As I write, it’s ten days out from the publication of my debut novel, The Eye of the North.
This is a time I’ve been imagining since I was a little girl who loved to read and dream and think. It’s a time I’ve been hoping to experience ever since, aged twenty, I began to write my first book, about a girl called Maria and a boy called Barry who stumble through a crack in an old tree and end up in a bespelled Fairyland under the rule of a sleeping queen. (It wasn’t very good.) It’s a time I’ve seriously wondered about since 2012, when I started this blog, and made the decision to focus on writing a book, and began to look at ways to actually get published for real.
And now, it’s finally here.
I thought it would be one long buzz of excitement, but truthfully – well. Truthfully, it’s a bit scary.
My first author copy of The Eye of the North, sent by Melanie Nolan, my wonderful editor at Knopf Books for Young Readers. (Photo: SJ O’Hart; cover artist credit: Jeff Nentrup)
The moment things first began to get real was when I received a finished copy of my book in the post, in an envelope bearing the logo of Penguin Random House, sent from New York City.
Sent to me.
Little old me? Eeek.
It arrived. It sat in my kitchen for a few minutes. And then I opened it and held it, and began to quiver a bit. This is really happening, I thought. This book, this idea you hugged to yourself for fifteen years and then worked so hard to bring out of your brain, is actually sitting here in your hands, wrapped up between boards.
It’s hard to describe how I felt at that moment. You’d think it would be uncomplicated joy – and, certainly, joy is part of it – but the joy is mixed up with fear (will people hate it?) and doubt (why did I ever think anyone would read a book by me, anyway?) and an overwhelming sense of weight, perhaps responsibility, that now this book will be in the world, readable by anyone, and maybe – most terrifyingly of all – someone, somewhere, will love it the same way I love the books which formed me.
The Eye of the North meets some of its older cousins. (Photo: SJ O’Hart)
I think, if someone were to (metaphorically) cut me open, I would bleed words. Books are such a part of me that I practically rustle when I walk. The books I love are carried within me all the time; I think about them on a daily basis, bringing to mind favourite scenes, quotes, characters and even artwork to comfort and sustain me. I never thought about it from the other side until I considered the idea of becoming an author myself – I saw books, and their creators, as things and beings separate from the run of the mill ordinariness of everyday life, forgetting that they were simply people, too, who loved to dream and find words and put them down on paper, just like me. Now that I have written a book, and some very fine people indeed have seen fit to publish it, I wonder: what might it be like to enter the heart and mind of a reader, to be taken with them wherever they go, to be remembered ten, twenty, or more years from now, the cover art from my book thought of with fondness, a turn of phrase first encountered in my writing recalled with warm satisfaction?
And I think: what a privilege.
And what a frightening thing.
Books really do shape minds. They really do affect a person’s way of thinking, feeling, and seeing the world. Books foster empathy and compassion; they heighten a person’s sense of connection with the world around them and the people in it. Books make you part of someone else. They make you imagine how it would be to live as someone else, someone whose life is vastly different to your own. They draw you in and make you feel and make you hope. Is it any wonder they’re so loved? And now my story, and my characters, have become part of that giant, neverending waterfall of words and images – a tiny part, of course, a mere droplet in the flood – but perhaps someone will find a reflection of themselves in my odd little Emmeline or my gutsy, loving Thing, or my brave, loyal Igimaq and my book will become a little building block in the makeup of their mind. How amazing is that?
So, it’s not necessarily seeing my words in print which has so astounded me, though it is astounding. It’s the sense that I might touch someone (and just one person would be enough) with something I’ve written, and make them laugh, or think, or look afresh at something they thought was familiar. What a wonder that is.
It’s a tough old world out there, these days. Things are grim, and dark, and frightening. But books help. I hope you’ll take comfort in a book – it needn’t necessarily be mine, though of course I’d love if it were – and remember that no matter how terrible things might seem, someone somewhere took the time to think up a story, write it down, and share it in the hope of making things better.
Stories make things better. Stories make us who we are, both on a cultural and a personal level. Never give up on stories, and you’ll be doing the best you can to leave the world better than you found it. Tell them, write them, share them, love them, pass them on. Let them live. Live them.
Me, in my kitchen, opening a box of author copies of The Eye of the North. (Photo: SJ O’Hart)
Thank you to everyone who has been here with me since August 2012. Almost exactly five years to the day after I started this blog, I am going to be a published author – and I hope that fact gives someone hope, encouragement, and strength to find their own dream and make it real. It can be done.
So, go do it.