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My 30-Year Journey to Publication

I started writing the book when I was just 16!

By Susie KearleyPublished 8 months ago 4 min read
(c) Susie Kearley

I published my debut novel, Pestilence, in January 2021, 30 years after I started writing the first draft! The story behind the book is a long one, but I’ll give you the short version. When I was 15, I discovered the horror novelist, James Herbert. I was smitten by his books and inspired to emulate him.

So at the age of 16, I started writing the first draft of a story about a deadly fungus, which would bring about the end of the world. James Herbert’s Rats had made him famous, and Shaun Hutson’s Slugs did pretty well too. This was my attempt at a similar idea.

I had character profiles and a few plot ideas, but most of it, I worked out as I went along. The problem was, that I got stuck. I never worked out the ending. The novel got shelved for 20 years.

I’d hoped to become a full-time writer when I left school, but it was the 1990 recession, and faced with an unsympathetic father, who thought I was incompetent and deluded, being a novelist was not an option. A series of shitty office jobs ensued.

20 years on, at the age of 36, I took redundancy and decided to become a freelance writer. By this time, the man in my life was much more supportive, and I was allowed to carve out a writing career over a year.

I used National Novel Writing Month to finish the novel and get the ending done. I took out a lot of the horror content, deciding it would reach more readers as a thriller instead. Then it got virtually shelved again for the best part of ten years, as I concentrated on the paid journalism and photography jobs, which were much more lucrative.

Eventually, I took two months off in 2019 to edit and hone the novel, get feedback, and do further revisions. In 2020 I submitted to agents, hoping to get a big publishing deal, but as Covid-19 struck, it turned out, that everyone else was doing the same. It wasn’t a good time.

So at the turn of 2021, with a collection of rejection emails and stony silences under my belt, I decided to self-publish the novel that had taken over 30 years from conception to publication. I thought this might be a record, but I’ve since met someone who took 50 years to finish their book, so I know I’m not alone!

I’m hoping to sell 1000 copies — partly to generate a decent income for all the time I’ve invested in the project, and partly to show mum that my ideas had potential after all! Not that she’s bothered. But it would be a nice ending to a very long story before I move on to my next project!

PESTILENCE is an apocalyptic novel, about a fungal pandemic, written before covid. It follows quirky characters on a fun ride through the apocalypse. It makes the actions of our governments look relatively good! Check out my book on Amazon.

Review by Lee Hall

Pestilence is an extremely well thought out story with an accurate outlook on the events that lead to the collapse of society through a pandemic. For some and in recent times that might feel a little close to home but this book carves a new and different path while acting as a social commentary. The vessel in this scenario is the emergence of a fungus which is the resultant of a warmer climate – a reaction to how we treat this planet. Every major moment that unfolds is covered by Susie Kearley who tells this story with a unique overview style that keeps the events moving and homes in on the reactive details even if things move quickly – this pace works for the genre giving it a page turning flow.

The emergence of a wonder drug ultimately leads humanity on a downward path of addiction and excessive consumption with eventual side effects that become incurable. Its humanity not learning from the past on repeat over and over again as we see the medical system downplaying this emerging threat through lack of knowledge and then being overwhelmed. There’s a theme throughout of vicious cycles where the government or even society fails to take note of a very real threat all caused by our species.

“a toxic culture of unhealthy living, a reliance on pharmaceutical drugs rather than health living, destroying the planet and allowing the pathogenic fungus to thrive…”

The story is told via a wide array of characters and from the very beginning they live their way through a well imagined and ultimately important case study about our nature. We see the elite taking from the less fortunate and with force – more social themes that ring true and echo to our reality. This world we live in is fragile and our attitudes will be probably be our undoing. A threat emerges and those who survive it perhaps leave further generations doomed to live through something similar and that’s probably the most powerful message of all.


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