“OK. What’s the story?” asked April.
“Get in the vehicle. I’ll work it out on the way.”
I hadn’t planned to write a novel. And I certainly hadn’t planned to write a sci-fi, dystopian, or speculative fiction one. But that’s what Wipe Out became. It’s also a fast-paced action-adventure story with a strong female lead. More than any of that, though, it’s a story about a young woman breaking out of her world’s social, moral, and emotional restrictions and discovering her humanity. Ultimately, Wipe Out is a story about love.
The idea came to me at the edge of dark one evening when I took my dog for a walk in a place I’d never been before. I suppose, in hindsight, we were inadvertently trespassing as we wandered through an area of shrubs into what turned out to be a large garden. At the far end of the garden stood a big, square block of a house all in darkness. Nothing much happened – a dead rabbit mysteriously disappeared, a robotic lawnmower beeped and flickered across the grass as though with a mind of its own – but the atmosphere of the place hooked me. It was as if, like Alice, I’d entered another dimension. That atmosphere haunted me until I knew I had to make some sort of story out of it.
At the time, I belonged to a women writers’ group in Belfast and tentatively shared the first few pages of what I then thought of as a short story. But even I knew there was more, despite my resistance to committing to a novel, and so did they. So, with their encouragement, I set out, chapter by chapter, with no idea where it was going. I’ve tutored creative writing and screenwriting to many groups down through the years, and I’ve always told them you must have an outline before you begin. But I broke my own rule and started with only an atmosphere and a sense of a young, very uptight protagonist whom I named Hazel. Hazel? I don’t know why, but the name seemed to fit.
Wipe Out became Hazel’s story. I worried that she might be hard to like because of how she is before she starts her journey towards self-realisation. But my sister writers “got her”.
They understood her motivations and her fears and anxieties. Hazel tells her story in the first person and doesn’t realise that when she’s showing us how tough she is, she also shows us her vulnerabilities. She is a deeply flawed character, but she is also every one of us who wants to do the right thing.
That first draft took a long time because I was working without a plan. Other life events and other work intervened, so I set Wipe Out aside for a while. I eventually wrote a second draft and paid for a development edit from a professional company. The response was disheartening. They had no major concerns about the story or the plot, but they objected strongly to the way Hazel slipped into the present tense at the most exciting parts of her story and urged me to change everything to either all present tense or all past tense. I couldn’t bring myself to do that, so I set the work aside once again.
Then came Covid. A friend who knew the story in Wipe Out urged me to look at it again because it seemed the whole world was at risk of a real-life wipe out. I took her advice and did another tidy-up draft. I didn’t change the story or plot, nor did I change the tense variations because I wanted to allow Hazel to tell her story in her own way.
In the ensuing months, I queried dozens of agents and publishers. Some responses were kind, some explained why it wasn’t for them, and some didn’t bother replying. That’s the nature of the business. As a writer, you accept that.
I also entered Wipe Out in some competitions. One of them happened to be Date With An Agent organised by the International Literature Festival Dublin in conjunction with Writing. ie. I was one of the lucky winners chosen to meet, via Zoom, with Clare Wallace from the Darley Anderson Agency. All along, I had thought of Wipe Out as a Young Adult novel – that was how I’d pitched it to Date With An Agent and how I’d been pitching it to publishers. Now Clare advised me that I was on the wrong track and pointed out that Young Adults had moved away from dystopia, but there would always be an adult audience for dystopia, sci-fi, and speculative fiction. We talked some more about the story and the characters, as you do with an agent. Clare was very encouraging, but my ears were still reverberating with the clang of the huge penny drop.
Immediately after I met with Clare, I went through my manuscript again, made the adjustments required to make Wipe Out appeal to an older readership, and began sending it out to more publishers. Sunbury Press in Pennsylvania was the first to come back to me and request the full manuscript and then offer me a contract. By this stage, I had become a member of the Society of Authors, so I had my contract vetted by one of the Society’s advisors.
That meeting with Clare took place on 27th Oct 2020. It is now February 2022. Wipe Out has been released by Sunbury under their Roswell Press imprint. It is available on Amazon UK and USA, where it is getting amazing reviews, and from Little Acorns Bookstore in Derry and The Secret Bookshelf, Carrickfergus. It will be distributed to the major book retailers in the coming weeks.
All I have to do now is write Books Two and Three!
(c) Teresa Godfrey
About Wipe Out:
Family is an outlawed concept.
Friendships are forbidden.
All procreation is artificial and government-controlled.
Hazel, a factory-born military driver, accepts these rules as necessities for human survival after the Wipe Out.
But deep inside, she is haunted by a loneliness she can’t fully understand.
When her assistant, Salt, dies in mysterious circumstances, clutching a photograph of what appears to be a mother and son, Hazel is assigned to Military Intelligence and ordered to track down the woman and boy. They are an anomaly – a breach of the strict Moral Code:
No woman should ever know her own child. No child should ever meet his mother.
Hazel enlists the help of military cadet Lake. Lake challenges everything Hazel has always believed, and they become close friends despite the rules.
Their search leads them deep into a wasteland, where the people they meet force Hazel to re-examine the world: People like Zac, who couldn’t be brainwashed; the young cadets risking their lives for the sake of their love for each other; and Ethan, the fugitive Psychoscientist who reveals everything he knows about a secret government research lab that’s experimenting on healthy humans by infecting them with deadly viruses.
Hazel agrees to help Zac and Ethan expose the human experiments. She leads Lake and the cadets in a series of daring raids, gun battles, and escapes, with government forces in hot pursuit.
This is a conspiracy theorist’s worst nightmare. Could it really happen? Maybe it’s already happening.
Order your copy online here.