Monday, March 1, 2010

Exploring Things

I was just reading Hilary Mantel's account of the day she left Saudi Arabia after four years. I loved the following passage and had to share it.

It was in the coffin-maker's flat that I had finished my first novel. There, I had received a letter from London to say that a publisher had accepted it. My husband brought it home from the office and put it into my hand. When I read its first line my mouth opened but my ribs had stuck fast with astonishment, so I couldn't utter, couldn't breathe in or out; and it seemed to me that in those suspended seconds an era went by, during which every cell in my body was exchanged for a new and better type.

I've never had that experience, obviously, but it sounds wonderful the way she puts it, doesn't it? Every cell in my body was exchanged for a new and better type.

Like most unpublished novelists, I dream about the day this will happen to me. But I realised as I copied that passage to post here that something similar happened to me once, and I've never blogged about it.

I was one of several contributors to the Dublin Complete Resident's Guide, and it was a really fun experience. I answered an ad online and received an email explaining what the company was about and the kind of travel guides they produced. Explorer Publishing produce guidebooks for people moving to cities rather than visiting them, written by people who already live there. They started out producing guides to cities in the Middle East (they are based in the United Arab Emirates and I was ultimately paid in dirhams) and have since branched into practically everywhere else.

Then, because I have always taken advice from people smarter than I am, I Googled the publishing company and made sure they were legitimate. Not only were they legitimate, they seemed to have a really excellent vision and to offer a genuinely good product.

So naturally I was terrified.

The lead editor for the project came to Dublin and met with prospective writers, of whom I was one. I was 22, on the dole and utterly chuffed to bits, and she was lovely.

I was somewhat more chuffed when I was asked to write the Health section, the Education section (I had just left college and made the point that I knew more about the education system than anyone who wasn't still in it - I was so inexperienced that I decided I'd better try to make that a selling point) and some parts of the Going Out section.

Overall, it was a great experience. I found out so much about my own country that I hadn't know before - I had to learn how school places were allocated, how you registered with a GP, what standard of healthcare was available through the public system and what were the benefits if you went private. I had to learn about night courses, nursery schools and special needs teachers. And I had to write it all up and present it in a reasonable and timely fashion and not fall apart with terror that real people - adults, even - would be reading and evaluating stuff I wrote.

I started a new day job around the same time as I started the Explorer gig (I had both interviews the same week. My mother was on holidays in Spain and had to get both interviews texted to her in less than 160 characters). It was a very busy time, but a very fun one, too.

But the best bit.

The best bit came that winter. My mother texted me to say a large package had arrived for me and met me after work with it. It was my author copy of the book, with a tiny biography of me (bloody impossible to write. I actually lied outright just to make up the word count. I have an excellent sense of direction, for the record, although my bio says I don't) and a tiny picture of me, and my name, spelled right.

I didn't feel every cell in my body renew. Not even a few of the older ones that were nearing the end of their life cycle and probably should have renewed. But it did feel great, and it still feels great to see the book on my shelf and to know that I have been paid to write, but more importantly, that I've written something that met someone else's objective standards.

And that would be why I would recommend that all writers should try and get their names into print somehow. Newspaper articles, magazines, travel guides, websites, blogs, student publications - whatever. Regardless of whether you're paid or unpaid, it's a good feeling to know that someone is reading your words and liking them. I've never written it myself, but some authors swear by fanfiction for the same reasons and I can see why it would have the same effect.


  1. How amazing! I can't wait to feel that fantastic! The day you find out your publish, and then the day you see your book in a bookstore. Those are the dreams!!

  2. Hi

    Oh well done and what a great feeling for you! And well done too for putting your name out there and getting in print and getting all published. It's a great boost to back up your writer-ly CV and hopefully soon you too will have that same amazing feeling that Hilary Mantel had when she learned that her novel was accepted. Hopefully not in a coffin-maker's flat though...


    Take care

  3. I can only imagine how many times better it is when your name is on the cover and the spine - but I'm a big believer in writing whatever the hell you fancy and trying to get someone else to like it. It's a great feeling!


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