The stories we write travel with us, becoming part of who we are. We live in many worlds and as many people, creating lives that are ours and yet not ours. These stories accompany us on our journeys, changing as we change, and altering us in turn.
I’ve finished my novel for the second time. I don’t remember when I first started writing it exactly, but it must have been almost twenty years ago. It was born out of the sea, forged out of the history and atmosphere of a small island just off the coast. This is the place I feel most myself, where my mind is free to drift and dream. And it was born out of my love for myth and magic, based as it is on the legends of the selkies. If I didn’t love this place, hadn’t spent so much time here over the years, learned about it and absorbed it, the novel wouldn’t exist.
This book is redolent with all of my memories of the island: picnics on the rocks with my parents, climbing the steps of the lighthouse, long walks along the coast as a teenager, ending up here, full of angst and tears. And within it too, are memories that are not mine, but those of the characters I’ve populated it with. The place is evocative enough on its own not to need romanticising, so I had only to write what I saw. Yet the island I describe in the novel is not the island you would see. I view it through the eyes of my experience, as you would your own.
But the life of my novel doesn’t begin and end here on this island. It followed me, half-formed, to the city, where I began my career. The ambiguity I felt about that and being so far from my beloved sea, is traced in the arc of one of the characters, who finds herself exiled from the island.
The novel lived with me, changing and evolving over the years I was writing it. It accompanied me as I fell in love and set up home with my partner. It followed as we moved back to the town of my birth, close, once more, to the place it began. It showed me that I could finish a novel, that I had what it took to be a writer.
This was the first piece of writing I submitted for professional feedback. I did it when my mother was dying. It gave me something to hope for at a time when I was at my most vulnerable and a purpose that wasn’t all about preparing for my mother’s death. The feedback made me cry, because after years of wondering whether or not I could write, here was some kind of proof that I could. By this time, all my energy was consumed by my mother, so the novel lay dormant as life took over. But life influenced fiction once more, as my experiences added richness to the mother daughter relationship that is at the heart of the story.
On returning to writing, I won prizes in two competitions within months of each another. I began to blog, which gave me discipline, stoked my inspiration and connected me to other creative people. It seemed it was time to take my writing seriously. But still, though I made the decision to finally revise the novel, I found it surprisingly difficult to do so. In the end, I decided to enter it in a competition, so that the deadline would force me to get it done. And so I’ve finished my novel for the second time. Although I would love to win the competition, it doesn’t matter if I don’t, because it’s served its purpose.
When I began this novel, I was starting out in life. Now, I’m older, with an abundance of experiences and memories in between. This novel is inextricably linked to who I am and where I’ve been. It will always be the novel that lived my life with me. So I send it out into the world and hope that somewhere it will find a life of its own.