I started to write in 2003 when I started work-sharing to spend more time with my boys –then aged three and nine. I originally envisaged doing a degree via distance learning and decided to take a creative writing course in a local VEC run programme. I hadn’t written an essay since 1978 so knew I needed to brush up before I started writing papers for a degree!
I was lucky in that the facilitator, Marie Bashford-Synot, was very passionate about what she did and under her careful nurturing I quickly discovered that yes, this was for me. This was what had been missing from my life. I often say that ‘finding’ writing was for me like walking into a room where, for the first time ever, everybody spoke the same language as me.
I quickly got into the habit of writing every day (vital, vital, vital) firing off stories and poetry to beat the band, some good, some mediocre and some absolutely awful! But I was proud of them all. I graduated to the Irish Writer’s Centre and did a number of courses there and at Listowel and Dingle writing festivals, honing my skills under the tutelage of some great writers including Yvonne Cullen, Carol Gebler, and Eoin McNamee.
My husband (my blog’s Jemser) http://ev-allthisandheaventoo.blogspot.com/ ) could not get over my readiness to show my writing to all and sundry. My normal fear of being ‘not good enough’ disappeared when it came to writing. I didn’t care what people thought. I had found my voice and by God I was going to use it, not to do so would have been a sin-against myself anyway!
I was lucky, every competition I entered I was either long listed, shortlisted or got an honourable mention – so I knew I was doing something right. Then I hit the jackpot, the now defunct Sunday Tribune’ published my story ‘The Lump’ in May 2007 and I was subsequently nominated for a Hennessey Award for First Fiction. I nearly didn’t go to the awards ceremony in the Four Season Hotel. I was terrified I’d win and have to make a speech; I’d be bound to cry and bring Gwyneth Paltrow type shame on myself! I didn’t win but we had a brilliant day (and paid 6 euro for a cuppa tea. Six!) met lots of other lovely writers, including the overall winner that year Valerie Sirr, with whom I am still in regular contact.
Right, says I – I have to do something with this writing. If the Hennessy award people thought I was good enough it would be churlish to turn my back on it. Where were all those words all those years? I often wonder; I always read – voraciously- but never had anything to guide my reading so read plenty of pap as well as discovering fillet steak and barbary duck along the way. My family circumstances at the time (2008) were such that I was in the lucky position of being able to take a year off to write a novel. I was terrified. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I spent day after day procrastinating about getting down to it? What if I did write it and it was crap? Why would I write it if it had no chance of being published? And my oven needs cleaning, or my ironing needs etcetera, etcetera. All the questions and excuses every writer all over the world (with the possible exception of Haruki Murakami) battles with every day. In the end I said ‘Feck it. I’ll write it and then my job is done.’
And write it I did. I polished up the first three chapters and a synopsis and sent it off to all the Irish agents. Within three months I got replies back from all. Two asked to see more, another said she had hesitated but wasn’t sufficiently engaged by my main character to continue. I sent off more to those who asked for it and I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally one of them asked to meet me. This was it! I was ecstatic, why would they want to meet me if they weren’t going to sign me? They weren’t and I left that meeting more humiliated and bitterly disappointed than at any other time in my life. The sight of a middle aged woman bawling her eyes out uncontrollably on a Northside bound Dart is not edifying.
However, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I will go on. And On. And On. I fired the book out to a myriad of agents and publishers about the globe. With the exception of one American publisher and two English agents every single person who read the first three chapters asked to see more. So I had to be doing something right. However the market was changing and nobody was signing anyone with a questionable talent and no track record, that’s fine, that’s business.
Serendipity stepped in and the day before I was due back to work I was signed by new Irish agents PrizemanKinsella, they loved my book and set about trying to flog it. I thought all I had to do was sit back and wait for the movie offers to roll in! Oh foolish me! The agents had numerous other clients, one of whom was Rebecca De Havalland. Rebecca was looking for someone to ghost-write her memoir ‘His Name is Rebecca.’ We met, liked each other and agreed to work together. We rattled off three chapters and a synopsis and the agents got Poolbeg to agree to publish it. The next year was a difficult one for me. I was back working in a job I didn’t particularly like, the recession was starting to bite and people were afraid all the time. I was meeting regularly with Rebecca to tape her musings and stories, typing up those tapes whilst trying to work on some stories of my own and a second novel. I also had the small matter of children, the youngest was only aged nine when this all started, a husband and a home to care for. Social life went out the window. My whole life became wrapped up in Rebecca’s.
Anyone who has read Rebecca’s book will understand how fraught that must have been; Rebecca is an amazing woman with an astonishing story to tell but to be honest walking in Rebecca’s shoes – even in an imaginary virtual way was very difficult. I felt extremely intrusive, although Rebecca was incredibly honest and gracious. Things got tough between the agents and myself and we agreed to part company. The book was published last year but didn’t really make the splash we all thought it would. At least not in Ireland, there is still hope that some American or UK publisher might pick it up.
So I was free to go back to my own writing. I felt at a loose end when the hoo-haw over Rebecca’s book died down. I had another look at my debut noel ‘The Heron’s Flood’ I’m a person who likes to finish a job and I found it hard to move on to anything new until I had finally put the first novel to bed. I decided to self publish. It was becoming increasingly more popular with writers all around the world, no longer regarded as simply ‘vanity publishing‘. The power over their material was coming back into the hands of writers – I was unlikely to make money but when I did the sums I realized I could easily break even on it.
Two expenses I did allow myself – a professional cover designer and a copy editor, (Andrew Brown of designforwriters.com and Emma Sherry of Capitalletters.ie). I hired Catherine Ryan Howard (self-publishing guru) to do the interior formatting and took her advice re size, font size, paper colour etc (she is also a great steady voice in the middle of the whole process) and this month my book is published and available as e-book and paperback on kdp.amazon.com, smashwords.com and amazon.com as well as numerous other affiliates. I’m having a book launch on Nov 9th in Fingal County Hall, Main Street Swords at 6 pm (you are all more than welcome – plenty free and cheerful plonk!).
It’s been a long, slow and sometimes heartbreaking journey. But I did it. And I’m glad I did, and now when I die my boys can put on a plaque somewhere.
‘Here lies the last few specks of Evelyn Walsh. Irish Writer’
Ah yes. I love it when a plan comes together. Eventually! Now, back to my laptop; where the whole process starts all over again