It was early in 1997 that my sister-in-law asked me whether, amidst raising four children, running a business with my husband, and tutoring in the evenings, I ever longed to indulge in something creative that was just for me. I opened my mouth to admit that yes, I’d love to go back to playing the piano regularly, but what came out was, “Yes! I want to write! There’s a story I want to tell, but I don’t know how!”
At her urging, I tried to get my idea down on paper. At first, I thought I was writing a short story; that expressing the tale that invaded my sleep and my memories would be enough. But, as I tried to find the words, as I haltingly described my characters and their world, it became clear that there were too many threads for a short story, and that weaving them all together would result in a novel.
So I wrote it all down. I found one more or less daily writing slot by getting up half an hour earlier than any of my children (and they have all been early risers), and a less regular stint after my youngest was in bed, when I could often sit at the dining table with the middle two while they were doing their homework. There were days when one or other of the children joined me in rising early; when a homework needed more than just my company; or when accounts or other paperwork had to take priority over writing. Nevertheless, over two years or so, I finished the book, and even chose a name for it: Brightly Shines the Darkness.
But believe me, being literate, well-educated, well-read; these do not automatically mean one can write! I stuck my novel in a box, and told myself to accept that I was simply not a writer.
But I couldn’t convince myself. After all, it had taken years of practice to learn to play the piano, and every other skill I had acquired had required commitment and study. Why should writing be any different? When my sixteen-year-old daughter needed a weekly lift to college, on a day that coincided with the nearby university’s part-time creative writing programme, I had the perfect opportunity to learn to write.
Those were two very busy years, with lots of writing of all kinds. We were urged always to work on new pieces, rather than attempt to edit or re-write earlier work, so Brightly Shines the Darkness stayed in its box. Nevertheless, there were times when it coloured my assignments: there were character studies, snippets of dialogue, and landscape descriptions that brought my world to life for me, as well as fulfilling the brief that we had been set.
So it was 2002 before I could return to my story, and I decided not to get the original out of the box, but to tell it differently. I was still not happy with it, but I set it aside to write other things: articles for various magazines, short stories, and first drafts of another couple of novels. When I returned to it, I could see where changes were needed, and also that there was the potential for a sequel. Alternately writing Distant my Companions and editing Brightly Shines the Darkness, I spent more and more time in the Skywatchers world as my older children moved out, often at that same dining-table while my youngest in his turn did his homework.
I began to see that, although each of these two books told a story that was complete in itself, they could also be seen as part of a larger whole, a sequence of steps that would change the Skywatchers world forever. I made a time-map of where I saw the world going, realised that telling the whole story would amount to five novels, pinned maps, diagrams and notes to my office wall, and kept writing.
At first, I gave little thought to the possibility of finding out if these books were publishable. It was clear that it was no easy task for an unknown author with no connections to attract the attention of a mainstream publisher. I briefly considered self-publishing, but, having looked at three or four companies, it became apparent that the cost of producing each copy of a book would be more than the retail price of traditionally published books. I neither wanted to sell my books at a loss, nor to price them so high that no-one would buy them, so I dismissed this option.
Then one of the writing sites did an article about FeedaRead. Using Arts Council funding, they were going to publish fifty books, under a scheme that combined elements of traditional and of self- publishing. I submitted both Brightly Shines the Darkness and Distant my Companions, and they were accepted. As FeedaRead expanded, thanks to further grants from the Arts Council and then investment from traditional publishers, the other books in the Skywatchers series have also been published.
In July 2015, Strident Sings the Moon, the fifth and final book in the series, came back to me from the editor, and since then, I have been revising it to take account of the anachronisms he pointed out and the places where the plot arc faltered or a passage was ambiguous. The final version was submitted to the publisher last month, and I recently received and approved my author inspection copy.
So I have reached the end of a writing journey that has lasted over eighteen years. I had expected to feel bereft, but this is not so. The Skywatchers will never leave me: I have recently uploaded a short story set in this world, and I have a couple more planned. And there is the excitement of moving towards an entirely new long-term writing project; I have plot arcs, character studies, and lots of diagrams for three different novels, each undertaken at a point during the last two years when I had to come up for air from the Skywatchers world, or when there was nothing more I could do there until the last book came back for editing or approval. Then there are a score or more of ideas for novels in my notebooks, hastily scribbled down or more thoughtfully fleshed out at various points over the years, before being abandoned until my Skywatchers story was told. I fear it will always be the case, that there will be more stories crowding my dreams and unfocussed moments than I can possibly tell!