Sally O’Reilly: I always wanted to write
I always wanted to write, ever since I could read. My father loved books and the house was full of them. Books were piled on the floor; bookshelves covered every wall. Trips to the library on Saturday morning became a family ritual, and I wanted to write like C.S. Lewis or Rosemary Sutcliffe – stories full of magic and strange glamour.
As an adult, I worked as a journalist and editor for many years, and then published two novels. Both are black comedies that deal with flawed relationships and family versus friendship. I have also written a third novel, about Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, which is currently with my agent who is looking for a publisher. This last book has returned to my childish love of weirdness and witchcraft.
‘How to be a Writer’ is the book I wish I’d had to hand when I first got published. It’s based on my experience of being published and then not being, having a break-through and then having a series of setbacks. Because although this was a dream come true, it was also the beginning of one of the most challenging careers in the world. Being an author has no job description, no working hours, pension, career ladder or anything else. When you work as a writer, you are on your own, and most of us learn by trial and error.
So this is why I wrote this book – a guide to the pleasures and pitfalls of the writing life. Lots of books tell you how to write – but this is the one that tells you how to be a writer. How to get an agent, how to give a reading, how to find the right day job, deal with your money and get the words down every day.
My message here is that being published is still the gold standard in terms of success, but a writer writes, no matter what. And if you want peace of mind you will need to love the process as well as the prospect of the Booker prize.