After a lifetime of writing and hoping, last week there it was, the publication day of A Girl Called Owl. It had taken me longer than I could have imagined to get there, but that morning, all of a sudden, time felt really compressed. All my dreams of being an author were stacked up right there by my side in a pile of books, and there was going to be a launch, and all my friends and family coming… and then it hit me. Somebody was missing. The somebody who inspired me to apply for a place on the MA in Creative Writing in the first place. My brother.
I was in my early thirties with two small children when he got ill. And I hadn’t given up on writing, but I had never really done anything with it either. I’d started so many stories, and never finished one. I thought I had time, that there would always be tomorrow, or next year. But Matt was only thirty, and had been diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer. It made no sense. For a while, nothing made sense. He was my little brother, it just wasn’t possible. And yet there it was. He had operations, and chemotherapy, and for a while things stabilised, and he lived. He really lived. He started a Phd in Germany, made plans to get married. I started the MA at Bath Spa and worked around my young family. We grabbed what we could, and we hoped for the best.
He was still in Germany when the cancer returned. He didn’t come home. He stayed, he worked around his treatment, until it just wasn’t possible any more. And then he came back to the UK. And he died.
A few months later, I opened his laptop. The first thing that flashed up on the screen was a version of my work in progress. He’d been reading it in the hospital. I can’t quite explain how that felt, but it gave me something. Something a bit bloody-minded, to be honest. I was never. Never never, going to give up on my dream. I was never going to stop writing. I was never going to stop submitting. He never gave up on living. Even when it was painful, he never stopped hoping.
So I wrote. I finished my first book, and then, when that was rejected, I wrote my second one, and sent that out. I got a load more rejections. And then I got lucky – Amber Caraveo of Skylark Literary liked my writing. She asked me to send whatever else I had, and so I did, and she loved a little three-chapter-long idea of a thing called Owl.
I spent the next year drafting and redrafting, and I was so excited when it was ready to go. Amber submitted it as A Girl Called Owl, and I got lucky again – Macmillan Children’s Publishing bought it.
There have been so many wonderful moments along that journey. Working on it with Amber, then working on it with Lucy, my editor at Macmillan. Seeing the beautiful front cover for the first time, receiving the first proof copy, and then getting my hands on the actual finished book. It was a dream, made into reality. And there was a launch! And there I was, with my books, and Matt wasn’t there. And I was devastated. I was back there, three years ago, when he was first gone and I didn’t know how to breathe any more.
And then somebody told me he was there. He was there, with me, all the time. And I wasn’t sure about that, to start with, but in a way it’s true, he was. It was he who taught me that time is precious. I took every chance I could get, because of him. He is my inspiration, he always will be. And because of him, there is A Girl Called Owl.
A Girl Called Owl is out now. You can follow Amy on Twitter @AJ_Wils