The Art of Being Published
22 Nov 2013
Debut author Sarah Vaughan on the encouragement of friends, the thrill of being published, and why she came to Hodder thirty years too late...
In 1983, at the age of ten, I won a children’s writing competition with a story about some Cornish standing stones. The prize, judged by children’s author Helen Cresswell, was £75 in cash; £50 in book vouchers – and a trip to Hodder and Stoughton.
I bought myself a typewriter and a Roberts radio, as many Judy Blumes as my mother would allow me, and a leather-bound set of Jane Austens – again my mum’s influence – which I devoured. But the trip to Hodder, seemingly so far from my home in Devon, never materialised.
Fast forward thirty years to an icy day in mid November, and here I am. A table is heaving with home-made cakes and the room is packed with smiling, articulate women telling me that they’ve loved – and even cried over – my first book. People are using phrases like “couldn’t stop reading” and words like “moved”. And they all seem completely genuine.
It all feels rather surreal. Less than four weeks ago, I was finishing the final edits to The Art of Baking Blind, something I’d shown no one bar my agent and my sister. Within six hours of submitting it, it had been read by my now editor, Kate Parkin, and was being sent around the company. Less than a week later, she had pre-empted several other interested publishers and snapped it up.
In the space of a month, the manuscript I have pored over for a year has burst into the world: Italian publishers Garzanti have bought it in a pre-empt; and Fontein have bought it in the Netherlands. There’s an ongoing German auction, a Brazilian one due next week, and the Americans are excited, too.
It is, to trot out an unavoidable cliché, a complete dream come true. After that early competition success, I stopped writing and feared my imagination – which had plagued and delighted me as a small child – was ebbing away. I continued to read, though, and went on to read English at Oxford, barely believing that someone would pay for me to curl up and read novels for three years. (I was lucky: I got a full grant and this was before tuition fees.) I also began to write, not just the two essays a week required by the course, but features and reviews for Cherwell, the university newspaper.
That paper was my passport to a career in print. After five months spent learning Pitman shorthand and media law in Hastings, I spent two years as a news trainee at the Press Association and eleven at the Guardian as a news reporter, health correspondent and – most thrillingly – political correspondent. Of course, like many hacks, what I really wanted to do was write a novel but fear of failure – and life, in the form of two small children – stopped me. I charted other journalists who’d published books but the idea of writing 100,000 words rather than six or eight hundred at most, seemed a bit of a stumbling block. With a news article, you have the security blanket of research and all these quotes from those you’ve interviewed which you have to compress. With a novel, there’s no such safety net – and none of the authority implied by your paper. It’s just you and your imagination – and why would anyone want to know about that?
I left the Guardian and started freelancing and, as my youngest neared school age – and I neared 40 – the itch to write a novel grew stronger still. I wittered on to one of my two book clubs about wanting to do a creative writing MA but not having the money or not being good enough.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Sarah,” one of my friends, a former colleague, interrupted me mid flow.
“You don’t need a course. You just need to get on with it.”
And so I began.
The Art of Baking Blind – out in July next year – is the result. Though it required much reshaping and some ruthless cutting, the four main female characters were there from the start, whispering in my ear, and – when things went well – doing all the hard work.
Of course, I know this heady state won’t continue. Not everyone will ply me with cake and compliments. There will be people who don’t like the book and some will write snippy reviews.
But for the moment, I’m clinging on to all this warmth and excitement: the sense that we’re embarking on an adventure in which we dress my book in an exquisite cover, woo booksellers, and then release it into the world.
It’s taken 30 years to get here – and it’s been well worth the wait.
The Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan will be published in July 2014.