Thursday, February 08, 2007

My Novel Journey

‘JOURNAL’ reporter Claire Allan, in a new monthly column, charts her journey to becoming a published author. Her first novel, ‘Rainy Days and Tuesdays’ will be published by Poolbeg in August 07.

IT’S HARD to believe that in six months I’ll be able to walk into Eason in Foyleside and pick up a copy of my own book. I’m sure I’ll probably be too embarrassed to buy it in case the girl at the till thinks I’m full of myself, but if I wear a pair of sunglasses and a wig I may well just be able to get away with standing and staring at it lovingly for an hour or two.
For me, getting published really is a lifelong dream come true. I’ve always loved writing- churning out tacky short stories and dodgy poetry regularly when I was a teenager.
When I started working as a journalist however I did let my little hobby slide a bit. Having spent all day sat in front of a computer writing news stories, the last thing I wanted to do in evening was switch on my home PC and write some more. But last year, something in me snapped.
I always said I wanted to write and as I was fast approaching 30, I developed a now or never attitude to the process. Stories which had been bubbling away in my subconscious for years started to fight to get out and when I did make the decision and sit down to write I found I couldn’t stop. Words started to spill out. The story started to take on a life of it’s own and I would find myself working through scenes in my head as I drove to work, or tried to get to sleep, or did the shopping. It became a bit of an obsession and an addiction, if I’m honest.
I finished my book, which back then was called ‘This Little Piggy’ last June. Or at least I thought I had finished it. I didn’t realise just what kind of a journey I would have over the following months as I tried to get an agent, worked on her suggested rewrites, submitted it to publishers and prayed someone would believe in it, and me, enough to take me on.
I was lucky by industry standards in that I was picked up by an agent pretty quickly and without having to resort to hysterics, bribery or blackmail.
Being hopelessly impatient that particular process was not good for my general mental health. I became obsessional about checking my emails and each time I answered the phone, I didn’t allow myself breathe out until I had ascertained whether or not the person on the other end had a Dublin accent and could in fact be an agent coming to me with good news.
But that wait was nothing compared to the wait to hear back from publishers. My nails were chewed down to the bone, my nerves were in tatters and I spent an inordinate amount of time promising the Big Man upstairs the sun, moon and stars if only this wee dream were to come true.
And it did. To be accepted by a publisher is amazing. To be accepted by Poolbeg, who publish some of my great heroes, was beyond amazing. Again though, it only marked the start of another journey- one where I have to continually push myself beyond my comfort zone. First of all we had to change the name- which was fair enough because the original title did make me cringe a bit. Then I had to increase the word count by a mere 4,000, as well as set to work on book number two because yes, one book just isn’t enough. I’ve found it when it comes to writing, I’m like a tube of Pringles. Once I pop, I can’t stop.
Now though, it is starting to get really exciting. It is starting to feel real and I’m beginning to allow myself to believe it is really is happening. Last week I travelled to Dublin to meet the team at Poolbeg and the two PR consultants who will be working with me at the time of the launch. I felt sick to my stomach as I got the taxi out to Howth and when I arrived at the Poolbeg offices and saw that famous red lighthouse logo I almost, almost, asked the taxi man to turn back. Of course I needn’t have worried. The team are lovely and I mean that genuinely and not simply in a “I must keep in their good books” kind of way.
We discussed the book, and what press I would be willing to do come the summer. They mentioned possible TV interviews and once the smelling salts had worked, I agreed to do whatever I could to get my career up and running. Although I admit it will definitely feel a little weird to be at the receiving end of a journalist’s questions.
Most importantly I managed not to make a holy show of myself. I have a rather unfortunate habit of unwittingly adopting other people’s accents and mannerisms so I was afraid I would start saying ‘eejit’ and ‘it was gas’ in a thick Dublin brogue and they would think I was taking the proverbial. Thankfully I remained a true Derry woman from start to finish.
And then it was off to a wee cafe nearby for lunch. It wasn’t big or fancy, but the food was great and Paula Campbell, the publisher, assured me that everyone who is anyone in the Irish publishing world has had lasagne and chips from May’s cafe.
If it’s good enough for Marian Keyes, it’s sure as hell good enough for me.

The next step will be seeing the cover of my book. I’ve been told that many authors have a good cry when they see their name on a book cover for the first time- I’ll keep you posted.

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