I read somewhere that you don’t become a writer; you discover you are one, and I suppose that’s what happened to me.
People always talk about their love of books as a child, but I also had a love of stories and storytelling. So much so, that I often made up my own and told them – seanchaí style – to anyone who would listen! My goal was to entertain and storytelling became my party piece. But when it came to reading, well, books were my medicine.
I spent a lot of time in and out of hospital as a child and people would always bring me books, mostly fairytales. I would read voraciously when stuck in bed. The Grimm brothers helped me escape from the confines of a hospital ward, along with Johnathan Swift whose crazy stories of magical lands and strange wonders opened up a whole new world for me. Later, my older sister’s Edgar Allen Poe collection saw me through countless infections and fascinated me with his gothic tales. Yet, as soon as my health improved, I would abandon my books for the outside world, making up for lost time. I was a fair-weather friend to books, but they were still there waiting for me, whenever life got hard.
It wasn’t until much later that I even dared to think of writing a book. Again, it was one of those ‘stuck’ moments in life and I needed a new story to help me find a way out. I rediscovered the library, my love of books and an escape route. I’m not sure at what point I decided, ‘Hey, I could write one of these!’ but I certainly remember the moment when I realised it wasn’t as easy as it looked. I felt like a fool for even trying. I wasn’t a writer! It was a silly dream. And so I buried my first attempt deep in my hard drive and tried to forget about that part of myself. I kept reading though – if I couldn’t be a writer, I was going to be a reader.
It worked, for a while, but it was like I’d been bitten by a bug (a not very talented, but persistent bug!) and before I knew it, I was writing another novel. I submitted it to ONE publisher before I even finished it and they requested the full manuscript. I couldn’t believe it. “It’s happening!” I thought to myself, “It’s really happening!” Then came the rejection letter – which wasn’t surprising, seeing as I had submitted just 50k words of a first draft. The editor said that, while it was well written, the story wasn’t strong enough. Well, if that’s not an excuse to wallow in self-pity for a good two years, I don’t know what is! But I kept reading, exploring new genres and different voices.
So yet again, I had pushed aside this crazy dream and told myself I’d have more chance of winning the lottery.
I think it’s a rite of passage for writers, this tug of war between heart and mind. You try to talk yourself out of it; acutely aware of how irrational this longing is. Everyone tells you there’s no money it, you’ll never get published and besides, the novel is dead! But you keep climbing into your ivory tower anyway, because you simply have to tell your story. Even if no-one listens, you have to tell it because if you don’t, no-one else will.
So when do you really start feeling like a writer? I can’t say. It’s an unusual process; you spend all this time wondering when you will become a ‘real writer’, but just like the Velveteen Rabbit, the realness happens without you noticing it. You work away, writing stories, writing articles, submitting manuscripts, waiting endlessly and then one day you look around you and realise, I am a real writer! It’s happened. I think seeing my photo in the Irish Times with the caption Evie Gaughan, Author was what really clenched it! I mean, who am I to argue with the Irish Times!!
And then came the greatest endorsement that all writers hope for, dream of, but never really believe will happen. Yet just like love, it happens when you least expect it and have almost given up on it. In a happy twist of luck and happenstance, fellow writer Thomas Hocknell (author of The Life Assistance Agency) pointed me in the direction of Urbane Publications, and I found my perfect fit. I submitted my manuscript and on Saint Patrick’s Day, merry with wine, I received the email I’d been waiting for – “We’d like to publish your book”. It was really happening.
It IS really happening.
Even now, in the midst of my third book launch, I think there’s a part of me that still can’t accept that this is real, that it’s really happening. People ask me how I feel and I’m sure I reply with something coherent, but really it’s a jumble of feelings and impossible to put into words (ironically!). I’m just trying to do the work and give this book the best launch that I can. Another surreal moment has been the endorsement of one of my favourite authors, Niamh Boyce. Having her words on my cover, praising my story, is something (again) I could only have dreamed of. Another welcome surprise to me is how generous and supportive authors are of each other – something I hope to pay forward.
But it’s probably the same for most authors, a lot of the time you just can’t see the wood for the trees. There are lots of hidden moments; a contract to be signed but you can’t talk about it, a new cover that you can’t reveal yet, a new story you don’t want to jinx, so you keep it to yourself. And so you never really know when to celebrate and when things finally do start happening, you’re already in promotion mode. So maybe it will be another few months before all of this sinks in and I can give myself a congratulatory pat on the back. And a holiday! Or sit down in a quiet, still place and let myself feel this in my bones, remember what it was like when I started out and see how far I’ve come. Till then, thanks to everyone who has supported me, my squad, my tribe 🙂 It would be a far lonelier journey without you x