Another customer walks into the video shop, looks at what’s playing on the shop TV and rolls his eyes.
“Every time I come in here, that tornado film is on,” he complains as I shrug with indifference and go back to stretching my chewing gum out and sucking it back in while I recite Bill Paxton’s lines along with him. Then later that afternoon, my boss arrives in and I get the same objection from him.
My fascination with extreme weather began long before Jan de Bont’s dramatic Hollywood-ification of a group of storm chasers, or indeed my first job as ‘video shop attendant’ (the fancy name for ‘works in video shop when not in college.’) I inhaled books and documentaries about tornadoes, hurricanes and storms. So rare are severe storms on this island of Ireland, so soothed is its climate by the Atlantic influence, that these phenomena are wondrous to me.
So, after writing my first novel (unpublished), a romantic story about finding your first love again and how it’s not what you thought it would be, I felt broody again. It’s the same as when you have your first baby, you adore them, stare at them all day etc, then one day, you realise that you want to do it all over again, give yourself over to another human being… or in this case, novel.
I tried to force some ideas, which after twenty thousand words or so, realised wasn’t working. So I decided to sit back, stop trying so hard and let inspiration come to me. And it did. While on a child free weekend away in beautiful West Cork, I was watching a storm roll in off the Atlantic. Like the nerd I am, I had my phone in front of me with the rainfall radar and the laptop with the sferic (lightning) detector on it. And like a bolt of lightning itself (groan), inspiration struck. I was going to write about storm chasers. When I announced this to my husband, he suggested that the main character should have a hook, a flaw if you will, something that made him stand out in the crowd of storm chasers. That’s when I came up with the character of Jonah. I wanted him to be broken, vulnerable but fighting against that vulnerability.
Sam is the main character and she too is broken. Being in her early thirties and having been widowed, she’s a little lost where her life and career are concerned. She realises that she and Jonah are more kindred than she’d thought: not only similar in their pasts, but also in their dependence on the pursuit of tornadoes. I wanted to form a kind of relationship between these two people, who are thrown together into a situation where they spend their time trapped in a truck, that reflects the tempestuousness of the storms they chase.
As soon as we got home from Cork, I started to write. And boy, did I write. After six weeks, I had seventy five thousand words written, was almost on the verge of divorce, and had forgotten the names of my children and pets. Anyone who has written a novel will tell you that you can’t write one in six weeks. And they’re right. You can’t. My first draft was awkward, disjointed and riddled with typos. But the story was there, the characters were developing. I took the monumental decision to send it to a professional editor. Think of it as finding a stranger on the internet, then giving them your first born child to look after for several weeks and then at the end, have them tell you that they were ugly and naughty. Ah no, that’s not entirely true. It wasn’t that bad. It just took a couple of storyline and character development tweaks as well as a LOT of typo corrections and we were on the right track.
The editing was arduous, the formatting was worse than giving birth and the stress and insomnia almost saw to the end of me, but thanks to the odd glass of Pinot Grigio, my wonderful husband (who did most of the formatting, but if anyone asks, it was me) and very tolerant children, I got through it. The day I received the cover from the graphic designer, I felt a flutter of first love in my stomach. The day I received the first proof from Createspace, I squealed, giggled and hugged it so hard, I almost turned it into a diamond. I brought it in the car with me, slept with it, gazed adoringly at it, stroked it. By the third proof, which I found several typos in, I wanted to burn it but that’s all behind me now.
And so, Eye of the Storm is now finished. I’m sad that in a way, my life is moving on: like my baby is gone off to college to find its own way in the world, so too is my book. I reminisce on how I fell in love with Jonah as I was writing about him, how I wished Sam was a real person who was with me in real life so I could help her through her difficulties. I remember how I would be shopping or driving and see something and think, “Jonah would love that,” or “Sam would probably like those shoes.” They became part of my family for the better part of a year and now I’ve to let them go. Will I write a sequel? Who knows? I’ve toyed with the idea, even written the beginnings of one. I have another book I want to put through the publishing process too so that will take some attention. But for now, I must stand on the pier, sniffle and wave with my tear sodden tissue as my baby sets sail into the world.
Click here to view Eye of the Storm.