Well, at least I meant to, this time around.
If you’ve read the blog post I wrote about the evolution of The Silent Chapter, my debut novel, you will remember that it was never meant to exist. It started off as a short story, and just sort of grew and grew! At least, with The Summer We’ve Had, it was intended to be a novel, right?
It’s my lockdown baby. Just like Olivia Bratherton Wilson with her wonderful historical lesfic ‘The Lives We Left Behind’ (which I highly recommend), I started writing TSWH properly aged sixteen in the Spring 2020 lockdown. Unlike Ms Bratherton Wilson, it took me a long, long time to finish it and get it published. I don’t recall when I actually finished it – only that I wrote one of the (at the time) last scenes before writing much else, because I was so excited to write it. But once I had a first draft, I… kind of abandoned it.
It happens. It happened with The Silent Chapter, my debut novel (a straight historical fiction). I think that was around the time I was finishing my A-Levels, in early 2021, and I was starting to look into getting represented by an agent. That took up most of summer 2021, and then in the autumn I decided to self-publish, leading to The Silent Chapter being published in February 2022. I pressed ahead with promotion, but eventually, a little voice started piping up… ‘uh, Katherine... what about The Summer We’ve Had?’
The Summer We’ve Had was originally set on a remote, sparsely populated Croatian island. Cass was a celebrity singer-songwriter on the run from her rabid fans after announcing her retirement, and so she moved in with her best friend’s aunt (Mabel) on the island of Leptiri. There, she became friends with the local childminder, Maria, with whom she was friends at school, and who was now on the island with her ten-year-old daughter, who was selectively mute, and who Cass supported in her work as a teaching assistant. That friendship soon turned into love, and then it was revealed that Maria had Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Yeah. That got really complicated, really fast. I sent a synopsis to Mary Torjussen, psychological suspense author, and she advised me that it was way too complicated, and that I needed to simplify it a whole lot. So that was when I scrapped it, scraped it down to its bare bones, and restarted with what eventually became The Summer We’ve Had. I made Cass and Maria (who later became Felicia) housemates. Cass had moved in with Felicia and her mother Mabel, and thus had very quickly found out about the Dissociative Identity Disorder system. But something still felt off. And I abandoned it... again.
By late spring 2022, I was quickly finding that I was much more comfortable in the lesbian fiction community than anywhere else, despite The Silent Chapter being my (at the time) only published book. A trip to the South Coast Sapphic Hangout (SCSHO) in Crawley in May cemented that. I felt a bit stupid, trying to promote my straight historical fiction to a group of WLW readers. I vowed that for the 2023 event, I would be there with my own lesfic.
So I got home, then went through and rewrote most of the book, yet again. This time, I moved Cass next door, so that the relationships between Cass and the alters would have more room to breathe and develop naturally. I then took to Twitter in my search for five beta readers. If you’re not familiar with the concept of beta readers, they are essentially fabulous human beings who read a draft of a book and suggest amendments, concerning anything from typos to plot holes.
My beta readers (Marianne Ratcliffe, Chloe Keto, Conny Borner and Gail Wendzicha) gave me some very valuable advice. And suggested… well, pretty much another rewrite. What they said made absolute sense to me, so for July I set myself the task of rewriting TSWH, yet again.
It didn’t happen in July. I can’t remember if I even started it. Indeed, it took several more months, a second beta read from Chloe Keto and a sensitivity reading from clinical psychologists Dr. Lisa Nolan and Ms. Anna Perrin before it was eventually finished in October. At the last minute, I also changed a rather important name. Felicia was originally Maria, but I decided that Maria, Mabel, Megan and Martine might get a bit confusing. It took forever to find her a new name, just as it took forever for me to find a name for Eulalia Gray, who was 'XYZ' for a long time in the manuscript. Even now, she's still Maria in my (and I think Chloe's!) head. Then it was a case of formatting, finalising the cover (which I’m pretty proud of, and which went through several design changes) and uploading the manuscript.
I had a lot of fun whipping up the excitement online – although, in hindsight, I wish I’d focused on Instagram a bit more. I’m making a conscious effort to pay it more attention – I can be found on there @katherineblakemanwriter, if you want to come say hi! I played all sorts of wacky games with my Twitter followers (including one based on the Google Translate songs on YouTube, where I put a snippet of my book through twenty-three languages on Google Translate, thus making it pretty much unrecognisable).
On January 14th, it was finally out. I spent most of the day with a severe case of the jitters, although I was saved by my workplace calling me in for a last-minute shift!! I belaboured my social media pages with promotional materials and general screams about my book, and tried not to obsessively check my KDP dashboard. I contacted as many book-, psychology- and LGBTQ-related publications as I could to tell them about my new book, and received no positive replies whatsoever. (Such is life as a self-published author. I wrote about it a while back.)
And then…. I waited for the feedback.
I didn’t have to wait long. I had already had great feedback from Briony Molly Media a few weeks before release – she wrote ‘'The Summer We’ve Had is the first book I’ve read that tackles mental health and romance in a constructive realistic way without making things toxic. It is refreshing, well-written and a joy to read.' Which made me ridiculously happy, because it was exactly what I was hoping for! And subsequent reviews have been equally glowing. I am supremely grateful to everyone who’s reviewed The Summer We’ve Had, or talked about it on social media, or (in the case of Debbie on Goodreads) forced their partner to read it too!
So that’s the story. That’s how I, the author of uber-straight historical fiction, became the author of a far-reaching modern lesbian fiction talking about Dissociative Identity Disorder. It’s hard to believe it’s already been two weeks since it came out into the world, but they’ve been a mind-blowing two weeks! And I can’t wait for so many more!!
The Summer We've Had is available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited now!