I'm thrilled to welcome another wonderful writer to my #3pics2pub feature, Rebecca F. John.
Her book, The Haunting of Henry Twist was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award 2017!
Rebecca and I met when we were both invited to take part in a RiffRaff event for debut novelists, a chance to read from your first published book and answer questions from an engaged audience of writers and readers. It's a great night out so if you ever get the chance to go, or are invited to take part by the lovely Amy and Rosy, I'd recommend it.
So, without further preamble, other than a cute dogs alert, here is Rebecca's journey to publication...
I was around ten when I first read Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights and, long before I had devoured the last page, convinced myself that I would one day become a novelist. I had fallen in love with Lyra’s world – where souls took the shape of animals and polar bears spoke in gruff voices – and I longed to fall into it and discover the form of my own daemon. Being a practical child, I realised then that, with a pen and paper, I too could create worlds. And I set about doing so – in secret. Admitting to being a writer requires a particular sort of bravery, I’ve found, and I’m only now managing to say the words without wincing. Just!
My route to publication wasn’t particularly smooth. I wrote bad stories, I got rejected by magazines, I studied for a literature degree, I got rejected by agents, I studied for a masters, and at some point the writing must have got a little better, because in 2015 my short story collection Clown’s Shoes was published by Parthian Books. The cover is gorgeous, and I’m very proud of it. Here I am looking pleased with myself at the launch party.
2015, I can see now, was a significant year for me – not in terms of gaining recognition as such, but in terms of laying the foundations for the career I had long since committed myself to. That year, I was shortlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, which led me to meet my agent Chris Wellbelove, who, after a spell of edits, put my novel, The Haunting of Henry Twist, out on submission. I was starting to feel like a ‘real writer’.
It was also a year of personal changes. I bought my house and lived alone for the first time, I used my first advance to buy my little dog Betsy (a decision which was much applauded in my agent’s office), and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I also – on account of the three dogs I acquired in quick succession – discovered my love of walking, so while I wrote and wrote and wrote, I walked and walked and walked. I now begin every day with a walk, as many writers do. It’s the best way, I think, to tackle sitting at a desk from the remainder of the day, and it’s a great opportunity to think about your characters’ needs, desires, actions, and mistakes without interruption.
Here is a snap of Betsy, Teddy, and Effie enjoying a beach walk. Mercifully, I am behind the camera.
In late 2015, Agent Chris sold The Haunting of Henry Twist to the wonderful people at Serpent’s Tail. Following more edits (no I don’t like them; I can’t believe that anyone does!) the novel was published in hardback in July 2017. The paperback followed in February of this year and here is a photo of the beautiful cover.
I hope to publish many more books – there are so many stories I want to tell – and I feel certain that should I succeed in doing so the thrill of holding a book with my very own name on the cover will never fade. What a special moment!
It’s a milestone that feels different for every writer, I imagine. For me, though, the sensation consisted of equal parts joy, pride, and vindication. All the hours I’d tucked into the spaces between work commitments and life, all the invitations I’d turned down and the writing time I’d protected from other people’s intrusions and doubts, all the horrible jobs I’d worked because I couldn’t give up on what at times seemed unattainable – holding The Haunting of Henry Twist’s lovely blue cover in my hands proved that I’d made the right decision every time. I was a writer. I’d known it all along, really.
Thank you so much Rebecca for sharing your story.
The Haunting of Henry Twist: Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2017
London, 1926: Henry Twist's heavily pregnant wife leaves home to meet a friend. On the way, she is hit by a bus and killed, though miraculously the baby survives. Henry is left with nothing but his new daughter - a single father in a world without single fathers. He hurries the baby home, terrified that she'll be taken from him. Racked with guilt and fear, he stays away from prying eyes, walking her through the streets at night, under cover of darkness.
But one evening, a strange man steps out of the shadows and addresses Henry by name. The man says that he has lost his memory, but that his name is Jack. Henry is both afraid of and drawn to Jack, and the more time they spend together, the more Henry sees that this man has echoes of his dead wife. His mannerisms, some things he says ... And so Henry wonders, has his wife returned to him? Has he conjured Jack himself from thin air? Or is he in the grip of a sophisticated con man? Who really sent him?
Set in a postwar London where the Bright Young Things dance into dawn at garden parties hosted by generous old Monty, The Haunting of Henry Twist is a novel about the limits and potential of love and of grief. It is about the lengths we will go to hold on to what is precious to us, what we will forgive of those we love, and what we will sacrifice for the sake of our own happiness.