They say, ‘lightning never strikes twice’ but sometimes, in the world of books, it does.
Let me explain…
As some of you will be aware, back in May 2015, my debut novel Holy Island nearly gave me a cardiac arrest when it managed to top the UK Kindle chart at #1 (knocking The Girl on the Train off the top spot, although I don’t imagine that gave Paula too many sleepless nights considering the rollicking and well-deserved success of her own book!) Nonetheless, when that happened, I was in a state of mild shock for quite some time afterward and probably, on some subliminal level, I still am. You see, I had no expectations. I hadn’t read every tome on ‘How to be a Writer’ and hadn’t taken endless courses on creative writing, although I was well trained in drafting as a lawyer. I didn’t have an established author platform or a degree in marketing, nor an agent, for that matter. Added to which, I had recently turned down an offer of traditional publication in favour of independent publishing through Amazon KDP and some people probably thought I’d taken leave of my senses. I didn’t have a big publishing house to support me, to pay for advertising space on tables in chain book stores or in magazines, to plaster it across bill boards or distribute my book on supermarket shelves, to guarantee membership rights to all the ‘right’ associations and don’t even get me started on things like television and foreign rights. (N.B. It is a fallacy to think that a traditional deal will equate to investment of this kind – the publisher is a business and they must prioritise resources like any other commercial venture, which usually means investing in established, ‘big hitting’ authors rather than unknowns).
No pressure, then.
What I did have was complete freedom to produce a body of work on my own terms, without anybody telling me ‘you can’t do that’, or ‘you should write like this.’ I had access to professional editing and proofreading, which I sourced myself, to ensure quality standards. I started out making my own covers but could easily hire a professional cover designer, as many of them work freelance nowadays. I was responsible for making the book visible, as far as I could. Let’s not forget that none of this would have been possible without the revolutionary publishing platform Amazon created, which allows thousands of people to realise their dreams rather than relying on the decision of a minority few. Not every indie book will become a bestseller but at least the readers are the ultimate arbiters and every writer is given the chance to try.
The fact is, I just wanted to write my story and retain creative control. I had resigned a well-paid job as a regulatory lawyer and decided to take a short career break to figure out what I’d prefer to do with my life. As an avid reader, writing seemed to beckon. However, the process was – let’s say interrupted by the arrival of our son, Ethan. Having spent a lifetime being told that I might never be able to have children, this news came as a huge, momentous, wonderful surprise and seemed like a kind of miracle. I felt extremely protective of the little bundle I carried and felt less inclined to scurry around the streets of London looking for another stressful job. It was therefore thanks to Ethan that I decided to open my laptop and start writing the story I’d first imagined on a train journey between Newcastle and Edinburgh, looking out across the North Sea to Holy Island.
The success of its sequels (Sycamore Gap, Heavenfield, Angel and High Force) has been very much like a series of aftershocks. With each new release, I am consumed with nerves and very anxious to know how it will be received. There is never any sense of complacency or an assumption that readers will enjoy a book because they have enjoyed the others. The same effort, sweat and tears goes into every manuscript. I certainly never thought another book of mine would reach the same top spot as Holy Island because…well, lightning doesn’t strike twice. I’m not a greedy person and I remember very clearly saying to my husband, “That’s it, for me. If I never sell another book, I’ll always be able to cherish this moment.” Turns out, I have an even kinder readership than I thought, because on 1st June my forthcoming book Cragside managed to claw its way to the #1 UK Kindle spot – and it hasn’t been released yet!
I don’t think a simple ‘thank you’ can really convey the deep gratitude I feel for all those people who have supported my writing and enjoyed the DCI Ryan series. It’s great to be able to say a book was a bestseller but, more importantly, to be able to say it came into being because a million people have read my books and deemed them worthy. The readers are the true gatekeepers and it is their opinion that matters to me the most.
Thanks to all of you!