I consider myself lucky to be a published author, and I’m delighted to be the Accent Press author of the week. Mixed in with that luck and delight is a large dollop of surprise, because writing a book is like cooking a Delia Smith recipe… a lot of time and effort (mostly quail’s eggs) goes into it, but nobody might like it.
I’m therefore gratified that The Space Between Time has been so well received because it’s the book I wanted to write. It has my DNA through it. That’s not to say it was easy because, and I believe this, novelists are people who find the business of writing particularly difficult.
The Space Between Time started life as a very different book and it took a while for me to realise that the story and the characters were all wrong, and that I had just wasted a sizeable chunk of my life. But sometimes it’s good to fail, and to recognise that failure can be a pathway to something better, more publishable and, hopefully, commercially successful.
Once I had the main character fixed in my mind, with a plot and storyline that worked, the book’s narrator simply told me what to write. It’s a book about love, loss and mental illness, but told with humour. I hope it balances poignancy with laughter, charting the central character’s story as she finally comes to terms with who she is. I hope the book is uplifting, largely because I like happy endings! The book is about the big stuff like family bereavement, and the smaller stuff that we live through every day. It’s a portrait of a mentally fragile young woman who gets some things right, but not everything.
In writing her story, if I got something wrong, she would tell me that “it didn’t happen like that,” or “I wouldn’t have said that.” In a sense therefore, I don’t therefore feel that I did write the book. I sort of feel like a latter-day Barbara Cartland who would lie on a sofa and dictate her books to a minion. All I’ve done is sit in front of a computer and take down what someone in my head was telling me to write.
It was the same with my last book, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead (also Accent Press). That is a book about memory and how we are simply the sum total of our memories. The premise of the book is: if we were in an accident, and started to remember our lives slightly differently, would we also be changed?
The idea for it came to me on a train from Edinburgh to London, which was apt because Edinburgh, being a civilised place, is the only city in the world to have named its main railway station after a book. When I got home, I wrote the first and last chapters. I had a starting point and a finishing line. The first chapter changed out of all recognition, but the last chapter remains pretty much the same.
In that book, I knew that I was on the right track when the main character also started to speak to me, and tell me what was right and what was gibberish. Am I the only author who hears voices?
I now feel privileged to be a published author, but it hasn’t been an easy journey. All those days writing my way down cul-de-sacs, all those dead trees, all the angst along the way.
I’m therefore surprised by how many people want to be authors. A recent(ish) YouGov poll found that being an author was the most desirable job in Britain. Fully 60% of people said they’d like to do it for a living…24% higher than those who opted for TV presenter and 29% higher than those who wanted to be a movie star.
Why do so many people want a solitary life in front of a computer screen, with nobody to talk to except the imaginary voices in my head?
But it all comes good in the end, when the story you have sweated buckets over finally sees the light of day. As any writer will agree, that makes it all worthwhile.