Origin of the Writer is a series of essays giving emerging writers the opportunity to share their writing journey so far.
I’ve always written. Still, the thought I might actually be published only crystalised in early 2015 when I read the contract, offering representation by a literary agent, stating in black and white: “Author–Janet England.”
It was a surreal moment that brought much elation, but was actually the start of a stressful journey of high hopes, multiple rejections, a rewrite and finally a publishing contract with a small, independent US publisher for my debut novel and the first of a YA trilogy, Miranda Moon.
Having built a career as a journalist and then a public relations and communications specialist, I was pretty sure I knew how to spin a story. I can knock out a decent media release in half an hour, a feature article takes a little longer. I can put the zing in a speech that will make you cry. But that’s work and it’s not real writing. Not to me anyway. In my own time, I’ve always loved to replace the fact with fiction and had started any number of novels before I discovered Miranda, Cassandra and Andy.
It was 2010 and I was a long way from home, staring up at the Cape du Couedic lighthouse on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, when the story that had been niggling me for months, suddenly started to unfold, scene after scene, as the sun was setting over the ocean and the sound of the waves and a howling gale drowned out anything that might have intruded. I was staying in an old lighthouse keeper’s cottage with my family for a week and before I left, I had written the first 10,000 words.
In that wild and remote location, something about this story and these characters finally clicked enough with me that I could see the end of their story. I knew it would take three books to get them there, and I knew the characters who would be important, the ones who would survive and the scenes that I burned to write. I set the first novel of the series in a beautiful place that I know well, Moreton Bay. My vivid childhood memories of the bay, the islands and the daily adventure of sea and sky made the writing a joyous and sometimes almost therapeutic journey.
I didn’t tell too many people I was writing a novel. I actually think it makes people uncomfortable, unless you are already a well-known, published author. I told the people I knew would be happy to talk about it, my young daughter and her best friend and my sister, who had listened to so many of my story ideas and always said the same thing, “You really need to start writing this down.” She even gave me a laptop to encourage me to get my act together.
So I left that lighthouse on Kangaroo Island, well and truly illuminated. I knew I would have to develop something I was not particularly good at, when there was no real deadline involved-discipline. I came home from work every night, cooked dinner, helped with homework, ironed school uniforms, packed lunches and then made sure I spent at least two hours working on the novel. I won’t say writing. Sometimes it was research, sometimes it was endlessly rereading previous chapters. But of course, many an evening, I was actually writing.
The day I finished the first draft, a hefty 123,000 words destined for chopping, was an enormous sense of achievement. But looking back now, I understand what a very raw product it was.
If I could give one piece of advice, from a person who didn’t see the need to take this advice herself, I would say get someone to professionally edit your work. Being a good writer doesn’t necessarily translate to being a good author and everyone needs a sanity check when it comes to critiquing your own work.
My first sanity check came with a kind rejection from an Australian publisher who was generous enough to offer encouragement, while pointing out the reasons she would not be taking it on. I submitted to many a slush pile and had a few more rejections before my agent read the novel, loved it, offered to represent me, and then sent her suggested changes. Another sanity check!
It was an author friend, meeting with her agency in London, who mentioned my novel to their YA agent. She offered to have a look at a few chapters, then the whole novel and then to represent me. She is a wonderful woman who is incredibly positive about the story, has earned nothing in more than two years from my work, yet continues to persevere. Finally achieving publication has been jubilation, vindication and relief for both of us.
I had another thrill when my publishing contract came through early this year. It also says, ‘Author – Janet England.”
The publishing process has been an eye-opener for me. My novel, that I have written and rewritten, read and re-read, edited and re-edited, has now been edited at least three more times by three different editors thanks to the publisher. There were no major changes and thankfully nothing I couldn’t live with, given it was being edited for the American market.
On 26 September this year, Miranda Moon went on sale on Amazon. Author-Janet England!
This January it will be eight years since I stared up at that lighthouse on Kangaroo Island. Its historic light, 2000 blocks of sandstone, howling gales and eerie isolation do not feature in Miranda Moon. You’ll have to wait for the sequel (which I have finished) to see what I do with it!