Last Wednesday, in a crypt beneath a church in Farringdon, I held the launch of my debut novel, The Sin Eater’s Daughter. As I said in my last post, this event was much longed for, but never really expected and today I thought I’d say a bit about why.
At the launch, there was the usual meeting and greeting and some signing of books. I also made a speech, and one of the things I was, and still am, very keen to explain is exactly why I didn’t think it would happen for me and the reason, quite simply, is that I am from a working class background.
For a very long time, I (absolutely misguidedly) thought that the literary world would only open its doors to you if there was someone in your family who already inhabited it (ideally an Austen, or a Dickens) or if you’d attended a top-tier university. I didn’t know you could go to state school, and be on the free school meal plan, and wear Hi Tec trainers and carry your PE kit in a plastic bag from Iceland, and still be a writer. I thought it was a dream too far, even for me (And I dream BIG). So while I loved storytelling, I didn’t think I could be on the other side of the pages, not really. I put the dream away.
But then, in the year 1999, I kept hearing about this children’s series called Harry Potter. My nana bought me a copy of the first book for my birthday and I sat and read it in one go. I went out that afternoon into town and spent all of my birthday money on the books that had already been released. And two Hogwarts t-shirts. And some chocolate frogs. I was hooked completely, to the point where my nana would tell me whenever she came across anything about it in the newspaper.
And in 1999, there was a LOT in the newspaper, about Harry Potter, and the author, J.K. Rowling. Looking back now, it leaves a nasty taste in my mouth when I realise how much the press focused on the rags to riches story of J.K. writing as a single mum, on benefits, penning it in cafes because they were warmer than her council flat. But at the time, a light switched on in my head. She was like me. She was an ordinary person too. And she’d written some books.
The dream began to wake up. Slowly.
Years passed; I went to college, then university. Life seemed pretty normal; I was ticking all the right boxes. Sure, I was mostly miserable, but that was adulthood right? Then my world crumbled. Three months before finishing my degree my boyfriend and I finally broke up for good, after four and half up-and-down years. A month before I handed in my dissertation, my beloved part-time job at the local theatre was terminated due to reconstruction work. And then my time in education – the cornerstone of my entire life – was over. All of my friends were moving away, moving on.Suddenly I was back living with my nana; jobless, directionless. All of the things I had built my life around were gone, in the space of just a few months and I had no idea what to do next. Or how to get out of bed, some days.
And who swept in to save me again – none other than J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. The only thing keeping me remotely interested in life that summer was finally getting to read Deathly Hallows and seeing how it ended. I read it, and I wept and I punched the air and I laughed. Then I had a good, hard think about what I was doing. I decided that if this kid, this seventeen year old boy could defeat the worst evil in the world, I could find a job and sort my life out. If J.K Rowling could write a series of books that changed the entire world forever, maybe I could write at least one book that some people would like a little. It was a start.
Last Wednesday, seven years after I started writing seriously with the intention of trying to get a book published, I did it.
It wasn’t easy; the first book I wrote took two and a half years and was around 130k of absolute awfulness and I deleted it almost immediately upon finishing it. The second took two years and was ok, but unoriginal. And then the third… Well, that’s on shelves in shops right now. I didn’t know if it would be possible, but I had to try. I’m so glad I did.
In a crypt on the 4th February, 2015, the people I love, new friends and old, and the team that have championed me from the beginning, ate, drank, laughed and celebrated the story I wrote. Friends flew in from Norway, Scotland and Ireland. I got to see almost everyone who has supported and encouraged and helped me on this journey and I never thought I would. I never thought it could be me. I’m a writer now.