I know our Christmastide posts are officially ended, but I always have a hard time letting go of the holidays, so I hope you’ll indulge me for one more short post on the unexpected treasures that we sometimes get as gifts.
Here’s one of mine.
1993 was a turning-point year for me, in many ways. In January of that year, I’d finally received “The Call” from an editor who wanted to publish my first novel, Undertow—the same short novel my sister had dared me to finish writing a couple of years earlier, and that I’d been trying to sell ever since.
In April, I’d finished writing a much longer, better book—Mariana—which I’d sent off to Britain as an entry in Transworld Publishing’s Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize competition for unpublished manuscripts.
Over the summer I’d written a second shorter book—The Gemini Game—for the first publisher, and put the advance money towards a research trip to France that September, so I could start a fourth novel, The Splendour Falls, cheered on by the news that Mariana had been shortlisted for the Cookson Prize.
And three days before Christmas, I learned Mariana had won.
The Cookson Prize—£10,000 for the prize itself, plus a publishing contract with Transworld that came with a modest advance and a world of connections, including the one to my agents at Curtis Brown UK who’ve been at my side ever since—was a wonderful Christmas gift.
When I opened it, my first thought was that it looked like something Joan Wilder might have sitting on the mantelpiece in her apartment in Romancing the Stone. Which isn’t a bad thing—that’s one of my most favourite movies, and I’ve always wanted Joan Wilder’s apartment.
But I was a little bit baffled at first, till my sister explained to me, “That’s how I see Richard and Mariana.” The main characters from my novel—the novel she’d been reading page by page while I was writing it, encouraging me every step along the way.
And suddenly this plate became more special—a symbol of my sister’s love for what I do, and of her faith in me.
I lost her, fourteen years ago, to cancer.
Mariana was her favourite novel, always, till the end.
This plate still sits beside me, on my writing desk, and every day I look at it, at Richard and Mariana on the horse Navarre, the way my sister saw them, and it helps to ground me and remind me that these characters I’m writing now will, one day, live for other readers, too.
It was the greatest gift.
What are some of the treasures you’ve been given, unexpectedly?