This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
I was in Cape Town with my family when I heard that Hutchinson had made an offer for The Last Boat Home. My son had just turned two. He stared at me in amazement as I jumped up and down, then pushed himself to his feet and, with a giant grin, joined me in dancing and whooping. We carried on like that for a while.
It had happened so quickly. I’d sent my agent what I considered to be the “finished” manuscript on 10 August and, after I’d received her comments and tinkered accordingly, she started submissions on 17 September. On 5 October, after offers from two publishers and a small auction, I had a book deal with Hutchinson. My parents answered my Skype call with a bottle of champagne ready to pop.
So, in a way, it happened quickly. On the other hand, it took a long time. The idea for The Last Boat Home came from a conversation I’d had with a taxi driver almost five years previously. During a car ride that lasted 15 minutes, he told my husband and I about his days traveling around Norway when he was young. He’d been a strong man in a circus. Before he dropped us off, he volunteered that he’d fathered a child somewhere in the Norwegian countryside.I couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d said. For months afterwards, I wondered about the girl he’d left behind. I started setting my alarm clock early every day so I could write for a couple of hours before I had to leave for work. My book had two narrators: a widower in London and a grandmother on the southern coast of Norway. I sent a few chapters to the University of East Anglia and, to my surprise, was accepted for an MA in creative writing.
I quit my job. My novel’s widower disappeared; a precocious 11-year-old girl replaced him. I’d reached the end of my MA before I realised she had to go, too. Of the 30,000 words I’d totted up by then, I slashed 15,000 and began to write in earnest. There were plenty more challenges, but the story evolved and became mine. The woman I’d imagined was taking shape as Else, my heroine.
I’ve felt joy – absolute and uncontainable – three times in my life so far: when I first held my newborn son, when I first held my baby daughter, and when I learned The Last Boat Home was going to be published. While writing, I did my best not to think about that part. Of course I whooped and jumped up and down. Of course I danced.