Fourteen years ago, I wrote a story about a girl.
I was thirteen at the time, and writing stories was what I did. And not just about girls. Planets that spoke to each other, mice who lived in the Underground, magic meerkats and friendly boats. Writing was my thing; it was beyond a hobby and more than just something I enjoyed. It was how I understood the world. Words had all the magic and possibility anyone could ever need. Put them in the right order, and you could create a world of your own. And maybe, if you got them just right, that world would be a place that would mean something to other people.
I’d written countless stories by the time I was thirteen – the first at age 6, in which the acknowledgements page listed all our family pets by name, including the guinea pigs – of varying length and quality. Each abandoned and finished project was a step closer to Being A Writer; my ultimate goal. My dream. A book on a shelf with my name on it. A book that someone could hold. A book that had a sentence in it that made someone’s eyes go wide with “yes. this.”
There was something different about that story about a girl, not least because it was the first full-length novel I’d ever written. There was something about the story, something about the characters, that worked. I was thirteen, but I knew that. But I also knew something else – it wasn’t right. They weren’t the right words, and it wasn’t the right time.
I tried revisiting the story and the girl several times over the next few years, but it never came together. I got better at writing. I read yet more books. I went to university, where writing came with grades and books were to be approached critically. I learned the difference between writing for someone else and writing for yourself.
By the time I graduated, I had stopped writing stories. I went to work. I learned how to write professionally. How to fall asleep on a train in the morning and still get off at the right stop. The best time of the day to schedule tea breaks. The number of people who actually care about where to put apostrophes (depressingly few). How to write presentations. How to interview people.
And all the time, I thought about that story of a girl. The story I’d never quite been able to tell. I thought about what she would be doing three, five, ten years in her own future. How many other people there were in her story. How they all had stories too. Her world grew. New characters appeared, one with a voice that felt right.
A new protagonist. A new story of a girl. A feeling I’d never quite had before, of certainty.
I wrote in the work canteen at lunchtimes and on the train home. I wrote in the ten minutes before the light turned off, then carried on write-dreaming until I fell asleep. I nestled into Starbucks sofas on the weekends. Conversations became scenes. Scenes became chapters. Soon it was 50,000 words. And then 80,000. And then it was finished.
I’m going to skim over what happened next, because the getting-an-agent process and everything after is too much to fit into a single blog. I’ll save it for another time, but suffice it to say it involves a lot of waiting. A lot of refreshing my inbox. A lot of nail-biting. And then all that agony forgotten in that one, perfect sentence: “Are you around next week to come in to my office and have a chat about representation?” (YES. YES I AM.)
What follows: editing. Revising. A crash course in the world of publishing. More editing. A few tears. A few drafts. Submission. More agony.
And then: “I would like to make an offer…”
It’s a funny thing, getting something you’ve always wanted. Realising a dream. It’s joyous and exhilarating, but it’s also scary. Like happiness vertigo. These characters who existed only in my head for over a decade now come up in conversation with people who have job titles like Senior Commissioning Editor. People I’ve never met know them better than they know me. They now have lives in the imaginations of other people. It’s wonderful. It’s terrifying.
When I was thirteen, I wrote a story about a girl. And now that story is a book. A book that will have pages and a spine. A Goodreads page. Readers. Reviews. It took a long time to find the right words and the right time for them to come together, but now it has I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
And so, the words I once only dreamed of being able to say: My debut novel, Beautiful Broken Things, will be published by Macmillan in Spring, 2016. And I am ecstatic.