I'm delighted to welcome Sarah Bryant, author of SERENDIPITY. I had the incredible good fortune to read and review Sarah's past novels Sand Daughter and The Other Eden; she's an amazing, diverse writer who doesn't stick to conventions, and her post will be of great interest to those who both write and read eclectically.
Please join me in welcoming Sarah Bryant!
“Where do you get your ideas?” is the most common question people ask me when I tell them that I’m a writer, and it’s the most difficult to answer. It’s not so much that I don’t know (although flash-in-the-pan inspiration is always a factor) but that the origins of my books are usually so distant, so mundane, or so apparently unrelated to the finished product, that people either don’t believe me, or are disillusioned by the banality of the truth.
Serendipity is no exception. Its point of origin is seventeen years ago, my second year of university, when I was a competitive dinghy sailor. I woke up one morning from a dream about an old white wooden sailboat wanting to write about it, about sailing’s addictive quality and (being a rose-tinted twenty year old) about love. The result was an abysmal short story about a girl who loved sailboats, and a boy who loved her, which languished in my “stories” folder until the following year, when my first real relationship broke up.
Among other fallout, I quit sailing. I had to, if I didn’t want to see the boy in question every day. I missed it at least as much as I missed him, but there was no question of going back to either one. So what to do with the sudden, gaping hole in my life? Write about it, of course! I dusted off the sailboat story, trashed most of it, but kept the two characters. Then I started listening. The guy was silent. But the girl, Meredith, had a lot to say about love and loss and disillusionment. I started writing. It wasn’t until the following summer that Meredith’s pages of rumination began to take shape as a novel. But it had nothing at all to do with Meredith, or even sailboats. I was working that summer on a small teaching farm – a nineteenth century holdover, marooned in the Massachusetts suburbs. Before I knew it, an imaginary world was forming around that farm, and out of it, unexpectedly, the silent man began to speak.
He was intelligent and wry and somehow damaged. I put Meredith aside, and started writing Silence. The more I wrote, though, the more I worried. There seemed to be no middle ground between the heartbroken sailing prodigy and the disillusioned farmer. The answer came out of left field, as writing answers so often seem to. My friend Adam, a fellow farm-worker, informed me one morning, “My new favourite word is ‘serendipity’. Serendipity explains everything.” I said, “Right, whatever,” but I found the word knocking around my head over the next few days as I demonstrated the joys of cow milking and composting to a lot of hot, bored suburban children. And then Adam took me to see his family’s farm – another fabulous bit of anachronistic Americana. It had a huge old red barn, bigger even than the house, and intriguingly empty. It was big enough to hold a boat. And that was it, the flash in the pan: Silence was building a boat in his barn! And sooner or later he was going to need help: enter Meredith. Serendipity, indeed.
I’d like to say it all went smoothly from there, but novels never do. I took Serendipity with me onto a masters program, where the tutor hated it, and did her level best to fail me. A year later, I was lucky enough to find an agent who loved it, and I thought I was sorted. Wrong again: the agent couldn’t sell it, and ultimately gave up on it. So did I.
I wrote other books, found publishers for them, realized that historical was my thing. Then something strange happened. I was bogged down writing what should have been my fourth novel, with two small children and too little time to do the research it required. As I slogged away at 19th century Edinburgh, though, two familiar voices started speaking to me. And they were saying, “When are you ever going to figure it out? Our story belongs here!”
So I took Serendipity back out, re-set the first section in the 1890s, re-read it. At long last, it all made perfect sense. I emailed my editor: “Um, about that book you’re expecting…is it okay if I write a completely different one?”
The rest, so to speak, is history.
Thank you, Sarah! We wish you much success! To find out more about Sarah and her work, please visit her website.