My next book

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As those of you who have followed this project for a while know, I was a writer long before I was a blogger. For the last seven years I have paid my bills by writing and subediting on a freelance basis for a variety of publications and organisations. In fact, for the first seven months or so of my Year of Reading the World, I was working five days a week at the Guardian newspaper in London and juggling shifts and commissions for several other clients. It made fitting in roughly six to eight hours of reading, blogging and researching a day quite a challenge!

What you may not know is that I was also a writer long before anyone paid me to do it. I made my first attempt at a novel when I was seven (a fantasy story set in an old castle with a bookcase that revealed a hidden world – it owed a lot to The Chronicles of Narnia) and throughout my childhood and teenage years I filled notebooks with scraps of stories and splinters of poems and half-formed things.

When I graduated from my creative writing master’s course and had to face the reality of earning my keep, I made a deal with myself: wherever I was working and whatever I was doing, I would always get up early and spend an hour or so on my own writing before I left to go and work for someone else.

For the next few years, through a series of varied and sometimes rather strange jobs (administrator, campaigns officer for a charity, invigilator for school exams, assessor of doctors’ surgeries, freelance choral singer, professional mourner – don’t ask), I stuck to my bargain. Give or take the odd duvet day, I got up at around 6am, sat at my desk and wrote.

I produced a lot of nonsense. Still, when I became a professional writer, I carried on with my regime. Before commuting into London to edit articles on planning applications for Building Design or write about the latest opportunities for international students for the British Council, I would spend an hour or so on my own (usually not very promising) projects.

Then, about four or five years ago, a glimmer of an idea came to me. I found myself gripped by the thought of a pair of identical twins swapping places in a childhood game and then one of them refusing to swap back.

It was the merest flicker of a concept, but it wouldn’t let me go. Over the months and years that followed, my mind returned to it again and again, full of questions. What would cause one child to refuse to swap back? What might it do to someone to grow up with the wrong life? What kind of family wouldn’t notice the change?

A few times, I was on the point of sitting down to start writing the story, but something always held me back. Somehow, it wasn’t ready for me (or perhaps I wasn’t ready for it).

Then A Year of Reading the World came along and for the first time in my adult life, I gave my precious early-morning writing slots over to something else, and filled them with reading and blogging.

What with everything that happened with the project and the book deal, it wasn’t until March 2013 that I got back into the swing of the old writing pattern. Having submitted my first draft of Reading the World to Harvill Secker, I found I had brainspace to focus on other things.

That was when the twins came and tugged at my sleeve once more. And this time I felt ready to take them on.

Over the 18 months that followed, in between long stints re-writing and editing Reading the World, I wrote my twins manuscript. Perhaps it was because I was in the rhythm of writing from the blogging and non-fiction book, but I found the story came to me easily and I wrote with excitement to find out what would happen next.

In autumn 2014, after several drafts, I gave the manuscript to my other half, Steve, and to my novelist friend, Emily Bullock, to read. I worked their feedback into my draft and shared it with a few more people. And then, when my lovely agent Caroline returned from maternity leave towards the end of the year, I sent it to her.

I envisaged that there would be a long process of re-writing and polishing, but when Caroline had finished reading the manuscript she told me she was very excited and that – with a little bit of tweaking – she thought it was ready to sell.

I spent about a week working on Caroline’s edits. Then, on the day that Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer was published in the UK, Caroline sent my novel, Beside Myself, out to editors.

We soon heard that several publishers were interested. I met with them and, after a few weeks of negotiation, I’m delighted to announce that Beside Myself  has been bought by Bloomsbury and will be published worldwide in English by them next year. It means my book will be produced by the same team looking after the works of writers such as Margaret Atwood, Khaled Hosseini, Donna Tartt, William Boyd and JK Rowling.

My seven-year-old self wouldn’t have known about Harry Potter when she was scribbling my first novel back in the late 1980s, but I think she would have approved.

99 responses

    • It is amazing to find this place as a Chinese freshman.And I found there thanks to TED. I hope I will enjoy myself,haha. I love the kite runner but I only read the chinese version.Meanwhile, I am keen to read the English press.However,thanks

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your process! It’s great to see that there’s life/creativity after publication and I’m excited for your next project. Happy writing!

  2. Congratulations Ann! I can tell from your writing that it will be a great read. Looking forward to it!
    By the way, you might be intrigued to have a look at Joseph’s Picture (Jussifs Geschichter) by Najem Wali, which I read as my Iraqi title.

  3. I do want to ask, about the professional mourner especially. (I’ve had my share of strange jobs – once I counted different types of cars on traffic videos.)

    Congratulations by the way. And not a bad publisher either!

  4. Wow this is amazing news Ann, and what dedication and perseverance you have shown, you so deserve for this to happen and I can’t wait to read your fiction.

    The concept reminds me of a couple of the key characters in Elizabeth Knox’s Wake, not the story (which is a kind of horror story), but the idea of twin swapping. Such an interesting idea to explore and I love that they were ready to reveal themselves after you tested the waters with your literary exploration project.

    Keep us posted!

    • Ha! Well, it’s a very long story, but essentially I was once booked to sing in a choir at a funeral but when I arrived a woman handed me my fee in a brown envelope and told me to sit in the congregation instead and that if anyone asked I should say I was a friend of the family. It made for a rather awkward hour, particularly as everyone turned to stare at me when I started singing in my full voice! To this day, I don’t know why it happened, but it’s not a line of work I’m anxious to pursue!

  5. Pingback: Reading Room Xl | Wadadli Pen

  6. Dear Ann,
    Absolutely Inspiring . What an innovative idea your seeded in my mind.Thank you much for sharing.
    I quickly went to check on the Indian authors you read …it was amazing , you have read many of the great authors from India.

    Waiting to read your book.

    Warm Regards

  7. Hello Ann,
    I am Spanish woman and the first time I have heard about you, It has been while listening to a podcast downloaded from http://www.ted.com as a way to practise my English. Congratulations for your original idea of “Reading the World” and I would like to read your new novel “Beside Myself” that I am going to book on Amazon.
    I have only one question to ask you: have you read a Spanish book?
    My regards. Inma

  8. Fabulous to have heard you on http://www.ted.com and to read your stories. Just shows what you can do by appreciating the warmth that our world truly has- though fearful we are of outer space aliens we can feel free to communicate and laugh with people all over the world- in many ways aliens that just look like you and me. Well done on getting your books published.

  9. I just committed myself to read a book per EU member state this year (https://dirimpa.wordpress.com/28books/), and you come up with a new book that intrigues me?! Ok – fine. You will be my 29th book – a tribute to the person that inspired me for this year’s challenge. Thank you, once again. Best – Giorgia

  10. Dear Mrs. Ann
    Hello, i am Elysa from Indonesia. Especially from small village, Sumanding. I wanna make a library in my village. I like a books and i can see book’s world from you. Thanks and sorry for my language. I am studying english language from ur writing.

  11. I borrowed Beside Myself from the Windsor Locks Library and was enjoying it immensely until I reached page 58 and found instead that pages 59-97 were missing and 27-58 repeated, rendering the whole book unreadable. I was a proofreader for 44 years and would never have allowed such a binding error to occur. Thought you might be interested.

  12. I have the book. I’ve read it, and I’ve also read reviews about it at Goodreads, some of them asking if there’ll be a sequel. If you do one, you might want to do it from the viewpoint of Eloise — beginning after she finds the fireworks paining done by her biological grandfather — the one she’s not supposed to know about — and wonder if it begins her grandmother’s downfall.

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