Last month I launched my first novel, Buy me Love. I’ve had lots of wonderful feedback, with many people telling me (unprompted!) how much they’ve enjoyed it. But I keep getting one question that I wasn’t expecting: “How long did it take you to write it?”
I bet there’s many different reasons for asking this question – those who wonder if they have a book in them and what the commitment might be; those who feel what I’ve written could surely be dashed off in a week or two (or conversely, think it must have taken a lifetime); and of course, just friendly interest or curiosity.
Now, whichever of those is your situation, let me answer the question.
The original idea came to me more than twenty years ago, when I heard a report about an American man who had left a massive bequest to the town he lived in. Unlike my character Gilbert Thaddeus, this person gave the money to the town in general rather than to the individuals in it. Read more about him here: Banker Helps Town, Even After His Death $12 Million Legacy Will Go Toward Happiness Of Residents | The Spokesman-Review
At the time I was working fulltime and writing a different book in whatever spare time I could find, but I kept thinking about the characters I would like to see receiving an enormous bequest, and what they would do with it. Right from the start I knew it had to be played as a comedic rather than a serious investigation of the impact money has on a person, and I gradually jotted down all the storylines that eventually ended up in the book.
I dropped down to part-time for some years to concentrate on writing and wrote the first half of Buy Me Love, but it was put to one side when I returned to the working world just over a decade ago. Then, at the start of 2019, I made the move back to spending most of my time writing. There were a variety of writing projects I had ideas about, but my overwhelming desire was to pick up the threads of Buy Me Love where I’d left off all those years previously.
Get On With It
I rewrote the twelve chapters already in existence (roughly chapters 1 to 8 of the finished book) and then went on from there for most of 2019 until the story was all done. Then came a revision of the whole book until I felt it was ready to show to people.
I asked five people to read the manuscript, and give me feedback. This was amazingly helpful! They pointed out flaws that I had no idea of (not enough sense of the town’s layout, for instance) as well as ones I’d suspected (the first half was too long and too slow.) Best of all, I could tell the story was one they had enjoyed. That was encouraging. Now for the final push…
Time to be ruthless! Does this help the story, or is it only there because I spent a whole week writing it and it feels as if it would break my heart to cut it out? The red pen slashed through it – and I found the story was better. Tighten this section. Combine this character with that scene. Drop this other character.
Lockdown arrived. “Stay at home for at least the next four weeks,” said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Four weeks, I think to myself. That’s about how long it will take to finish this, with no possible distractions of anything else to do…
And so it came to pass. Two years’ work to start the project, and another year and a half more recently, plus lots of thinking time in between. There was a huge amount of work still to do – sending to publishers, finding out how to publish myself, talking with my cover designer, Denise Narciso (Denise Narciso | Portfolio (saradenisenarciso.com),) editing the manuscript again for typos, resetting it for the publishing software, selling it to bookshops and getting ready for the launch.
I’ve said elsewhere how wonderful the launch was. I loved seeing so many people come to celebrate with me. I was grateful how many of them bought the book! My friends Bronwyn and Bruce both spoke entertainingly about me and my writing, and I had the chance to read a couple of passages that I could see and hear were being enjoyed by guests.
It’s been an amazing journey. The characters have been a lot of fun to live with – from the three lead characters to the eclectic bunch of wacky, weird or wild Bridgetown residents.
Since I finished that book, I’ve enjoyed starting the first draft of something new. From my experience with Buy Me Love I know that there will be a lot of hard work along the way, difficult decisions and setbacks. But I also know there will be the delightful company of characters and their stories along the way, and, at the end, something I look forward to sharing with the world.