My desk is perched at the top of a tenement in Glasgow’s West End looking down onto the River Kelvin. Yesterday there was snow, today there is greenery pushing back against the tangled undergrowth. There are acrobatic squirrels and sometimes, early in the morning before the traffic starts, there is a fox grown fat on student chips. It is not a view to get tired of.
The desk is an antique and is just the right amount of battered. It holds piles of research texts and fancy notebooks (an addiction) plus a clutter of photo frames and my beloved internet radio which pumps out loud indie rock (another addiction). I am not a minimalist. Behind my right shoulder is a pinboard filled with the location maps I draw when I am meant to be writing.
My desk – and the highly personalised study covered in film posters which surrounds it – is more than just the place where I work. Its purchase marked the point at which writing switched from something I longed to do, and grabbed part-time moments to practice, to what it is now: my dream job.
Doesn’t that sound smug? Doesn’t that make a writer’s life sound like an ocean of calm? Trust me, I’m not and isn’t – there have been days when I couldn’t see the posters or the view and my seat may as well have been strapped to the front of a rollercoaster.
My debut novel was published in 2016 by a small independent publisher. I still remember staring at the email message that contained not the expected rejection but the magic word yes and thinking, ‘that’s it world, I’ve arrived’. Bless.
Do you remember that scene in Bambi when our eponymous little hero first steps onto the snow with a wide-eyed grin and a confident bounce? He falls through the snow and gets buried a couple of times but he gives himself a little shake and skips merrily on. Then he jumps onto the ice…
Getting accepted for publication that first time is a wonderful feeling but it is also the gateway to a world that, at times, felt like Wonderland crossed with The Hunger Games. The book came out; there was a launch in a swanky London bookshop, some of which I can even remember. It sold some copies, even to people I didn’t know. It got a review in the Sunday Times. I got an agent. I waited for the royalties to pour in, for the script people to call… I am sure you can fill in the rest.
I won some short story prizes which kept the writing spark going but my next two novels couldn’t catch a cold. And it really doesn’t help when the rejection letters are lovely, although you grit your teeth and pretend that it does.
I had written a medieval novel so I kept writing those because all the advice is to stay in the same time period. I’ll be honest and say that, as much as the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors interest me, that part of history wasn’t my passion – one story had interested me and I had told that one. I was struggling. Then my agent asked me the key question: what do you actually like writing? The answer? My short stories. They were dark, twentieth-century based and one of them had kept tugging at me. I wrote a wider treatment of it, then I wrote 10,000 words and my agent liked it, so I wrote the story that was keeping me awake at nights asking to be told and off it went. And there were rejections, lovely ones. But there was also Bookouture, and an editor who loved my characters as much as I did. The rollercoaster started back on the upswing…
That was a year ago. I now write about events and places that fascinate me – World War Two and the shadows of war, Berlin and Buenos Aires and America. I have three books published and more to come, including a series which is testing me and making me learn whole new aspects of my craft. It is joyful, this is writing so it could change in a heartbeat, but I’m still sitting at my desk and I’m loving every minute.
(c) Catherine Hokin
Twitter: https://twitter.com/cathokin @cathokin
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About The Lost Mother:
She looked at the empty cradle where her baby had been. Her heart felt tattered and empty, like the hollow streets of Berlin after its people began to live in fear.
Berlin, 1934. Homes once filled with laughter stand empty as the Nazi party’s grip on the city tightens. When Anna Tiegel’s beautiful best friend catches Reich Minister Goebbels’ special attention, an impulsive act to save her brings Anna under his unforgiving scrutiny. First, she loses her job, then slowly, mercilessly, she finds her life stripped away. After her father is killed by the Nazis, Anna’s final hope is to escape to America with her boyfriend Eddy, but when she reaches his apartment on the agreed date, she finds it deserted. Alone and pregnant, the future feels terrifying, but she must try to protect the life inside her.
Rhode Island, 1957. Peggy Bailey stares in shock at the faded photograph of two laughing women which her beloved adoptive mother struggled to pass on to her before she died, whispering ‘It was inside your baby blanket when we brought you home’. As Peggy continues to stare, she realises that she has seen one of the girls before, in the most unlikely of places… Bursting at the realisation, she embarks on a mission which takes her across America to find the truth behind her heritage. Nothing, however, could prepare her for the tragic story her actions uncover…
A poignant and beautiful World War Two story about survival and a mother’s enduring search for her child against all the odds. A heart-breaking read for fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, We Were the Lucky Ones and The Alice Network.
Order your copy online here.