Six Months In
Six months ago this week, Little Deaths was launched in the UK. It feels like far more than six months ago – and not just because January 12th was freezing and my launch party was decorated with flurries of snow, while I’m writing this in the sweltering heat of a London July.
The last six months have been the most surprising and the most joyful of my life. Following publication in the UK, I’ve celebrated publication dates in North America and The Netherlands, and publication deals in a further six countries (France, Sweden, Denmark, Romania, Turkey and Italy). I’ve been floored by some truly incredible reviews, given around 35 interviews, and been longlisted for three prestigious literary awards: the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Desmond Elliott Prize and the CWA Gold Dagger. I have an invitation to speak at the Edinburgh Book Festival, which I first attended twenty years ago, never dreaming I’d even finish a first draft of a novel.
I feel welcome in a world I’ve always longed to be part of and – at the age of 42 – I feel like I’ve finally found what I’m meant to be doing.
2017 has also been the most fulfilling, exciting and nerve-wracking year of my life. I’ve grown in confidence. I’ve learned to describe myself as an author without squirming, and to talk with assurance about the writing process. I gave a lecture (on opening chapters) to a packed theatre for the first time in my life. I’ve met some of my favourite authors, and been encouraged by their generous praise about my writing. And best of all, I’ve met and corresponded with readers online and in person, and heard how Little Deaths has moved them.
I’ve had people tell me that Little Deaths has made them want to start writing creatively, or to pick up a pen for the first time in years.
I’ve heard from people who were in New York in the 1960s, who remember the original case and who took the time to write and tell me that my words evoked the mood and the time perfectly for them.
I met a woman who told me she only stopped reading for two days because she went into labour – and who brought her baby along to an event to meet me.
When I signed with my agent, I wanted to see my book on a shelf in a bookshop, and to feel that it had made a difference to just one person who didn’t know me. I wrote the best book I could, and I’m very proud of it: but now I have new ambitions. I want to carve out more time and space to write. I want to develop as a writer. And I’m determined to write an even better novel next time.
Somehow in the past six months I’ve also found the time to start my second book. Like Little Deaths, it’s about a real-life murder case, but is set in the south of England in the 1920s. It’s about a love triangle, and it’s about shame, fantasy and obsession. I’m at the point where I’m completely engrossed in my characters, and where they’re starting to take on a life of their own. Rather than make up events and conversations, my job at the moment is just to watch and listen, and record them.
I’ve given 10,000 words to my agents and editors in the UK and the US and they’re happy with the direction I’m going and with the characters who are telling the story. But before I finish book two, the paperback version of Little Deaths will be published (on August 24th), and I hope this means it will reach a whole new audience.
However, in this year of magical change, one thing remains constant. Every single time I sit down for a morning with my notebook and pencil and a stack of research notes, every time I walk into the British Library to read newspaper accounts of the case and note the details that make women who lived in the 1920s so different and yet so similar to me, and every time I get an email inviting me to do a reading or an interview or write an article, I feel tremendously lucky that my job is also my passion.