Diary of an Author

I’ve been a teacher since before shoulder pads were fashionable. I was a teacher before Pamela dreamed that Bobby Ewing was dead, and I’d taught lots of irregular Irish verbs by the time Glenn Close boiled the bunny in Fatal Attraction. And then I became a parent, so I had two jobs – surely more than enough for anyone.

Trouble was, all through those long, happy teaching and parenting years there lurked at the back of my mind the notion that one day I might write a novel. One vague day in a faraway, distant future.

Easter 1999

It happened. I took a trip to West Cork and while walking on a wet, windswept beach, I was struck by an idea for The Novel. I was terribly excited, and when I returned home two days later, my novel was finished.

In my head, that is.

My mind raced, and I could think of little else. I composed sections in my mind while waiting outside the children’s school, and putting out the rubbish bins. As I mashed potatoes, and prepared school lunches, I grappled with the finer points of my plot, trying to decide quite how seriously my heroine should fall for the long-haired waster.

And then one grey Saturday, when all three children had been invited out for the afternoon, I had a choice: do the ironing or switch on the word processor. So no choice really.

I sat in front of the grey monster, and I started to write. I wrote furiously for six weeks. The kitchen quickly became a very messy place that I ran through on my way to the room where the computer was kept. My word processor was in constant use, while my food processor rusted away quietly at the back of a cupboard. Initially, the children were very happy. But after the first ten days, the house rang to the unfamiliar tune of, “oh, Mum, can’t we have stew, or bacon and cabbage or something?” My reply was always the same, “Be quiet and eat your pizza. You’ll be glad when I’m famous.”

June 1999

The Great Novel was finished at last. No homework done. (What kind of a teacher does that make me?) The full, unrevised, unrequested manuscript was carefully checked for porridge stains, and sent to unfortunate publishers. I decided to take a career break from the day job. I now had vague notions of becoming a great novelist, a super-mother and an adequate tennis player.

September 1999

The Great Novel crashed through my letterbox waking all the neighbours. The huge package narrowly missed my children who were wrestling in the hallway. Thanks, but no thanks. It was back to the word processor for some badly needed redrafting.

October 1999-June 2000

The Great Novel was rewritten and expanded. Several times. It made a few more forays into the big bad world. My neighbours began to complain about the succession of loud thumps on the doorstep. My children wisely decided to do their wrestling in their bedrooms.

September 2000

I reluctantly returned to my day job. The pay was better, and the neighbours didn’t complain so much. And I had an excuse for not being a super-mother who made her own mincemeat, baked bread with real yeast, and who had the schoolbooks covered by the second week of July.

The Great Novel languished on my word processor, ignored and unloved. Clearly this writing lark wasn’t meant for me. I spent a year being a teacher and a mother again.

September 2001

One long, wet afternoon, the children were seriously cross. I parked them in front of the television for the sake of their health and mine. Something inspired me to switch on the computer. I re-read the Great Novel, and got a wonderful surprise. It wasn’t so bad. I did my homework on the Internet and found the correct way to submit a novel to publishers. Over the next week, lots more pizza was consumed in our house as I rewrote the first three chapters, composed a synopsis, and sent both to new publishers.

Two days later – Hallelujah. I got an E-mail from the publishers. ‘We like it. Please send the rest.’ That night’s pizza was washed down with champagne and Coke.

The rest of the novel left in the next morning’s post. I had a good feeling about it all of a sudden.

There’s a novel in all of us. Perhaps mine was one that someone besides my mother would be interested in reading.

October 2001

In the afternoons I was too excited to concentrate on anything, so I watched television with the kiddies, checking my messages in every ad-break.

After two weeks there was a surprise telephone call from the publisher with words to die for. ‘We love your novel. Please meet us for lunch to discuss offer.’

There was complete excitement as I came out for the first time as a writer. My friends were relieved to hear that I was only writing during all those hours I was locked alone in the study.

November 2001

I went to Dublin to meet my editor for lunch. A whole exciting new literary world was opening up in front of me. Agents began to return my calls. Virtual strangers stopped me in the street to congratulate me and share their secret ambitions to write Great Novels of their own.

December 2001

The deal was signed and sealed. Everyone in the family got a present, and what’s left of my first advance cheque was lodged safely in the bank.

May 2002

The revised manuscript was given the all-clear. The jacket was designed. Marketing techniques were discussed. My local bookseller offered to display the Great Novel in the shop window. It was looking as if it wasn’t all a dream after all.

December 2002

Despite the passing of months, my excitement still hadn’t abated. It was a great conversation opener. I became very popular at parties. My children wanted to sell my autograph at the school Christmas fair. I tried not to get too conceited, especially since the Great Novel was not yet actually on the shelves.

1st March 2003

My book made its grand appearance on the bookshelves of Ireland. My baby had gone into the big, bad world without me. Very weird. My children had to be restrained from waving it in the faces of unsuspecting shoppers. Friends phoned and said they’d bought it. Strangers phoned and said they’d bought it. Very weird. Very nice.

5th March 2003

Launch night. I wandered into the bookshop. It was very crowded. Oh dear. Suddenly I realised that all those people were there because of me. After the first fifty copies, signing books didn’t seem strange any more. I got to read. My voice didn’t shake too much. It seemed Rescue Remedy does work after all. The crowd laughed in all the right places. My super-cool children actually looked proud. I wondered to myself – Does it get better than this?

March 15th 2003

Apparently it does! I topped the bestsellers list. It was in the papers. And I read them all. John Grisham’s name was under mine. J.K. Rowling was just an inch away, topping the children’s list. How cool was that?

It seemed like a very long time since that Saturday when I switched on my computer and typed those two small words – ‘Chapter One.’

January 2004

Ho-hum, another book-launch.

Actually, it’s still hugely, wonderfully exciting. I’m a real writer. People pay money to read my words. Sometimes it’s hard to believe this is happening to me. I have two published books, and I’m working hard(ish) on number three.

Still though, no danger of getting too carried away. There’s always the ironing, the weight of which keeps my feet ever-so-firmly on the ground – just while I’m waiting for Steven Spielberg’s call, you understand.

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent on Feb 17th 2004.

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