Size Isn’t Everything

Thanks to Twitter, I’ve ‘met’ several writers who have become on-line friends. One of those like-minded folk is the lovely writer, Carol Lovekin whose début novel, Ghostbird  was published this month and described by none other Joanne Harris as, ‘Charming, quirky, magical’  Joanne Harris. I’ve invited Carol to talk about her experience of being published by a small independent press and her writing journey which I’m sure will be of interest to new writers.

(Photo credit: Janey Stevens)

As I’ve said elsewhere and probably far too often, I see myself as a writer suffering from arrested development. (I stole the description from Mary Wesley, partly as an homage and also because it so accurately describes me.) While the claim, ‘I’ve always written’ is as true for me as any other writer, until I decided to commit to writing, it was little more than a platitude.

Over the years I’ve penned self-indulgent poetry, some acceptable journalism, two terrible novels and a slightly better one. But I never settled into a disciplined writing state of mind. Life intruded, the way it does for many women, and time seemed to be a thing other women had plenty of. All at once finding myself older, I woke up, made time and wrote Ghostbird.

One of the conceits unpublished writers indulge in is practising their signature – in anticipation of a book launch, or an appearance at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival. Day-dreams aside, the idea that I might get a ‘proper’ publishing deal seemed as likely as learning to fly. My personal publishing dreams certainly never included a major press, not because I didn’t consider myself good enough rather that, once a respectable draft of Ghostbird was completed, I already knew where I wanted to submit it.


Part of he landscape which inspired the setting for Ghostbird.

Honno – the Welsh Women’s Press – was always the home I imagined for my book. It’s ‘down the road’ so to speak, located in the West Wales town of Aberystwyth and committed to publishing the best in Welsh women’s writing and to giving new writers a voice. It was set up in 1986 as a co-operative by a group of volunteers and is now one of the jewels in the crown of Welsh publishing. Ghostbird is rooted in this part of Wales; I couldn’t see it fitting anywhere other than with Honno.

After Janet Thomas – who was to become my editor – read the first fifty pages, she asked to see the rest of the manuscript for Honno on the understanding there would be no expectations on either side. With this in mind, Janet continued to mentor me and free to spread my net wider I did try and secure an agent. I even submitted cold to a few bigger publishers willing to read un-agented scripts. The result was invariably along the lines of, ‘We love the way you write but we don’t really get you or know what to do with you.’ (It reminded me of an assortment of phrases unique to the Welsh and just as meaningless: ‘I’ll be with you now in a minute’ or ‘Whose jacket is this coat then?’)bb

That my dream has finally come true still astonishes me. I find I’ve joined a gifted and generous group of women writers, editors and ‘behind the scenes’ talented experts. It’s like being accepted into the paraliterary wing of the sisterhood.

Unlike a big publishing house – concerned as they are with production schedules and profit margins – a small press can think outside the box. They’re able to seek out the original and the unusual, take a risk on the stories other more traditional publishers might reject. A small press may not have the financial resources; they do tend to have a broad vision. They’re less bureaucratic, more collaborative and if they believe in a project enough, will invest time, expertise and energy in it.

What has most impressed me about Honno is the professionalism. From the moment I signed the contract I’ve been in skilled hands. Having no idea what the process of creating a physical book entailed, the reality has been an eye-opener. And a small team means I have been included in every step of the process.

ghostbird-cover-final-front-only-sm-1-copyIf there are any down-sides, I’ve yet to encounter them. There’s less money available and a reliance on grant funding, so no fat advances or luxury launches. (Since it was never about monetary reward for me anyway, that bit is irrelevant.) Being invited by my local branch of Waterstones to hold my book launch there and being surrounded by the people who have, through all manner of kindnesses, supported my writing is everything I could have hoped for or wanted.

(And if ever I do get to Hay-on-Wye, with my signature a dream of curlicues – you may remind of this!)

As this is the final stop on the tour I’d like to thank Helen for inviting me to her blog and end by saying, writing a book is a love-affair. Like a love-affair there is no point unless you’re committed. Both writing and love require attention to detail and a willingness to take risks. It also requires that you occasionally throw caution where you can find it later and if it’s worth it, never give up.

Thanks for such an interesting insight Carol and I wish you all the success you deserve with Ghostbird. You can join me in following Carol on her writing journey on Twitter @carollovekin