This may come as rather a surprise to the lovely readers who have so very kindly followed my blog (much love to you all) but until now, most of the unfinished manuscripts filling my desk draw were all fantasy novels. Sort of in the vein of, but obviously not half as brilliant, as Neil Gaimon or Terry Pratchett. Don’t judge, please, grin; they’re sort of a happy place.
I’m still happy to continue with those – and I will someday, just not as Lily Graham, but rather under a different pen name. The Greek Vintage or My Invincible Summer … still deciding … had its start as my attempt to write a different kind of book when I was dealing with depression when my mom had breast cancer, six years ago. It was a very dark time for me, and I developed an anxiety disorder that made eating or reading incredibly difficult. I couldn’t watch action films or sad movies – both would affect me badly. Cartoons were pretty much all I could stand. I could barely concentrate and was trapped in a job that I couldn’t stand, and my great comfort – which had always been reading, was now no longer an option.
It was like I lost a part of my identity, like one of my senses. Books and I had been linked together in sentences for as long as I could remember – to not be able to read was incredibly painful. I read widely and still do, but my tastes ran towards epic fantasy tombs, war novels and literary fiction – and it was hard trying to read these when I already felt depressed. Sure some of their themes are lighter but when all you can stomach is Tom & Jerry, I wasn’t holding out any hope.
Then one day, a friend who was working at a bookshop suggested I try reading something light and fun, and she suggested Sophie Kinsella. I went home with a copy of The Undomestic Goddess the next time I visited her bookshop thinking it wouldn’t make much of a difference – thinking that this couldn’t possibly help, thinking, I’m sorry to say, that I would never relate to a fun light-hearted read, when I felt anything but fun, or light-hearted myself.
But I did. It resonated with me so strongly, this character under huge pressure at work and who made this giant mistake – it was over the top, but very real too, at least for me back then. Written in an easy style with this delicious thread of laugh out loud humour – with a touch of dark comedy to it, I couldn’t put it down. Perhaps it was the first person narration. Or the loveable heroine who needed to run away – a theme that I could so relate to at that point, or the ridiculous situation she got herself into – but it was the first book I had been able to read in almost a year (I usually read anywhere from two to three books a week.)
After that I began reading chick-lit quite as a matter of course, liking the light-hearted comedy, and ridiculous antics, it was a kind of therapy – the only genre that I could really stomach as a I battled my way to wellness and soon enough I decided to write my own. I got quite far with it – in 2008 I started writing the first draft of A Greek Vintage – which at the time was called A Jasmine Garden, and set in Mauritius (I honeymooned there, grin) only it was … bloody corny. The book, not the honeymoon. Sort of cringe-worthy corny, which yes, some chick-lit books are, but this was bad, so bad. So I set it aside, thought I’d leave it to the professionals and get on with writing my fantasy books.
That was until this year February where I was busy minding my own business, procrastinating on my ‘someday’ novels when my best friend decided to completely upset the applecart in the best possible way and told me about Amazon KDP and this strange cat woman she met at the vet who was able to support herself with her books and how she thought I was being a twit, and that she thought I should just become an indie author by dusting my first first draft and trying it again, and so with mounting excitement I did.
I’m ashamed to admit this – but I did think that it would be rather a doddle to get the thing into shape. Um … no.
It was not.
From the original manuscript, I kept perhaps 500 words and rewrote the whole thing from beginning to end, set it in Crete, introduced a vineyard (yes!), gave my character some backbone (a bit of age helped me to do this I feel) I created a protagonist that made me fall straight back in love with the romance genre and found in the process a story that I’ve loved writing, a first novel that with some work will be something I am quite proud of, and the start of this blog which has been an incredible experience – as I’ve been able to share all my struggles, as well as highs and lows along the way.
Writing this novel, and rediscovering this genre, has been an incredible ride – and I think, the start of a really fun journey. So yes, sometimes a genre chooses you, and sometimes you need good friends to upset your comfortable apple carts. It was the same friend who recommended the chick-lit genre in the first place …