Kicking off the Evie Brooks blog tour, I am pleased to welcome debut author, Sheila Agnew onto the blog, to talk about her journey to publication.
Firstly, can I thank you for joining me today on my blog.
My pleasure. I’m delighted to join you.
Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a writer?
Back in 2002, I was working as a lawyer, mainly in the area of international litigation, with a large law firm in London. It wasn’t a bad life but it wasn’t my life. By the end of four years, instead of getting the Fear on a Sunday night, I started getting it on a Thursday. I think that the Fear feeling is a fear of self-betrayal. I abandoned my legal career to write my first novel, a literary effort. I failed to get it published and I started back in law again at the bottom, in New York this time. I fell into the world of family and divorce law. My job involved writing hundreds of legal briefs about unhappy families and advocating on behalf of those families in court. I definitely didn’t realize it at the time but it was one of the best things that could have happened for my writing career because I logged way more than 10,000 hours of writing practice. Ultimately, I made partner but my writing dream never really went away. To the deep concern and bewilderment of those who care about me, I resigned my partnership to have another shot at a writing career. I threw everything I had at it. This time around, I got a publishing contract. I’d say that my journey has been long, bumpy and never dull.
Your debut novel, ‘Evie Brooks: Marooned in Manhattan is about to be published in the UK. How does that make you feel?
Relieved and thrilled.
I saw that you already have a second book in development with Evie in New York; where else do plan to set other books in the series?
I wrote the second Evie Brooks book in late 2012/early 2013. It is due to be published in September, 2014. It is also set in New York. In books 3 and 4, Evie has plans to travel to Australia, and to Dingle, which is an isolated and stunningly beautiful fishing village on the most western point of Ireland. I wrote most of the first book in Dingle so it seems fitting that I bring Evie home, at least for a little while.
The cover is amazing. Did you have any say in the development of it?
Thank you. I love the cover too and I’m very grateful to the talented illustrators at The O’Brien Press. No, I didn’t have much input into it, which is lucky because I have dubious visual talent as anyone could discern from my wardrobe. However, when I first received the draft cover, it featured a cat. Since the main animal character in the book is a dog, and because I’m a huge dog lover, I asked if the cat could be replaced with a dog. As you can see, they made that change.
Was it easy to find an agent?
When I wrote my first novel in 2002, I didn’t succeed in finding an agent at all. With Evie, I found an agent with my very first query letter.
How many times did you have to edit your book before the agent was happy to send it off to publishers?
What was your first reaction when you found out that your book was to be published?
Last year I wrote an article, Keeping Rabbits, about using humour to deal with the many rejections writers have to face. In it, I described my reaction to hearing the news that Evie had found a publishing home. Here it is:
I never cry when I get a rejection. My eyes don’t even water. They remain stubbornly dry all day. I find this mystifying. I’ve been known to tear up over late night reruns of Frasier. (Did you see the episode where Marty’s dog Eddie gets lost?) And I cried really hard when I got my first publishing contract (thank you The O’Brien Press!). It was the sort of crying where no sound at all comes out for the first two minutes and you appear to have swallowed an entire, potentially lethal, Guatemalan chilli.
How have you found working with the O’Brien Press team?
It has been a great experience. They are lovely people to work with. I’ve been very lucky in having a brilliant editor in Mary Webb. Her dedication is legendary. And I’m also delighted with the enthusiasm of the public relations team.
On your blog you mentioned a dark YA novel you are working on. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
I wrote my first YA novel last year. It is called, Before, We Were Aliens. Ten years in the future, in the wake of an economic collapse, an extreme right-wing political party in the U.S. blames cheap labour from South America. All Latinos are expelled from the country. Thirteen-year-old Alejandro Sanchez goes into hiding in New York, seeking to pass as ordinary Alex Saunders. He joins the resistance movement, the Underground. I suppose that the novel could be categorized as a darkly humorous, political thriller. Writing it was a very intense experience, like jumping out of an airplane with a dodgy parachute.
I think that it is very important for writers to listen to their guts. In 2012, I wrote a children’s novel, called Children of the Seal. Although my agent at the time very kindly heaped lavish praise on it, and although I had a lot of fun writing it, I knew deep down in my gut that it was nothing special. It has to be rewritten in its entirety. But with the Evie books and with Before, We Were Aliens; I had a very strong, good feeling in my gut. My faith in Before, We Were Aliens can be shaken but it cannot be broken. Recently, I said to my twin sister, “if anything happens to me, like, if I get knocked down by a bus, please, please, please, get Before, We Were Aliens published.” And she promised. Thank you Claire!
In all the different countries you have lived, which one was your favourite and helped your writing journey the most?
While I was writing the first Evie book in Dingle in the west of Ireland, I worked at the local riding stables. One morning, the horse in front of mine, an enormous stallion, startled by a flapping plastic bag, reared up and lashed out. I will never forget the agony of the impact of his hoof. My leg swelled up to the size of an elephant’s leg and I wound up in hospital. The admitting nurse, a man with the appearance and attitude of a lead singer in a college band, glanced at my admittance form and snorted, “You are on your [bleep] Irish!” I shrugged. Although I was mainly raised in Dublin, I was born in New York and I’ve never had a noticeably Irish accent. A few hours later, the nurse apologized, “You don’t sound or look Irish but you most definitely are Irish.” Yes, I am. The way I think is Irish. My sense of humour is Irish. Ireland is my favourite country and it has made the biggest contribution to my writing journey.
Thank you Sheila for inspiring all unpublished authors with your writing journey.
To find out more about Sheila Agnew:
Catch Sheila tomorrow on the next stop on her blog tour at Bookangel Booktopia.