous awards for her fiction and poetry in smaller writing competitions. Sally currently lives near Austin, Texas, thanks to the fortuitous green card lottery—in a gorgeous 1930s home with her “hunk of burning love” husband and their spoiled-rotten doggie.

  • allianceindependentauthors.org
  • www.designforwriters.com

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get all of the latest from writing.ie delivered directly to your inbox.

Featured books