I really thought I was prepared when I gave birth to my first son seven years ago. I had read the all of the books, listened to all of the advice, completed a two day calm-birth course, and mentally noted observations that I felt would give me some kind of advantage when it was my turn. I was ready for the breastfeeding, the lack of sleep, the nappies, the crying. Of course now I laugh. Nothing could have prepared me, because no two experiences are the same.
It might surprise some to know that publishing a book is a lot like giving birth. Prior to the big event there is lot of waiting, fear and self-doubt. You employ professionals to poke and prod and hold your hand. Afterwards you’re elated, exhausted, depleted, and incredibly grateful to the people supporting you. You are still trying to figure out which advice to take and which to ignore. Some people will tell you that you are doing a great job, and others will judge harshly. You want so desperately to govern every aspect of the process, but then you realise that some things are simply out of your control.
Many people don’t realise that The Royal Companion was written five years ago when I was heavily pregnant with my second son. I was prone to vivid dreams throughout that pregnancy. Many of them would remain with me for days. One particular dream remained with me for much longer. I was thirty-eight weeks pregnant when a man I had not met was pacing in my mind as I slept in my bed. His hands were in his hair, his expression unhinged by something. Fear? A girl stood nearby, crying. Her hands over her face, then over her ears. His words were breaking her. I knew they were both in pain, but I also knew they were in love. Their world was different, the rules unjust. I also knew she was his, but I didn’t know why.
I never set out to write a romance. What I wrote was a story about grief, but it also happened to be a story about love. This is the story I wrote. Their story, set in their world. And it poured out of me until it was done. Afterwards, I put it aside. Occasionally I would drag it out during study breaks and then bury it under text books a few weeks later. I kept going back to it though, revisiting the broken people that remained alive in my mind.
At some point I wondered whether it was good enough to publish. I looked at the publishing options in Australia and thought about where this hybrid might fit. Nowhere. The answer was nowhere. How would a publisher market a romance novel that is part regency, part medieval, part suspense, and contains fantasy elements? I was left with two choices; put it away again, or publish it myself. So I did the same thing I had done when I found out I was pregnant for the first time – I got to work learning.
I have three boys now. Each birth was unique and did not prepare me for the next. Each time I coped with some parts well, and other parts not so well. Nothing ever went to plan, it still doesn’t. Yet I am left with three amazing kids and a feeling that I am doing a pretty good job for someone with no clue. Some days I feel supported, others judged. I am still learning and I make mistakes all the time.
Birthing my first book was oddly similar. I underestimated the work involved, the energy it would consume, the care it would need. I was grateful for the support that family and friends showed when I finally worked up the courage to share the story. Courage you say? Yes, courage. The reality is that some people will love it, some will think its ok for a ‘first effort’, a few will hate it, and a handful will hate it and say so. So yes, it takes courage to share something that is born of your imagination and fleshed out from your observations and experiences. I already see its faults, pick at it, get down on myself for not being better at my craft. But in the same way I went back for more children, I will write more books. Next time I will go in a little braver, hold my head a little higher. I’ll be proud of the aspects I do well, and work at the parts that trip me.
I just hope my readers stick around in the meantime.