There’s a sign at the yoga studio I go to which says ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’. When I started writing Beltane five and a half years ago, I’d have dismissed it as hippy clap-trap. But I looked at it last week and thought ‘I get that now.’
I don’t like using the word ‘journey’ these days as it’s become such a reality TV cliché but with Beltane being published in just over a week I’ve found myself looking back at all that’s happened since I started writing it in May 2010.
To say that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing is a bit of understatement but I’d got a ‘how to book’ (the excellent How to Write a Damned Good Novel by James Frey that I’d recommend to anyone) and a determination not to give up this time. I’d started a couple of other novels and given up after 3 or 4 chapters. I wasn’t going to do that this time. Even when I wrote the first 6,000 words and then realised I’d started in completely the wrong place I kept going.
Progress was pretty slow. I was working in a job that I hated and that (although I didn’t realise it at the time) was making my health condition worse. I got signed off work with stress for three months in early 2012 and that gave me a chance to make some real progress. But then in May of that year, I went into hospital for what was supposed to be a minor operation which went wrong setting off a chain of events which took over my life for the next 3 years.
I had to have emergency surgery to patch me up. I was really very poorly in a drips and blood transfusions kind of way and in hospital for 2 weeks. Looking back now, I think any sensible person would probably have given up on writing for a while but I don’t think I even considered it. My best friend, who was reading each chapter as I wrote it, came to visit me in hospital and I remember her saying ‘Well, you can’t leave it there’ – the romance between Finn and Zoe having just reached a critical point – ‘I have to know what happens next’.
I was off work for 4 months (during which time I quit the lousy job and decided to go freelance) but slowly, as I started to get back on my feet, I started writing again. Some of what I’d been through filtered through to the story. It’s fair to say that the last third of Beltane is rather darker than I’d planned as I worked out some of the things I’d suffered in what my characters experienced. I did give them a happy ending though, even if I felt a very long way from one of those myself.
Soon after I received my RNA NWS report on Beltane in October 2013, I was back in hospital for a week for another operation and off work for 3 more months. As soon as I could I did a final edit of the manuscript and started submitting. No one was more surprised than me when an agent signed me in June 2014.
I thought getting an agent would make me feel like I really was a writer. Instead it was the start of another process of submission and rejection, only this time there was someone else sending the emails on my behalf. There’s been a fair few rejections and some have cut deeper because it’s clear that these people have actually read my manuscript before saying ‘no, it’s not for us’. And, in the face of that, I’ve struggled at times to keep my belief in Beltane and believe it’s a story that’s worth publishing.
Through that, as in everything that’s happened over the past five and a half years, it’s been my incredible friends and family who’ve kept me going. If I’ve discovered along the way that ‘life happens outside of my comfort zone’ it’s because they’ve been there every step of the way – encouraging, persuading and never letting me give up.
Over the past few months it’s felt like things have turned a bit of a corner. I started an MA in Creative Writing at York St John University in October and I’m loving every minute of it. Through doing that, I’ve had the opportunity to teach a creative writing class as part of the Converge Project (which you can read more about here). I’m very much learning as I go along with the teaching but, when it works, it’s amazing and I can’t quite believe that they pay me for doing it. And, on Monday 7th December, Beltane will be published.
I know that’s the start of another journey (darn it, there’s that word again!) and that there’ll be more ups and downs along the way. But it’s been a long time getting to this point and already my life has changed more than I could have imagined when I sat down to write the first (utterly wrong) words of the book.
If you’d like to find out more about Beltane this is the blurb:
Maeve Blackwell has plans for a new start, free of the façade she so carefully maintains. At Beltane, the Celtic festival of fire on 1st May, all her preparations will come to fruition.
Struggling artist, Zoe Rose is in Glastonbury to work on the illustrations for a book about King Arthur. But when she arrives at Anam Cara, the healing retreat run by Maeve, it’s not the haven she hoped for.
Maeve isn’t the warm-hearted, hippy she expected and Zoe can’t help feeling there’s something very odd about the place. Is it coincidence that the other guests become ill after Maeve’s given them healing? And why did the Green Man carved on a tree in the garden, which she’d felt inexplicably drawn to, mysteriously vanish during a thunderstorm?
As if that wasn’t enough, the weird dreams she’d had all her life are getting worse. Every night she dreams of a handsome stranger. Then, the day after the thunderstorm, she meets Finn. Realising he’s the man she’s dreamt of (not that she’s going to tell him that!) she’s forced to accept that her dreams are premonitions.
With Beltane fast approaching Finn knows that Maeve must be stopped. He’s torn between wanting to protect Zoe from the supernatural world and his desire to be with her. And the more time they spend together the harder it is to keep secrets from her.
When Zoe’s dreams reveal that at Beltane both their lives will be in terrible danger, it’s clear that only by trusting each other can they have any hope of defeating Maeve.
Beltane will be available as an ebook from Monday 14th December. You can pre-order it here. There will be also be a paperback but it may take slightly longer.
You can find me:
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