After three months of no story writing at age seventeen, I was rather proud of myself. I was recovering my spirits, and it seemed that I'd left behind my foolishness for good. At that time, I had a checkout job at a New World supermarket. One Saturday night, my supervisor sent me down to clean checkouts fourteen and fifteen. After I'd filled the bucket and started scrubbing, something really weird happened. My mind was completely blank (which unfortunately isn't uncommon with me) and then I saw Rafen in my head. I heard someone shouting his slave number: "Two-three-seven!" And then the whole first half of the book, as it is now written, flashed through my mind in about half a minute - everything, including a slaves' revolution. I paused.
Don't be stupid, I thought.
But I really couldn't help being stupid this time. So I grabbed a whole lot of old receipts and signature slips and started writing on them - just rough ideas so that I could remember this epiphany, because I had never visualised the first half of this book like this. Previously, I had devoted very little time to Rafen's slave life. But suddenly it seemed appropriate, and intensely symbolic to me. Not symbolic of my checkout job, mind you. However, it has occurred to me later on that it was very ironic I had the idea of extending the slave labour section of the book while cleaning checkouts.
I didn't have a lot of time at this stage, because I was seventeen, preparing to finish school and enter university. Hence, my only available time was on Saturday afternoons, for about an hour before I headed off to work. Accordingly, the following week I began rewriting Rafen for the fifth time. I looked at the blank white screen. And then I said to myself: "Stuff this. I don't care what anyone thinks." And I began, writing more honestly than I've ever written in my life.
A year later, I was finished. Without telling anyone, I paid five hundred dollars to get the book manuscript assessed. The result was a much better novel. By this time, my writing was ready for the assessment. The writer I chose to help me was Tina Shaw, a New Zealand novelist, who was impressed with my writing style but let down by the second half of the book. In response to her advice, I did my best to find that place I had when I was cleaning the checkout, and I imagined up the climax anew. This time, I allowed the Lashki Mirah, my villain, to come in and attack whoever he liked. The result was that my protagonist fought back, and it was rather thrilling for me to watch it all come together. As an author, I write for much the same reason as a reader reads: to find out what happens next. The main difference is that I get to find it out first, and my experience is a rich and spiritual one, as a result.
After the manuscript assessment (without telling anyone again), I started submitting to literary agents. My goal was not to let anyone find out that I was writing again, but that's rather hard, as the writer disease is an obvious one, with symptoms such as perpetual muttering, frantic typing, glazed eyeballs, intense coffee drinking, and so on. However, no one found out that I was submitting to literary agents until one in Spain showed some interest. I mentioned it to my sister in passing, and she spilled the beans. While my family was still bewildered, Pontas International Literary and Film Agency (the same agency that championed Jonas Jonasson for a while, and still works with Alan Duff) offered me a contract. After my Dad and I went over the contract together, and he gave me some more much needed advice, I signed it. At age eighteen, I was their youngest ever client. Over a two year period, Pontas submitted Rafen to numerous large publishing houses all over the world. What I didn't realise was that there was (or is) an acceptable formula for YA fantasy novels these days. And my book didn't fit that marketable formula. The plot was too complex and the project itself too sprawling and large for any of the large publishing houses to take on. They wanted something that was guaranteed to work. And let's be honest: epic fantasy seldom works any more these days. Lord of the Rings was clearly a miracle.
I was thrilled to be let off the hook with submitting my book to publishers. But I wasn't thrilled to get all the rejections, and after two years, I was seriously considering self-publishing and marketing the book myself. I had written the next four books during that time, and I had come to the realisation that I had gone too far to go back. There was no giving up now. Just when Pontas decided collaborating with me wasn't working out (even though they still really loved the project), Permuted Press made a multi-book offer. Pontas left me to pursue that option, and I did. Two years on, here I am, a paid author, with the release date of her first book imminent.
Part of me fears that the first half of the series won't do well enough for me to get a contract for the next three books. But then part of me doesn't worry. I could always self-publish, I suppose. And even then, I know that Someone's looking out for me. The whole journey of The Fledgling Account has been one of prayer. When things went really bad, I handed it to God, because I knew I couldn't do it on my own. I remember praying about Pontas, when I wasn't sure a contract was going to come through. This amazing sense of peace came over me, and I was suddenly full of joy, because I knew everything was going to be all right. For me, the story behind Rafen has been a miracle. And even if nothing comes of all this, I'll still be standing there in wonder, because in the end, I got there at twenty-two - and not on my own strength, but on Someone else's. It's the biggest and best cheat ever.
But I will admit, I am praying that the story has really only just begun here.
Rafen is now on preorder as an e-book. The paperback will be available from the eighteenth of August onward.