Clare Flynn - The first book is the toughest!

A pleasure to host multi-published historical fiction author Clare Flynn on the blog today. I’ll let her introduce herself…

I would have given you all of my heart
But there’s someone who’s torn it apart
And he’s taken just all that I had
But if you want I’ll try to write again
Baby I’ll try to write again but I know

The first book is the toughest
Baby I know the first book is the toughest.

(With apologies to Cat Stevens (and to Rod))

My first novel, A Greater World is published today! Yes – four and a half years after its publication, it’s about to be reborn. After self-publishing eight historical novels and loving almost every minute of the indie publishing journey, I was approached out of the blue and offered a trade publishing deal with Canelo. They are re-launching A Greater World on  10th January and publishing a sequel, Storms Gather Between Us, in June. I will still be a proud indie, but I’m delighted and excited to have a second string to my bow.

So, to mark the re-release of A Greater World, I thought I’d tell you a bit about how I got there and why my bowdlerisation of Cat Stevens’s song is appropriate to me and the book.

People who know me might describe me as a fast and prolific writer. I’ve published three full-length novels in 2018. A Greater World, however, was a lot slower in its gestation. I can’t remember exactly when I started to write it. My best guess is some time after my second trip to Australia in 1998. It was first published in 2014, sixteen years later. So why was I such a slow coach then?

Having the wrong mindset
When I began the book, I used to refer to it even to myself as “my trashy novel”. It was almost as if I’d given myself a free pass to do less than my best. There was also a bit of intellectual snobbery (“The kinds of books I read are superior.”) mixed in with insecurity (“I’ll never be good enough to write the kind of book I read myself.”)

Writing was a slow and painful process because I wasn’t fully committed to it. It was as if I were ashamed of what I was doing. I imagined I would have to use a pen name as I wouldn’t want me name associated with it. I’d become a literary fiction snob. Then I realised that a lot of the books I’d been reading lately were actually boring the pants off me, and the books I’ve enjoyed over a lifetime of reading have come from all genres, not just literary fiction. Once upon I time I didn’t even care – a book absorbed me, or it didn’t. So, I decided I’d try to write a book that might have absorbed me as a reader, and that I could feel proud of – even if it was never going to be a literary prize winner. That unlocked things. I began to write the book I wanted to write – and I have never used a pen name.

Having some bad luck 
And he’s taken just all that I had” – having written 80,000 words, my house was burgled on the day before Christmas Eve in 2007 and the burglar took my Macbook and the other laptop I’d backed it up on. I’ve told this story so many times before, so apologies if you’ve heard it, but I was ready to throw in the towel. This book was just not meant to be. I nursed my wounds for six months until I moved house, leaving the Ghost of Burglars Past behind me.

It was then that I read about TE Lawrence leaving the manuscript of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom in a luggage rack when he changed trains at Reading station. Despite a nationwide appeal it was never recovered. Lawrence’s manuscript was 250,000 words and he sat down and rewrote it in three months – 400,000 words this time, from memory. One of my fundamental weaknesses is my highly competitive nature, so naturally I said if he could do it so can I. And I did.

Taking the slow road
Having finished my rewrite, I set about looking for an agent. This was 2012 and despite reading a lot about the blooming of self-publishing and the golden opportunities it offered, I remained convinced that the only way for me was the traditional way. My agent was incredibly helpful and gave me lots of advice to improve the book. Several months and two drafts later, she was ready to send it out. That was when the scales began to fall from my eyes. After a lifetime in Marketing I began to curse the discipline that I’d earned my living from – when I heard the constant refrain of ‘I love it but can’t sell it to Marketing’, or ‘We already have an author on our list in that space’ or ‘Marketing says books set in Australia don’t sell’. When my agent didn’t like my second book, I told her I’d have a go at self-publishing. She gave me her blessing and we parted our ways. While things were slow at first – only £500 of sales in the first six months, I discovered the fantastic supportive world of indie publishing and soaked up as much knowledge and advice as was available – it was plentiful and so generously given! After that things got better and faster, although it’s fair to say I do work very hard.

The subsequent books were much less tough
My second novel, Kurinji Flowerswas written and published within a year and followed a year later by Letters from a Patchwork Quilt. Since then, I’ve upped the pace of writing and publishing. The follow-up to A Greater World, will be published by Canelo in June 2019. It took me four to five months to write. That’s not to say it was easy. I still agonise and go through ‘dark nights of the writer’s soul’ with massive self-doubt and fear that it will never work out or it will be my worst-ever book – but now I know enough about myself and my writing to realise that it will come right in the end. I also have the luxury of being a full-time writer now which makes a massive difference.

So, why have I taken a trade deal?
The answer is simple. I think I will learn a lot from it. Having a different perspective will be interesting. I want to see if having the clout of a publisher behind me will make a difference. I’ve done pretty well on my own, but I’d never be so arrogant as to assume that someone else can’t do it better. I still have seven other titles under my own control so I can continue to indulge my daily fix of checking my sales figures. The team at Canelo have so far proved to be flexible and collaborative and I am enjoying the relationship. I’ve always been a fairly prudent person when it comes to financial matters so it’s only natural that I don’t want to have all my eggs in one basket.

I will be putting Canelo to the test as I go away for four months in January – five days before the launch of A Greater World. I delivered the manuscript for the sequel a couple of weeks ago and my editor there says it’s good to go. As I’m going to have only limited and sporadic internet access while I’m gone, the future of these two books is now very much in their hands. I will be sailing around the world and I’m giving myself some time off. No promises about writing another book while I’m gone (but I wouldn’t bet against it!).

More information Clare and her books here:
Twitter:  @clarefly


So what’s A Greater Worldabout?
Here’s what my publisher says :
A wrenching saga of the voyage that changed their lives. Elizabeth Morton, born into a prosperous family, and Michael Winterbourne, a miner, come from different worlds but when they each suffer unspeakable and life-changing tragedy they’re set on a path that intertwines on the deck of the SS Historic, bound for Sydney. Falling in love should have been the end to all their troubles. But fate and the mysterious Jack Kidd make sure it’s only the beginning.”

Just this morning I had a wonderful comment about the book from a reader, on Facebook. She said, “It’s truly one of the best novels I have ever read, I loved it. Can’t wait to read the follow up too.” It’s comments like that which make all the difference to a writer!

A Greater World is on sale at all key online retailers and also available as a paperback and audiobook.

Amazon Kindle     Apple iBooks    Google Play    Kobo

Thank you, Clare! I’ve read A Greater World and heartily recommend it.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter

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