I wrote a book. Actually, over the last few years I’ve written five, but one of them was a poor relation of the one in question and we don’t talk about The Thing About Amelia*. But yes, I’ve written a book and today is the day I can officially say that I am a published author. No longer ‘aspiring’, no longer ‘wannabe’ or ‘hopeful’… Published. That is all I’ve wanted to call myself for so long… ever since I first sent out a manuscript (the one we don’t talk about, in fact) and received just enough of an enthusiastic response from professionals to allow me to believe that actually this might be a possibility worth dreaming about.
I began writing The Girl with the Green Eyes so long ago that I can no longer remember what its original name was or where the idea came from. The earliest form was the final piece of coursework for my Creative Writing BA at Royal Holloway – the opening 10,000 words of what I’d thought was a children’s fantasy novel. I drafted it out a few years later into the aforementioned poor relation which I titled The Experimental Children… I knew there was something that wasn’t quite right about it but couldn’t put my finger on what. I loved the concept (children who had supernatural abilities engendered by immersion in a physics-defying belief system) and I loved the setting – the wild, tumultuous majesty of the Lake District contrasting with the slick, black tower of laboratories. Most of all I loved the characters: bumbling-but-brilliant Dr Blake with his sticky-uppy hair; awkward, flappy-handed Dominic; sardonic, punky Felix who barbed her tongue so no one would see the softness of her heart; and, of course, beautiful Bella whose charm belied the cold ruthlessness placing her as the clear villain of the piece. But, as much as the characters nagged and niggled at me, the story just didn’t work. So I shelved it and went about my everyday life: journalism, babies, moving house, planning a wedding, more babies. Occasionally I’d remember the sting of ambition, the so-very-close I had come with Amelia to agents being so-very-almost interested in signing me… Every so often I’d re-write Amelia, send it out again, get a few more full manuscript requests and at one point even a competition long-listing, only for it all to dwindle to nothing. And meanwhile, the characters of Experimental continued to whisper and beckon from the dark.
It was September 2018, when B1 started Reception and B2, aged one, had become a reliable napper, when I finally found myself with the time to write and to decide: try again with Amelia, which, after all, had seen more success than anything else I’d written, or give renewed voice to the insistent characters who had been haunting my subconscious for so long. I shelved Amelia. I took one look at the first chapter of The Experimental Children and I realised, straight away, that this was not a children’s fantasy at all. That there were themes and questions being asked – what it means to be human, to be vulnerable – that were far better suited to an adult readership. That the speculative slant I had taken for fantasy could be anchored into a more realistic (and therefore far more disturbing) setting with the introduction of a more science-based approach. Not to mention the fact that the best character was so not the 11-year-old flying protagonist but her glamorous, villainous femme-fatale mother, Bella. I took Blake and made him a pioneering scientist with questionable ethics; I split the child character into two – Ariana and Nova; Felix was given mad tech skills and a huge chip on her shoulder; and Bella gained a conscious and a past which haunted her every decision, allowing her to take centre-stage where, she would be the first to argue, she should have been all along.
The Girl with the Green Eyes is not a straight-up sci-fi and it’s not a thriller. It is, to quote a recent advance-copy reader, a ‘sci-fi that doesn’t feel like sci-fi’, fast-paced but also contemplative piece of fiction with a hefty skew into family (particularly mother-daughter) relationships and genetic engineering. First time authors are supposed to stick to the rules. They’re supposed to pick a clear, defined genre, research its tropes and guidelines and follow them. I didn’t do that. I just wrote the story I wanted to read. Literary agents were, on the whole, complimentary but reluctant to commit. I almost gave up all over again. Then in the summer of 2020 I got an email in my junk folder from The Bridport Prize, which I had entered before the slew of agent rejections convinced me I might as well have saved my entry fee. ‘You’re on the list’ was the email subject, with the sender simply ‘Kate’. Naturally I assumed I had signed up to some subscription for colourful kids’ dungarees or some such and clicked on the email ready to scroll down for the ‘unsubscribe’ button… To my utter shock, I saw the name of my novel staring back at me – I was on the long-list, one of just 20 selected to go through to the next round of the competition.
That changed everything. It didn’t matter that I went no further in the competition; I had an extract published in the prize anthology and I began to believe that there was something there. A story worth pursuing, even if it meant going down the self-publishing route. I looked into ways to market myself, launched a Facebook business page and an author website, began to pay more attention to Twitter. And I looked at the rather short list of publishers who accept unsolicited manuscript submissions in the sci-fi genre… I knew it was a long shot. That my trope-avoiding, odd little hybrid of sci-fi and thriller needed a publisher who didn’t mind taking a chance on something a little out-of-the-ordinary from an unknown mum-blogger. That’s when I stumbled across BAD PRESS iNK, a self-professed ‘different’ publisher specialising in high-quality but similarly ‘different’ books. Alt-books, as they put it. They had a submission process unlike any other I’d ever come across but, once I made it through and sent them my manuscript, they responded with a request to take things further before they’d even finished the first read-through. And finally, this possibility of a dream became a publishing contract.
I know it’s not plain-sailing from here. I will have to work every day (and I am) at making my book and its sequels successful. I can’t just sit back and let the royalties flow in (if I did that, there would be no royalties!) The last few weeks have been full of promotional work: video making, feature-writing, Q&A answering, organising my book launch, interacting with advance-copy readers. Once the initial boost dies down, the real work begins. But I’m not working for a salary. I mean, yes, Stephen King defines being an author as being able to pay a bill with money earned from selling a book (to paraphrase), so in those terms I am working towards earning something. But really, no unknown author gets into the business to make money and if they are then they’re either incredibly naive or just stupid. I am writing the books I want to read. I am writing because I love it. I am writing because I believe it is what I am supposed to do. I am writing because all I’ve wanted for so long is to be able to answer, when people ask what I do, ‘I am an author.’
The Girl with the Green Eyes: if genetic engineering, mother-daughter angst, a tempestuously strong female lead, a bit of romance, a thriller and speculative boundary pushing – all or any of the above – sound like your cup of tea, order here or ask in your local bookshop. If it doesn’t, try the free sample on Kindle and see if you can be persuaded. Several of my earliest reviewers have said that they would never have gone for something like this but have loved it all the same.
*I realise that for a book I’ve said we don’t speak about that I have spoken rather a bit about it. And it’s not that I’m embarrassed by The Thing About Amelia, it got long-listed for a competition and received six separate literary agent requests for the full manuscript, so there must have been some merit there, at some point. Perhaps one day I will go back to it and the Young Adult genre as a whole, but for now I’ve found my home.