A real-life treasure hunt inspired mum POLLY CROSBY to become a writer — and now she’s struck gold with debut novel The Book Of Hidden Wonders.
We are taught to believe that real life can never match up to our dreams, but when I look back on my journey to publication, it feels as if what actually happened was more incredible than anything I could have dreamt up.
My debut novel, The Book of Hidden Wonders, is about a father who creates a series of picture books starring his daughter and her cat. The books are rumoured to contain clues to a treasure hunt, but as fans of the series start searching the countryside for the treasure, the daughter begins to realise that the clues lead to something far darker than gold and jewels: a devastating secret carefully concealed within the pictures.
The idea for the story came about eight years ago when I was listening to a documentary on BBC radio. It was about a picture book called Masquerade, dubbed as an “armchair treasure hunt”: the clues in the pictures led to real treasure buried somewhere in the British Isles. It had been a huge hit in the late seventies, prompting lots of people to start digging holes all over the UK! Around the same time, I rescued an Oriental cat, which is very similar to a Siamese, and I knew I wanted to write about him. But a cat needs an owner, and that’s how the protagonist, Romilly Kemp, came to be.
I had a young son at the time, and so I wrote in small snatches, my mind often on the story while pretending to watch The Wiggles. But something was lacking: I didn’t know how to structure a novel. I applied for and won a scholarship to an online creative writing course, and suddenly the shape of my novel began to emerge. As I became more confident, I entered writing competitions, and then one day, I heard I’d come runner up in one!
Suddenly, everything began to click into place. I sent out my first chapters to a few literary agents, including my all-time-favourite agent, not for one minute believing I would hear back from her.
When she emailed to ask me to send the rest of the manuscript, I could have wept! The next morning, I saw that she’d stayed up till midnight reading the whole novel, and offered to represent me there and then!
After dancing round the house, I settled down and began working on her proposed edits. My agent (my agent, ha!) warned me that when she sent out my manuscript to publishers, it would take about a month for any replies, so when she called me the next day to say there was a lot of interest, I couldn’t quite take it in.
What followed was a blur of wonderful things: a flurry of emails from different editors, a conference call, and then, marvellously, an offer from HarperCollins. A few days later, the same thing began to happen with publishers from the US.
Then everything went deadly quiet while contracts were agreed and press-releases written. It reminded me, in a strange way, of those weeks when I was first pregnant with my son. I couldn’t tell anyone, I didn’t look or feel any different, and I wondered if perhaps I had dreamt it all.
And so here we are: my book has finally emerged from my dreams into the real world, beautifully packaged and glittering like a jewel. I relive often that whirlwind of a year that got me here, not just because it’s still hard to believe, but because it’s so easy to forget that it was just the final clue on a treasure hunt that has taken many years.
The Book of Hidden Wonders by Polly Crosby (HQ Fiction $32.99) is out now.
POLLY’S TIPS TO FIND YOUR OWN HIDDEN BOOK:
Commit regular amounts of time to writing: It could be half an hour before the rest of your household gets up, or on the commute to work. If you write regularly, the story will always be there in your mind, simmering away.
Skill up: I loved writing but I needed help to turn my words into the structure of a novel. There are many online creative writing courses out there, and some offer bursaries/scholarships. If you’re not sure they’re for you, there are also lots of books that can help.
Enter writing competitions: They give you a focus, and a deadline. Remember, if you don’t win, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure: I entered a lot, and I only did well in one. If you want to be a writer, it is imperative you grow a thick skin!
Read! Read books in the genre you’re writing in. Read books to see how different authors go about structuring their stories. TV programmes and films are also hugely useful for research and ideas.
Join Twitter: The hashtags #amwriting and #writingcommunity will introduce you to people who are writing around the world. I loved seeing writers I had been chatting to get their book deals. It gave me hope!
EXCLUSIVE STORY SPECIAL:
Polly Crosby has penned an exclusive short story prequel to The Book of Hidden Wonders, called The Piano, which you can read online for free as part of our Month Of Sundays extravaganza. Find it at The Sunday Bookclub Facebook group, along with details about virtual events with authors like Tara Moss and a special “Herstory” week of historical fiction from a female perspective.