I’ve been a reader for most of my life. I’ve also written stories, and later, as an adult, I wrote poetry. A few years ago I had an idea for a novel, but I didn’t have the confidence to write it. Novels are long, they are hard to write and they call for bucketfuls of writerly stamina. I had already tried to write a children’s novel, but had shelved that project. My story-for-adults idea was nagging at my imagination too much and I found myself thinking about it, and about my characters, an awful lot. In 2010, several things happened which spurred me on to begin serious work on my novel. I gave birth to my youngest child, and felt very creative in the months after the birth. I finished my Open University degree in Literature – the last two courses were Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Writing. And I went on a cruise. On the cruise I read a novel by a writer who was frequently featured on my OU creative writing courses. The writer was the prolific American author Joyce Carol Oates and the novel was Mother, Missing (called Missing Mom in the USA). I remember lounging on a recliner by the pool on a beautiful sunny day somewhere off Spain, sipping Pimms and reading this wonderful novel. I’d never read anything quite like it. After the holiday, and returning to earth with a bump, I re-read Mother, Missing. It was still amazing. I remember thinking ‘That’s how you do it,’ and I began serious work on my own novel. I felt inspired by JCO’s style, which to me was fluid and fearless. I knew I would never be able to write like her but I had to try! I decided to keep writing my novel, no matter what, and to stop being too self-critical too soon. In the past I’d given up too easily. I had to let go of the critical me, at least at this early stage, and just allow myself to write, and get the story down on paper (actually, on screen).
After eighteen months or so of writing, I ground to a halt. I had around 60,000 words and had run out of steam. I knew I needed more words. I decided to submit to a couple of agents. I’m not sure why, as the novel was clearly not ready for submission. I just felt I had to do something. While waiting for their responses, I worked more on the novel and in February 2012 I had it professionally critiqued. The critique was positive and encouraging and I felt a new wave of enthusiasm, and set to work on my novel again with the fresh ideas I now had. And then something very exciting happened. One of the agents I’d submitted to a few months ago emailed me asking to see the rest of my manuscript. She wanted to see it straight away, rather than wait for my post-critique changes.
This was the point at which my novel writing ceased to be a solitary occupation. The agent, who became my agent, helped me editorially, and later, after we had a book deal, I worked with an editor who got to know the novel as well as I did. It was a revelation working with her, and I think the process of becoming published and working editorially with professionals has changed the way I write for ever. But it was my discovery of JCO, whose writing I continue to read and love and learn from, that revealed to me what a novel could be, and triggered the self-belief I needed to give Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase a chance of becoming a published novel.
Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters was published by Hodder & Stoughton in February 2014.