Well, it is only one day until the official release of Inshallah, my first novel, and I couldn’t be more excited. I was utterly delighted yesterday to receive a parcel in the post, containing copies of the book! I now know how Jo felt in Little Women, when she saw her book for the first time. It’s real, it’s there! Seeing my own words in print is so satisfying, so humbling, and makes me very happy.
When you have a dream that has felt remote and unattainable most of your life, seeing it realised could potentially be anti-climactic. Certainly there are no fanfares, no bells and whistles, just me alone in my room with a box of books with my name on. Yet I feel as if I have swallowed the sky, as if my consciousness has expanded to a point of brief near-perfection. Just for a few moments, I know what it is to reach a significant milestone in my life and know that it was through (mostly) my own hard work and commitment.
It hasn’t been easy. I’ve been writing since I was seven, most of the time badly, and with several years when I couldn’t write much of any use. I had so many ideas, and often started well, then faltered and didn’t finish. It took me years to develop a sense of critical reflection and to realise that the only thing stopping me moving forward was myself.
After a number of rejections, I decided to study an MA in Creative Writing. This was by distance learning. There was nothing wrong with the course, but I studied part time whilst working and bringing up a small child. Engaging in online tutorials weekly whilst simultaneously playing with a five year old is not really conducive to my best work, let alone to deep learning. I scraped through the course with a novel that I know to be so fundamentally flawed I now wonder that it passed at all. I felt quite low after this experience, as I did not feel as if I had grown as a writer. But a couple of years later I invested time and a significant amount of money in a PhD in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. Again, part time, but my son was older, and I was working in an academic job which gave me more head space and more permission to write. I took my idea and I finally did what needed to be done – I committed to producing a book of a good quality and standard. I spent years doing the research required to immerse myself in Amanda’s journey through life in Saudi Arabia, and worked at creating a narrative that was true to my vision of her experiences, and those of women like her in the real world. I was supported by two fantastic supervisors who gave me the freedom to create whilst fostering my development. And I found my writing voice finally, and wrote the book that I wanted to write. Six years, writing crammed in around paid freelance writing, teaching, research, home life, housework . . . . it was a labour of love. I felt that this was my last chance. If I couldn’t find my way through this process to write something worthy of publication, maybe I needed to reconsider this long-held ambition.
I approached my PhD Viva with trepidation, thinking that surely they would rip my work to pieces, my novel and the critical thesis that accompanied it. Forty minutes later I emerged having passed with minor amendments! I could hardly believe it.
And then Honno showed an interest in the manuscript, and I received very valuable editorial feedback on how to re-structure it to make it suitable for publication. The day that I got the email, I was alone in my office, all my colleagues being elsewhere. I opened up my personal emails at lunchtime, and saw one from the publishers. I stared at it for a while, knowing that it was the answer I had been dreading or longing for. I knew that this would be a powerful moment. Then I clicked on the email, and saw the words, “We would like to publish your novel.” I screamed a little, or was it a shout, or a howl? And shoved my chair away from my desk to leap to my feat, my hand over my mouth in shock. I went cold, and hot, and my hair stood on end, and then there were tears in my eyes, and I punched the air and cried YES! YES! YES!
I thanked the Goddess (being a pagan) and I re-read the email several times. It was real. I was going to be published. But even so, even through the lengthy process of further editing, proofing, preparation, cover design decisions, marketing, planning . . . through all of it, I didn’t actually believe it would happen. Even when I saw it available for pre-order on Amazon I couldn’t quite accept that this was real. My partner never doubted me, not from the moment we met, but I doubted myself.
But it is. Today I sit with a copy of my novel, and tomorrow I will go to my first launch event in Swansea. I did it!
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