Usually when I write a book it’s like jumping into the surf and splashing around playfully for a few months, getting that first draft done and then another few months of fine tuning with a team of professional wordsmiths who help me polish it up into something publishable and readable. I’ve always approached writing as therapy…fun therapy. It’s what I do. It’s a job. It’s sometimes lonely and sometimes frustrating. But I love it. The good and the trying.
But SAGA was different. SAGA was an ordeal by fire.
First of all I’d been diagnosed with a pretty nasty autoimmune disease and was confined to a wheelchair, in pain and terrified. My beloved sister-in-law was battling breast cancer. My teenagers were running amok. Life seemed suddenly very, very hard. And I had a deadline and a manuscript to deliver.
Needless to say the first draft of SAGA was a bit bleak. My structural editor and publisher agreed that the themes were just too dark and the whole story too steeped in abject misery. After HEXENHAUS and LIBERTY, two books full of empowering, inspirational female characters overcoming ordeals and championing the feminine warrior (who lives within us all), they felt that it would be a downer to make the third book a Shakespearean tragedy of epic proportions that saw just about every character dead at the end of it.
So I rewrote it. And rewrote it. And rewrote it. I turned it upside down and inside out. I changed story-lines, continents and even characters. And the deadline was looming like the Doomsday Clock. The copy editor was locked in. Proof-reader locked in. Printer. Booksellers primed. But it wasn’t working. Try as I might, I couldn’t make it work. Something was wrong. The spirit of the work was askew.
My sister-in-law passed away.
The heart-break of that shut me down for a while and we had to put off the publication date for four months. My publisher and team were remarkable and caring and supportive. I struggled to make sense of such a monumental loss for the family. Life was not fair. Cancer was not fair. How could someone so selfless and beautiful be taken away so young? I fell into deep depression.
And still I wrote, trying to make it all come together.
Then I ended up back in hospital with a case of tonsillitis that tried to finish me off. I was transferred to a hospital far from home and things were a bit rough for a while. Very.
I even tried to write in the hospital. That was really hard.
And then my very dear great-aunt died. She was a woman who had always inspired me with her strength and inner joy. More grief.
And still the manuscript kept being written and rewritten.
Deadline. Off to the copy-editor. By this stage we’d just decided to go with the most recent draft which was much brighter. But when my very dear copy-editor got the manuscript, she hit me with it. “Where is the fire, the spirit, the girl power?” And she was right. I’d felt so deflated of power myself through illness and grief and depression that it had seeped into the pages of my book. I felt like a robot had written it. My editor who has worked with me on all three books knew it. She told me to go away and inject some soul into it. I trust her like an honorary sister. And I knew she was dead right!
It was exactly what I needed. Now out of the wheelchair and taking tentative steps again, I felt a new wave of hope that all would be well again. The sun would come out. And so I did the unthinkable and rewrote the entire manuscript the way my heart told me to do it. In a matter of weeks! Like a recharged whirling dervish! I changed characters, brought some back to life. Added joy and hope and vitality to my three new girl characters and in writing the new book, I began to heal. My body began working better. My heartbreak was channeled into writing a book that would inspire and pay tribute to my lost loved ones. And I felt the Sisterhood of those gone before and those yet to come filling me with the courage to write something important. I wove all the stories, the sad, the funny, the exciting and the terrifying into my work and in the end I felt the sisters had spoken. I was thrilled with the new manuscript and when my publisher read it she nodded and said, yes, this is it. This is the one. She even ended up loving one of the new characters the most from all of my Systir Saga trilogy.
SAGA. It was a labour of love and pain.
And yet now I believe she is exactly as she should be and I am so damn proud of her. She needed to go through all those painful drafts to be the strong book she is now.
For Carol-Anne, for Kay, for Grandma and Great-great-great-great Grandma Isabella Ballantyne. This one is for you and for me and for all the women who will read her and love her as I do.
You can read any of the three books in the series in any order or as stand alone books. On shelves November 5th.