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.
How wonderful! You’ve already sold the twins to reader me.
Yay! My first sale! Thanks so much
We’ve a common dear! That Kite Runner is freaking me out! 😀
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
Congratulations! a very intriguing topic.
Wow, I wish I could read your two books. CONGRATULATIONS!
Thanks Arlene. I hope you can. They will both be published worldwide in English
Congratulations! The twins are out!
Thanks – they are indeed (or they will be next year!)
This makes ne want to read it very badly!
Fantastic – that’s great to know. Thanks!
Fabulous news. Can’t wait to read it!
Yay! Thank you! (Assuming T-bone isn’t keeping you too busy of course!)
Well done! I am also intrigued by the twins idea.
Thanks – oh good!
Many congratulations; such an inspiring blog post as well.
What a great story – both your idea, and the story of the writing itself. Inspiring stuff. The very best of luck with everything x
Thanks very much!
Reblogged this on Jin Okubo and commented:
I would love to get some freelance work, could you point me in the right direction, or pass some my way?
Thanks Jin. I started out by doing a course in subediting and then contacting publications offering to cover sick leave and holidays. Good luck!
Oh, shoot, that won’t help me in Japan, but I will see. At the mean time it should help others. Thank-you
This is incredibly inspiring! Thank you for sharing 🙂
Congratulations! I will be one of the first buyers/readers! Looking forward to it!
Thanks Sabina. Yay!
What an interesting novel! I’m looking forward to it!
Thanks Dena – I hope you’ll like it
That’s fantastic. Congratulations.
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!
Thanks – and the same to you
Thanks for Sharing !
Wow! Congratulations with your new book. I am now reading Reading the World . Greetings from the Netherlands.
Thanks Hans! Greetings to you too.
You are having an amazing year – so excited for you. Can’t wait to read it.
Thanks Cathryn – yes 2015 has been quite an adventure so far!
Congratulations! Bloomsbury! That’s serious.
Congratulations!! I am so excited for you 🙂
This is such good news…Reading is also a sort of karma I believe, it brings the words back to us and makes us build again. Good luck! I am so happy for us.
Thanks Suneetha. That’s a lovely way of looking at it.
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.
Thanks Bradley – and for the recommendation. I will search it out…
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!
Ha! Well, perhaps that’s a discussion to have in person…. Thanks very much
Wow! Congratulations 🙂
Congratulations! Your twin premise sounds amazing. We are both aspiring writers and stories like yours gives us hope! -Cheri&Chebk
Thanks to you both – good luck with your writing!
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!
Thanks Claire – interesting. I haven’t come across Elizabeth Knox. I shall look her up!
She’s a NZ author who wrote The Vintner’s Luck some years ago, literary fiction, and then went off into writing YA, and now has written a kind of parody of a dystopian horror.
Aha. I’ve heard of The Vintner’s Luck…
Such brilliant news! Congratulations!
Reblogged this on fredouaemex.
Fantastic news! I can mention (and link to) this post in the piece that will run on Discover soon.
Yay! Thanks Cheri.
Reblogged this on The Making of Megan.
Congratulations! It sounds like an interesting premise.
Congratulations… but I have to ask “professional mourner”?
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!
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I think it’s wonderful to read about what inspired people to do what there passion is ! Wonderful work ! Happy Monday
Thanks very much!
What a beautiful example of how dedication and patience can make a dream come true…
Congratulations! I am looking forward to reading your books!
Great and congratulations! When will the book come out? Im so exited.
Thanks! January 14 is the publication date. Not long now…
I followed on to your blog from your TED talk. The journey you have been through is truly inspirational. Waiting to read your book.
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.
Thanks Lalita. That’s lovely. It was certainly an amazing adventure. Thanks for your comment.
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
Thanks Inma. Yes I did. You can find the answer to what I read for each country here – just click the country names https://ayearofreadingtheworld.com/thelist/
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.
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
Ha! Thanks Giorgia. Happy reading
Well done! I look forward to reading it.
Wow, what a great read! Beside myself really challenged and enticed me! Thank you!
Thanks Marlys – that’s nice to know
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.
Thanks Elysa. Your English is very good. Good luck with your plan for a library. It sounds like a great idea.
Very nice Ann, thanks! for sharing 🙂
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.
How strange. It’s fine in my copy. Was it the hardback edition? Perhaps there was a rogue batch… Sorry you had such a frustrating time with it.
That’s great! I wish you the best of luck 😀
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.
Thanks – certainly an intriguing idea!
nice to meet u here.