Like many books, Forty One began in solitude, a short burst of creativity that grew into a bigger project. But without outside opinion, cooperation and camaraderie, I would not have lasted the six years it took to complete the work. Family members, friends and colleagues, and sometimes complete strangers, seemed happy to give their time, advice and sympathy, which eased the journey of writing and editing. Later I found that this help was indispensible: others seemed to know better than I did when to turn a blind eye to perceptions of fault or errors to be dealt with later and when mistakes needed immediate correction.
I’d like to thank those who helped in the order of how the book came to be, so my earliest readers first: Sonia Franco and May Chien Busch, who, in casting their lovely eyes on something more stream-of-consciousness than novel, weren’t overly critical. Their comments propelled me to improve the story rather than to shelve it and give up. Next the Writer’s Workshop, run by Harry Bingham, introduced me to a wider world of writers, agents and publishers, setting me on the course for eventual publication. Workshop novelists-turned-editors Emma Darwin and Debi Alper provided constructive, encouraging feedback at a dangerous time, the middle of the process, when rejections and re-writing seemed a never-ending, perilous traverse. Joanna Moult’s editing services gave another real positive push.
Coming across Richard Beard and the National Academy of Writing at the Free Word Centre in London was a game changing event. Just as rejections and self-doubt threatened to overwhelm, Richard’s intense but uplifting writing course tested resolve and commitment to perfection, as well as my ideas and style. Without Richard and fellow-writers Eamon Somers, Sally Hodgkinson, Sue Blundell, Laura Ashton and Mike Aylwin, the book wouldn’t have progressed to a publishable version. They merit the highest praise for their good humour and persistence. Mike in particular deserves some kind of superhuman award for picking apart existential crises at Waterloo.
Next I’d like to thank The Literary Consultancy and the wonderful editor Alan Mahar, who helped me critically rethink the pacing at the end of the story, asking all the tough and right questions. The last rewrite made the book what it is. Thanks also go to volunteer readers who reviewed part or all of Forty One in its final stages: Sarah Maynard, Fiona Hinton and Jane Ince. Clive Ince and Arnon Woolfson steered me away from copyright trouble, for which I am deeply grateful.
Close friends Adrianna Oleksiyenko-Stech and Victoria Pillay provided native-fluent language assistance in Polish and French, respectively, while Laurent Lhermitte good-naturedly put up with all sorts of queries and visits, as did Andrij and Nadia Kreciproch.
It was an absolute joy to work with Steve Varman, photographer and designer of my book cover and web site, as well as a moment of enlightenment to feel part of a creative team. I am also indebted to my excellent proofreader Helen Baggott, and at Matador, Rosie Grindod, Alice Graham, Naomi Green and others, who helped me through the process of publishing, printing, distribution and marketing. The team at Matador not only turned Forty One into a physical reality and flawless e-book but launched me into the world of internet and bookshop sales. The Alliance of Independent Authors and the Facebook Women Writers, Women’s Books group kept my spirits up as I waded through the swift-running waters of self-publishing.
No amount of thank-yous can really repay family and friends who put up with the strains of a writer’s life. But I would like to mention especially Rowena Poulter, who for me pioneered the way to balance home life and a creative career and remain sane, or at least smiling most of the time. At the finish line, the women of Wey-fit boot camp never failed to cheer, reminding me that writing a book was an accomplishment in itself, whatever happens next.
Most of all, for sheer staying power and help in editing, I want to thank Christopher Jackson. Christopher readily agreed to read and comment on Forty One, not realising until too late that he’d embarked on a very long trip. Perhaps he thought (and I too) that it would take a few days. But weeks and months later, Christopher was still determinedly on the case. A year on, without complaint, Christopher continued to comment and query, antagonise and dismiss, cheer and support, answer hopeless emails and unfailingly stand by me as a writer and Forty One as a work worth all that effort. He understood and believed in what I was trying to achieve. So more than any beta-reader I might have found and certainly beyond the call of duty of any friend, Christopher deserves a lifetime of credit and gratitude.
Finally I want to thank the person who made it possible from beginning to end: my husband Mike Scholey. Without his unwavering belief and financial support, there would not have been the time, energy or resources necessary to create Forty One. He literally provided what Virginian Woolf advised so long ago: ‘money and a room of one’s own.’ He also responded with reasoned calm whether I was in the depths of doubt and despair or the peaks of euphoria. He always came out positive, and for that, I am eternally grateful.