Want to know about ‘slow writing’? Well, welcome – you’ve come to the right place
I wrote my debut novel slowly. Very slowly. I began Not Thomas in 2001 after it had been percolating for ten years in my head. I finished it in 2015.
It’s the story of Tomos, a young boy longing to return to the place he calls home, but living instead with his neglectful mother. It’s written from Tomos’s point of view and based on my experiences of teaching children who suffered from neglect.
I started with the opening scene then wrote the very last line. Neither has been changed. The bits in between I wrote in random order
I didn’t work on Not Thomas daily, or even monthly. It was a pet project I kept on my laptop. I dipped in and out of writing it while I concentrated on getting my children’s books published.
I wasn’t in a hurry. After all, no one was ever going to read it because it was in the voice of a child – a five-year-old child – and what adult would want to read that?
Then in 2010, Emma Donoghue made me rethink. She published Room and it had a five-year-old’s viewpoint. It did really well. It turned out adults wanted to read a novel with a young child’s point of view after all. I speeded up – a bit – and finished Not T.
Honno Press accepted it in 2016. Caroline Oakley, who’d been Ian Rankin’s editor at Orion for many years, edited Not Thomas and was happy to keep the viewpoint as I’d written it. It was published in July 2017.
So slow writing worked for me. I eventually got my first novel for adults finished and, thankfully, published – a novel I never thought would see the light of day. If I’m ever lucky enough to meet Ms Donoghue, I’ll buy her a latte or two.
That’s the background to Not Thomas. Here’s some info about me:
Sara Gethin is a pen name – in real life I’m Wendy White
I write for children as Wendy, and my debut children’s book, ‘Welsh Cakes and Custard’ published by Gwasg Gomer Press, was lucky enough to win the Tir na-nog Award in 2014. I’m a member of Hay Festival Writers at Work, and my writing has been shortlisted for the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award, the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize and the Waverton Good Read Award.
I grew up in a council house – the very one I was born in – in Llanelli, an industrial town in south west Wales. My dad worked in the local tinplate works and my mum looked after us children full-time. When I was seven, my parents achieved their hard-saved-for ambition and bought their own place, and my older brother, sister and I moved down the road to a smaller house with no central heating and an outdoor toilet.
Night-time trips to the loo were interesting
By the early 1970s, I was heading for secondary school and we’d had a toilet installed upstairs. Heating, though, was still on the wish-list. I adored books, and up until the moment I got distracted by boys, I visited the library every week, borrowing as many books as I could and reading them as fast as possible. All that reading helped me get a place at the local grammar school, and after my A’levels I took a degree in Philosophy & Theology at Lampeter, a tiny Welsh university.
I don’t remember why I chose that course – English was my real love
After graduating, I worked as a library assistant, a childminder and a primary school teacher. My first teaching posts, back in the early 90s, were in disadvantaged areas, and the poverty and neglect I witnessed left a lasting impression on me.
In my twenties I was diagnosed with a weird heart condition which, by the time I was forty, forced me to give up my career in teaching. I write full time now, and yes, I have speeded up. Having lived in Brussels and Berkshire, home is west Wales again – although I’ve swapped industrial living for somewhere a little more rural.
If I could live anywhere else, I’d choose Ireland
I love spending time with my family in Dublin – drifting between the wonderful cafés, theatres and bookshops there. It’s a vibrant city and a complete contrast to my estuary hometown in Wales.
Thanks for reading!
One of my favourite bookstores in Dublin: The Winding Stair, near the Ha’penny Bridge
Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from bookshops.