As Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken”. It’s a common pitfall for newbie writers to try and emulate their favourite authors, and so it was for me at the beginning of my own writing journey. I began my first attempt at writing a novel when I was living in Montreal, Canada during the noughties. I was extremely homesick for Ireland and began devouring novels by Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes at the local library. I couldn’t have found two greater sources of inspiration for my writing aspirations and began to tap away at my old computer every night after work – basically trying to re-create the magic I had read in their books. Despite the fact that I had always loved writing and telling stories as a child, I was never shown that this could be a viable career option and so, at the end of the day, I didn’t really believe in what I was doing. I may as well have had designs on becoming an astronaut – that’s how farfetched it seemed. So like many other would-be authors, I saved my embarrassing efforts onto a floppy disk (remember them?) where it was doomed to obsolescence.
However, life has a strange way of taking your dreams, turning them upside down and handing them back to you in a form that’s hard to recognise. For me, I was struck down, literally overnight, by paralysing panic attacks that meant I had to give up my job and start from scratch. It was a big turning point for me, and oddly enough, a great opportunity to start following my dreams and believing in my ability as a writer. In fact, this challenge became the catalyst for my very first foray into publishing. In 2005 I wrote Prone To Panic, a self-help guide written for anyone going through similar situations and guess what? People bought it and what’s more, they liked it! The desire to help other people and pass on the help and advice I had received, gave me the courage to publish my writing; to become an author. In a strange way, this challenging life experience had given me the chance to do something I had always been too scared to try. And the feeling made me hungry for more!
I began writing my first ‘proper’ fiction novel straight away (I say proper because I had every intention of finishing it this time) and sent it to a handful of publishers. I received a rejection letter with some very positive feedback from Poolbeg, but the disappointment was so great at the time, that I couldn’t see how helpful the advice was. Back then, I didn’t know how to handle the rejection and once again, I put the manuscript in a drawer and licked my wounds. That was when I learned my second lesson on the road to becoming an author – when everyone else gives up, keep going. Granted, it took me a while to get going again, but the seed of an idea for a new story was already germinating deep in my mind. With time I understood that the rejection letter from Poolbeg was actually a gift. The editor told me that I had a good writing voice, but that the story lacked originality. I couldn’t see past the criticism at the time, but later on I took it on board constructively. An editor thought I had a good writing voice! That validation made me more determined than ever to work on my storylines and bring them up to the same level.
So I started to take my craft seriously and began studying the mechanics of writing a good novel. I spent hours in the library, pouring over books that explained story arcs, character development, conflict, resolution and pacing. In the meantime, I began writing articles for GalwayNow Magazine. It was the perfect opportunity to flex my writing muscles and gain valuable experience in writing for an audience, editing and deadlines. Oftentimes, starting out with a full-length novel as a beginner can be quite daunting, so feature writing was the perfect way to cut my teeth. During that time I also discovered a genre I fell completely in love with – time-slip. I adore historical fiction, but time-slip goes a step further in that it delves into the past and follows its influence into the future. Parallel story lines running in two different time periods form the basis of the genre and I discovered some amazing writers like Kate Mosse, Rachel Hore and Kate Morton. Broadening my reading also gave me the inspiration to push my own boundaries when it came to storylines and so it was, when I discovered that a ship from the Spanish Armada had wrecked on an island in Connemara – I knew I had my story!
Now as all commercial authors know, you need that certain something to make yourself stand out from the crowd. So, rather than abandoning my ‘Chick Lit’ roots, I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a time-slip novel written in the style of a ‘Chick Lit’ novel? My writing voice is conversational and sprinkled with lots of humour, and I always missed that kind of sharp wit when reading historical fiction/time-slip and thought other readers would appreciate this fresh take on an established genre. And so I wrote my debut novel, The Cross Of Santiago, a time-slip novel set in Galway that is full of intrigue, adventure and romance. It is the story of one cross, two lovers and 400 year old love story.
Rather than trying to get noticed from the slush pile, I decided to take my destiny into my own hands and self-publish. It sounds a lot easier than it is, but after another big learning curve, my novel is out there and the reviews have been overwhelmingly favourable. I’m so happy I never published my first book because in hindsight, I can see that it was a gallant attempt at a reproduction of the novels I was reading at the time. So I’m really thankful that editor gave me such good advice because at the end of the day, they want the same things your readers do. They want your best work and as an author, you owe it to yourself and your audience to find your writing voice, stay true to yourself and become the best writer you can be.
(c) Evie Gaughan
Evie Gaughan is an Irish author based in Galway City, where she finds much of her inspiration. Influenced by writers such as Maeve Binchy and Diana Gabaldon, Evie has crafted her own unique writing style that is warm, engaging and full of humour. She has published several short stories, poems and feature articles and works as a freelance writer.
When not writing, Evie likes to paint and has many works exhibiting in local galleries and on-line. A self-confessed crafter, her Galway home is full of hand-made designs. Evie is currently working on her second novel.