Writing One’s Life

Fran Macilvey, writer of ‘Trapped: My Life With Cerebral Palsy’, discusses the process of publishing her memoir.











Thank you so much, Claire, for inviting me to be on your blog today. I am very honoured.

A one-sentence pitch of your work?

Lost soul moves through nightmare into fairy-tale ending.

Can you remember when you first had the idea for your manuscript? Can you tell us about it?

The idea to seriously write about my life has been with me for about fifteen years, nudging me.  At first, I dismissed it, as I did not feel I had achieved anything worth writing about. But once my daughter started school, I had time on my hands and could no longer pretend that writing was merely a hobby.  So, one cold January day I sat down at the computer…

How did you find the stamina and motivation to complete your book? What kept you going?

I was excited to have a new project to focus on, and I felt I was being carried along.  Pictures flashed through my head and I wanted to describe them.  Being “in the zone”, away from preoccupations about timetables and meals, felt liberating, though I had to find space for the writing and editing.  I would sometimes write through the night. Apart from the relief of getting stuff out of my system, I grew increasingly determined to persist because I wanted people to get to know the real me, and because I felt I had so much to prove.  

You're based in the UK but had your book accepted by a publisher in New York. What was this experience like? Do you think writers should cast their nets as far as possible?

Finding an agent was my first lucky break.  Isabel is based in the UK, but is currently working in the USA, and has a lot of contact with the US market.  By then, I was so used to sending off query letters that I sent an enquiry on a Saturday evening and forgot about it.  Isabel contacted me the following Thursday, asking to see more material, and within the week she had offered to represent me and we had signed contracts. My agent pitched my work to the US publishers, because she felt they would be a good fit for my book.  I am very lucky that they are as passionate about the book as she is; and they have always been incredibly helpful and supportive.   

Finding an agent or a publisher is often about finding the right agent at the right time, who can see an opening for a particular manuscript, so yes, I would suggest fellow new writers to cast their nets wide when making submissions.

What was the editing process like once the book had been accepted for publication?

When I sent the MS to my agent, it had already been re-written, edited and polished so often that it was as good as I think I could have made it at the time. When my commissioning editor sent back the first revised draft, I was dreading opening the file, in case she had made a lot of changes.  But there were hardly any, which was very flattering.  The only changes worth mentioning here, were the idioms. It is amazing how often we use idioms which will not survive the cultural shift.

I always made a point of dealing with edits as soon as I could, because it quickly became obvious that my commissioning editor had a lot to do, and I could best help her by not sitting on anything too long.

You recorded an audio book of your memoir – what was that experience like?

Narrating the audio book was a very tough experience, though, if I was asked to do it again, I would agree.  We can write about all sorts of indignities, yet the silence of the written word makes these easier to endure. As an amateur, with little experience of public speaking, having to articulate sorrow and anger and speak that into a microphone takes endurance to a whole new level.  And, of course, in a business setting, there are only so many times that we can halt the recording in order to deal with emotions that leap up out of no-where and sabotage the fluency of the reading.  I learned to wear lots of layers of quiet wool, to stop my teeth chattering with all the adrenalin. The engineer was truly lovely, and gave me lots of time to wait, to pause and breathe, before continuing.  That way, we could minimise interruptions.  After it was all finished, recovery took a couple of weeks.

What did you find the hardest about the road to publication?

Keeping the hope alive that one day, when the time was right, someone might understand what I was trying to convey, and that publication might result.  Publication is a miracle, one I give thanks for every day.

And the most satisfying?

Truly? The most satisfying – and humbling – aspect of being published is the realisation that, as a team, my family, my friends, my agent, my editors and my publishers, had faith in my manuscript and helped coax it into being. 

Top marketing tips?

Be flexible.  When someone who knows more than you about marketing comes along, listen to their advice and be prepared to learn from it.  Start a blog, network, and do not be afraid to experiment.  I am no techie, but I have learned that indispensable advice and friendships can be found through on-line networks. Especially as writing is essentially a solitary occupation.

What’s been the most gratifying response to your memoir?

Well, I am fortunate because so many people have made such lovely comments. For me, the best realisation has been that people who have known me, and might have had reason to object to my attitudes and revelations in the book, have been entirely supportive and generous. I have frequently been reduced to tears by the realisation that, instead of a cold shoulder or a note of disappointment, I have been encouraged, understood and loved.  More than anything, this makes me grateful for having had the courage to write about my life.

What do you know now that you wish you had known before launching your book / beginning the writing process?  

Perhaps it is best that I did not know how long it would take to get going, and how hard it would be to stay focussed.  Or how lonely it can be when you are working.  I see writing, publication and promotion as an ongoing learning process, a daily challenge.  Perhaps I wish I had known how kind people are, and how much understanding was waiting for me to reconnect with it.

How long was the process for you, from beginning the first draft to publication?

From January 2010 to March 2014. Before that, I had written another book, which undoubtedly helped with the second, so maybe the full process stretched over a period from June 2007 to March 2014.

Can you tell us anything about your upcoming projects?

I blog, I promote, I am often on-line. I have some shorter pieces of fiction in the pipeline as well as articles, and there is my second book, currently on option to Skyhorse Publishers. Perhaps one of my pieces of fiction will grow and become a book.  Currently I am reading and reviewing quite a lot, too. 

How did you deal with some of the sensitive issues around writing a memoir?

Of course, there were sensitive issues to consider. By sticking quite closely to the story of my own life, I tried to ensure that no-one would feel hurt by what I have written.  There are other stories, but I was always very clear - especially after your first edit, Claire - that other people’s stories were private. And so I tried to write everything from my own perspective, even when my take on the facts may not have been accurate.  I have also been as honest as I could bear to be about my own part in our family’s tribulations.  If anyone thinks I have given them a hard time, I hope that, at least when they have finished reading, they realise I have given myself an equally hard time. 

Any tips on managing a good work / life balance when you are a writer?

I am beginning to notice that refreshment is vital for fresh writing, and that we all need relaxation and peace to recharge our creative batteries. If we do our best five days a week, that is often enough. And getting to bed before midnight.


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You can find 'Trapped' or keep up with Fran's news on her website

I wanted people to get to know the real me
It is amazing how often we use idioms which will not survive the cultural shift
We can write about all sorts of indignities, yet the silence of the written word makes these easier to endure
I have been as honest as I could bear to be about my own part in our family’s tribulations