Holding my book in my hands to me felt like I had given birth again. Just like holding my first child’s body, I caressed every part, holding it up to my face and breathing it in. I had made this, this was my work. It took longer than nine months, though. It took nearly a lifetime, a lifetime of longing. Since knee-high to a grasshopper I remember writing. Little notes to friends, letters. A long spell in hospital as a child was made easier by my grandmother bringing me in copy books and pencils and she told me to just write when I got bored. So I did. I wrote about the traveller boy in my connecting ward that got up to all kinds of mischief. I wrote about the rabbits I could see from my window and I wrote about all the simple things I should have been doing with my siblings had I not have been in hospital.
I think my mother gave the copy books to my teacher at some stage, because they were marked ‘Excellent’. This same teacher also told me to keep these stories. She said the other teachers in the staff room thought they were very good and that they had said, someday maybe I might write a book.
That little encouragement made me think I might be good at the writing, so I continued. Life got in the way though and after completing Journalism in college, motherhood took over. I continued to write pieces for women’s magazines and the small cheques in the post from time to time kept me in make-up and also optimism that someday I would write my book.
However, it wasn’t until many years later that my novel began. It was a simple conversation that I had with an older friend of mine that made me type the first few words. What she had said to me was this; ‘If you only write one paragraph, what would you write?’ So I wrote that one paragraph, just to see what would happen after that. And my book began.
However, as all writers know, that first paragraph did not remain, ‘the first paragraph’. After completing my novel of 109,000 words, I was devastated to see after my editing that only 86,000 words were left. To anybody who doesn’t write, let me tell you, each word omitted caused me anguish and pain and much lamenting.
In my naiveté, when my baby, my book, was finished to my satisfaction, I began to send it to publishers. Even now I cringe at the memory of it. I googled publishers on websites. I read their guidelines and then realised that I was so un-prepared. To me, writing my novel was so much easier than having to write a Synopsis of it. Oh Lord! How do you condense 86,000 words into 100 words? In those 100 words I had to give the whole story including why I wrote it and what my market was. I think my last submission was something like ‘It’s about Malta in the war. I wrote it because they are the only country hardly written about in WW11 and yet they were the only ones to get the Victoria Cross. My market is to anyone travelling to Malta who would like to read about the history but can do so in an interesting way without having to read a history book’. And then ‘Send’.
Then the ‘Thank you, but no thank you’ (basically) e-mails came in. Oh, how I cried. I decided to give up. That was easier than the rejections. I hung my head in shame and closed my laptop lid.
Life got in the way again. My son was involved in a very serious road traffic accident and although thankfully he pulled through, I found myself at home a lot and lifted that laptop lid again. I had a person close to me who was qualified in publishing and editing but then moved on to another career, but offered to help me get this book in shape. Another person I knew who was an author also offered his services. They stripped my book bare to the bones. They made me cry, they made me say lots of choice words at every word they chose to delete.
Then suddenly it was better. It was good. I knew this is what I should have done before I sent it to the scary publishers. This was a book, I would buy and read.
But, I felt I had burnt my literary bridges. I could not send it again, all fresh and clean but with the same story to the publishers who had already turned me down. So I decided, I will publish it myself. In the year that I’d just had, almost losing my son, I realised that life is short. All I wanted was to see my book in print, and if even one person I have never known, reads it, and likes my story….. Then, I am a writer of stories and that is all I ever wanted.
So I did just that. I went to ‘Get your book published’ seminar in Dublin by Original Writing. A few weeks later I sent off my cheque and another few weeks later my book was delivered. It wasn’t easy. When I sent off my pdf file to the publisher I thought, that’s it done. Little did I know. They were very professional. Every single page was talked about and checked. Every detail, every little thing that I had no clue about before took days of emails and negotiation. Then it was done. My book was printed.
That was a few months ago. I ran out of books twice. I had one book launch in my local library. It was the biggest crowd the library ever had at a book launch. The local shops all took copies. They are now in their third order. I am ranked 166,000 out of 400,000 on Amazon. I have personally sold almost 450 copies. I am travelling to Malta where my story began, in December, to meet Publishers there. The Irish Independent, The Time of Malta, Woman’s Way magazine, The Dundalk Democrat, The Malta Independent, The Argus Dundalk and Leitrim Observer have all given huge features and fabulous reviews. My book has a five-star rating on Amazon.
I am so grateful and so happy. It is after midnight while I write this but I am going to remain in my pjs with my hot chocolate and continue writing my second novel.
Thank you, Vanessa, for giving me the opportunity to write about my writing.
(c) Nicola Kearns.