The journey

Everything begins

Here we are on New Year’s Day. We made it!

I’m not a big one for New Year celebrations – it always makes me feel old to say goodbye to another year. I feel a longing to cling on to the racing time; stop it slipping away. New Year’s Eve, I can do without. (I like the fireworks though, I will admit to that.)

But then New Year’s Day dawns, and it is, bizarrely, usually bright, sunny and full of promise. Even in dull, damp Ireland, a new year almost always brings blue sky and a feeling of something beginning.

I didn’t intend to do much work today, but then it seemed kind of appropriate to begin this blog properly. In my book, Dear Isobel (you know, the one we are here for; the one I’m GETTING PUBLISHED! Excuse me, I have these moments of uncontrollable excitement mingled with a disbelief that it’s really happening. I’ll just pinch myself and then I’ll get back to the point.)

… in my book, Dear Isobel, there are many beginnings, and some endings too. You’ll have to wait a bit longer to read it, but meanwhile, let me tell you how I got here:

Hope, by Jinny Alexander, 2011
(orignally called A Rock and a Hard Place, but then I was focused on the fixed and unchangeable. Now I’m looking at the new.)

I began writing Dear Isobel a very long time ago. It helped me out of a hard place. I knew many people facing similar life events to those the narrator and characters in the book are facing, and I, too, had some life-changing events bubbling around me. I wrote my way out of long days, and I realised it was working. That was almost the easy bit. The problem was that as the people I knew were still living through their problems, I didn’t know then how it would end for anyone and I got busy, side-tracked, and focused on other things. The writing got put aside and left unfinished.

Fast forward: 2020. Many people are suddenly facing a challenge never known before in our life times: The world in lockdown.

I’m not going to disregard the pain and loss that many have experienced this year – I’ve seen you; I’ve watched it across the world through my spread-out family and my worldwide students and friends. I was teaching my online students in Wuhan back in January of 2020 and I saw this beginning. But, better than that, I also saw their strength, tenacity, stoicism, and I saw them come out of it. Close your eyes and imagine the joy on a lively 6 year old’s face when he tells me that after 74 days of house arrest, he went to the park, two days before his 7th birthday. Imagine the happiness on his face, and his little sister’s, and imagine the relief and ecstasy of their mother. We can get through this too.

I didn’t have as much time on my hands as many, as I carried on working right through the year, but nonetheless, as I watched how people changed, reacted, coped and despaired, that early draft of Dear Isobel began to call me back. You may have heard of NANO – National Novel Writing Month, whcih takes place every November? You may not. I finished another book in NANO once before (watch this space for more news on that book.), so I knew I could rise to the self-imposed challenge of finishing Isobel for this Nano. And finish it I did.

Through the year that has passed, I suddenly realised how the story would end, and that ending lived in my head for months, twisting, growing, forming, until finally, sometime before the end of NANO month, I realised that not only had I written THE END, but I had also edited, refined, reformed the older part of the story and it was ready. Roll on approximately 10 days and my Twitter feed reminded me it was a PitMad day. What the heck is PitMad? many of you will be asking. Well, basically, it’s a day on Twitter where authors can pitch their novels and agents and publishers will look for the hashtags and ask for submissions.

So let’s recap this timeline:

2012 or thereabouts (it’s so long I don’t even know!) I begin to write Isobel.

November 2020: I finish it. I immediately send it to a new round of beta readers. (A couple who read it before, and a couple who have never read it.)

December 3rd: I pitch it on Twitter

Now, hang on. This is where it gets really fast.

December 3rd: A publisher likes the tweet.

December 4th: I send the first 4 chapters and a query letter.

December 4th: Publisher responds to confirm reciept. ‘Due to the time of year, don’t expect to hear back until January.’ (I paraphrase; you get the gist.)

December 6th: She asks for the whole book.

Insert moments of panic here, as although I am confident and the book is finished, I have one Beta reader who is a grammatic fanatic and isn’t at the end yet, so I’m frantically doing one more edit to either amend as to her suggestions or ignore them, depending on how I feel about her comments. I thought I was home free till Jan, and had time to do this thoroughly. Instead, I’m still typing away at the eleventh hour – the thirteenth, actually – and accidentally find myself rewriting a whole chapter at 1 am (not because of the beta reader, but because I suddenly realise I can improve it.) And if that’s not enough, I then add two new chapters too. Because I am mad. (My publisher may be frantically tearing up my contract now she knows this little secret: I wasn’t 110% ready when I pitched, which is a MASSIVE DON’T and I don’t condone it or recommend it. It’s far too stressful. And unprofessional. I may be in the exact moment of shooting myself in the foot here. This may be the shortest-lived blog in history.)

December 7th (for me – luckily still Decmber 6th for the publisher), early hours: I am so happy. I’ve submitted it. I’m delighted with it, not absolutely certain I’ve got every single typo, because, who ever does?, but still delighted. And tired.

The publisher says no decisions will be made until January-March, so I can sleep now.

December 14th: Or not sleep. She wants the book, and a Contract arrives.

December 15th: We facetime. For ages. My publisher is my new best friend. (Hopefully that’ll soften the admission that I wasn’t quite ready, but it’s also true.)

December 16th (or therabouts, it’s nearly Christmas so I’ve lost track of days by now): I sign the contract. I’ve got a book deal! Wahey!

And that’s how fast it has happened. Or slow, if you count the first 8 years of writing. It’s currently a whirlwind, a roller-coaster, and a million other cliches. Now, though, there is still no time to rest as there is work to be done. My new author facebook page, and this brand new website are just part of the work done already, and just the tip of what has to be done next. I am very grateful to those of you who are already strapped in to ride with me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I am going to.

Happy New Year. Changes happen; some of them are good ones. I wish you something good for this coming year. Take the small things, like that little green plant clinging on to the rock face. It may become bigger, better, and more exciting than it ever imagined when it sent out that first tiny, tentative shoot. You may be between a rock and a hard place, but you are still there, clinging on, hoping.

Whatever comes, we’ll be okay.

Love, Jinny x

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