This month my debut, Thin Places, flies out into the world. It’s a book I’ve been trying to write since the end of my 20’s, one I’ve felt haunted by since even a wee bit before that. I wrote the first lines of it in my journal the year before I turned 30, and I turned 37 exactly a month before its publication.
I’ve carried paper and a pen with me everywhere I go since ever I can remember.
I started writing, daily, as a child. I’ve carried paper and a pen with me everywhere I go since ever I can remember. I started submitting to journals, magazines and blogs in my early 20’s, and entering competitions in my early 30’s. I’ve been having work published for a decade and a half. I’ve been long and short listed for a handful of competitions and awards: once I even won. During those early years, like almost every other published or unpublished writer, I worked a variety of fulltime (and more than fulltime) jobs. I wrote in the early pink hours of dawn, on my lunchbreaks; skiving off barista duties – typing notes on my mobile – behind columns of takeaway coffee cups, while the kind friend I shared my shift with took the lion’s share.
I wrote – not for money or for esteem – but because I felt I simply had to. I wrote because it felt like there was a wild animal inside me – deep down, in beside my bones – clawing to get out. I wrote because it felt like if I didn’t I might never really learn who I was, or what the world meant, or how we are supposed to makes sense of it all; all the sorrow and the ache, all the beauty and the wonder.
Then one day I realised I’d never really sat with it all, with the story of the life I’d lived. I’d been holding parts of that creature inside me back. I’m still not really sure why, or even what it was that made that reality sink in but once I knew I needed to open up, to really shine light on all the hidden parts; I wrote an essay that changed things forever. . The essay was shared widely, and I heard from hundreds of folk across the world who shared how much it meant to them, how deeply it had touched them.
After years of writing, I had an offer for both a book contract and an amazing agent overnight. I sold my book – unwritten, merely a wee poppy seed in the earth – less than two months later. I’ve heard people call mine and other debuts ‘an overnight success’, and if they are; they were born over some incredibly long nights indeed…
The question I’ve been asked the most about the hazy, secretive process of publication is: what is the secret? For me, and for many writers I know, the answer is simple. Write what you know you simply must write. Let the creature inside you out. Sure she’s a gorgeous ‘aul thing, claws and all. And she’s the only one you have, lookit; so you best get started.
Kerri ní Dochartaigh was born in 1983, in Derry-Londonderry at the border between the North and South of Ireland. She read English Literature and Classical Civilisation at Trinity College Dublin and trained as a Waldorf teacher in Edinburgh. She taught in Edinburgh and Bristol, before returning to Ireland in her early thirties. She writes about nature, literature and place for the Irish Times, Dublin Review of Books, Caught by the River and others. She now lives in a railway cottage in the very heart of Ireland. Thin Places is her first book.