Jan Newton – Diary of a Debut Author
I wonder if I’m unusual, or whether other writers have found themselves thrilled and delighted (of course) but also more than just a little stunned at the thought of having a book out there on the shelves. I have to admit to sneaking a surreptitious glance at the relevant spot in my local bookshop in Llandrindod Wells last Saturday, just to see what sort of company it will be keeping. As luck would have it, DS Julie Kite will be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jo Nesbo and David Nicholls. She will be pleased.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been one of those annoying people who was sure they could write a novel, if only they had the time. It’s also been half a century since I wrote my first ‘novel’ when I was seven years old. That one ran to fourteen exercise books and earned me two gold stars. So it was a huge surprise to everyone, me included, when I found myself with a well-thumbed manuscript, and the address of a publisher in the address line of an e-mail. It was even more of a surprise when I pressed send and the first fifty pages and a synopsis began their journey across the Cambrian Mountains to Honno in Aberystwyth.
I’d like to say I forgot all about it and carried on regardless, but the wait to hear what someone other than loyal family members and friends thought of my writing was absolutely excruciating. When Honno asked to see more, I’m sure I was more than a little excruciating too. Then I had the call to a meeting with the editor, Caroline Oakley, at Honno’s base in Aberystwyth.
It was a strange feeling, to be sitting in an office crammed with books and manuscripts with someone who knew (and understood) my characters and their hopes, fears and dilemmas as well as I did – strange and oddly disconcerting. I have written many short stories, and have enjoyed sharing them – even reading them aloud when there was no escape (where’s the Rescue Remedy when you need it) but this was different. I had spent so long with DS Julie Kite and DI Craig Swift, with the victim’s family at their farmhouse high in the Welsh hills that the thought of someone else being there too, looking on, was a watershed moment.
The meeting was followed by a little light editing. This was far more terrifying than it should have been. It was like unpicking a slowly and carefully knitted Fair Isle jersey and using the same colours and precisely the same amount of wool to alter some of the tiny and complicated patterns. Would there be enough wool? Would the whole thing unravel? Would I be left with tiny holes?
When the envelope arrived, even though it had an Aberystwyth postmark and Honno’s striking pink logo, it still hadn’t dawned on me. The envelope contained a contract. The OH assures me that I was less than calm. I can’t remember exactly what I said, the first time I read my name followed by ‘The Author’, but he says there was a definite over-use of adjectives.
Since then, I have had so much help to get ‘the book’ to this stage. When Caroline suggested a police officer should read the book, Kevin Robinson – who I met on his brilliant course for crime writers – had no hesitation in volunteering to help. Others have read it with their farming expertise or with a writerly eye. Each one of them has left me holding my breath until their verdicts were returned. It seems strange now to think that (hopefully) so many other people will read it without me even knowing.
Of course, the lovely people at Honno have been amazing. They have steered me through structural tinkering, a copy edit (which was totally terrifying and one of the best lessons on writing I’ve ever had) and a final proof edit. They have held my hand through every single stage and made publishing this first novel such a special, never-to-be-forgotten experience.
On Christmas morning I was awake early – not unlike the seven year old who wrote her spaceman novel all those years ago – and discovered that Amazon had sent me an e-mail. ‘You may like this,’ it said. I hadn’t the heart to reply and tell them their suggested book was still in meaningful piles on my kitchen table. I really hope other people will like it, and that it will transport them to this stunning part of mid Wales, for a while at least.
As I write this, the finished book-shaped article should be available to have and to hold in less than a week. I can’t imagine how that will feel. It will be published on 16th March and there will be a launch ‘do’ with wine and readings (pass the Rescue Remedy again, then). And after that it will be on its way out into the world. It’s unbelievably exciting, the business of getting used to the idea of being an author, but it’s a strange feeling too, this letting go.
Remember No More by Jan Newton is published by Honno on 16th March 2017