If you exclude the stuff I wrote when I was at school (axe murders, surrealism and fairy tales mixed with total nonsense), I started writing in 2006 while on a train travelling from Beijing to Moscow. I can’t remember the exact details, but I think we were on there for four days and there’re only so many vodkas and blinis you can consume on those things. I’d taken Stephen King’s On Writing with me on our sixth-month round-the-world trip and I was feeling inspired. I started writing a supernatural horror about a bridge possessed by the souls of the missing and based all my characters on real people. I ditched it after two chapters (bet you want to read them though, don’t you?).
On my return, I signed up for a creative writing evening class, where I regaled my fellow students (mainly poets, memoirists and romantics) with flash fiction about the disenchanted and old men who embalmed their wives. It was the reaction from that last tale that spurred me on.
I wrote loads of flash fiction, but I was desperate to write a novel. Problem is, once you hone your skills to write short, sharp, and shocking, it’s hard to teach yourself to add in an additional 89,500 words.
So I tried to find the magic bullet (spoiler: there isn’t one) by hanging around book festivals and hoping the power to write those words would rub off on me somehow. I did write 89,500 words – only they were in four different abandoned books.
Then, in 2009…late one night in the bar of a famous British crime writing festival, a well-known and respected agent dropped a drink on my foot. “Sorry!” he said. “No worries,” I replied. “Can I have your card?”
Fast forward to 2013. I’m 40,000 words into Black Wood. I enter the prologue in a competition, and it gets runner up. I get a message from the agent. Yes, the one from 2009 – see, we kind of vaguely kept in touch. I saw him at lots of festivals. He signed a friend of mine. Contacts. Networking. That sort of thing. “When are you sending me this book?” he asks. I tell him it’s unfinished. I tell him I have 10,000 edited words. “Great,” he says. “Send it now.”
Twenty-four hours later, I get THE CALL. I’m in the bathroom at work. I forget to do up my fly. “I love your writing. I want this book. When can I have it?” We have a meeting at his office. He signs me up. I tell him I will deliver it in 6 weeks. I sweat actual blood and am spoon-fed by my husband and put on IV coffee infusions and I develop some sort of couch-bent spine that has never recovered, but I deliver it. “Thanks,” he says. “I’m going on holiday now. I’ll read it when I get back…”
That was actually the easy part. I deliver, then I edit, then he submits to publishers – and all the emails flood in, like, “Oh I almost love it” etc., etc. I edit it again. I’m ready to start the next book. Ditch this one. It’s not the book. “Yes. It is,” my lovely agent says.
He gets me a deal.
I am an author!
Black Wood comes out in 2015. It does well. I am offered a deal for two more books. Writing the second one has many ups and downs and possibly more abandoned first starts than the “debut,” but it happens. Eventually. Willow Walk was released this summer, and now both of these books are available worldwide (they were only in the UK until recently). And I seem to have sweated more blood and managed to let a third one slide out (when I say “slide,” I mean like if you wanted to push a fat snake through a freshly pierced earlobe) and The Damselfly will appear in shops in February 2017.
It’s been ten years since that vodka and blini trip (did I even mention the time in the Mongolian Yurt? No? Another time then.) and now I’m about to have three book launches in three years.
I’ll take that.
S.J.I. Holliday writes about the sinister (and fictional!) Scottish town of Banktoun, where the murder count may seem unrealistically high. Black Wood and Willow Walk are available now, The Damselfly will follow in 2017. You can find her at http://www.sjiholliday.com/
To learn more about S.J.I.’s novels, click on the covers below: