In the eyes of many aspiring writers, Caroline Healy is living the dream. Her debut novel Blood Entwines, about a girl who needs a blood transfusion and gets more than she bargained for from the donor, was published with Bloomsbury Spark at the beginning of this month. But debut novels don’t just drop out of the sky. Writing is “a challenging, frustrating, rewarding experience,” said Healey.
“Sure, I’ll have a go, I’ve always wanted to write a novel,” said Healey about writing. It began with a simple idea. Healy heard a story about a vegetarian who received a heart transplant and woke up craving steak. What would it be like to get a blood transfusion and take on characteristics of someone else? “Kara came into my mind. When I began to write the book, I had one complete character: Kara.”
With no plans on publication, Healy sat down at her desk and wrote and wrote until she produced 250 pages full of words.
“I didn’t have a clue what I was doing,” said Healey. “It was a total train wreck… but I got my 250 pages down.”
Then began the grueling editing process. Healy went back to college, took writing classes, wrote several things unrelated to her novel and even won a few prizes before returning to what would eventually become Blood Entwines. When she did go back to the manuscript, she started fresh, cutting all but fifty pages of the original.
In rewrites, the truth of the book began to emerge. While Healy knew protagonist Kara well, she couldn’t wrap her head around Kara’s stalker, who she knew was an important piece of the story. Then Hannah and Ben, no more than two plot points in draft one, turned into fully fledged characters in their own right.
Ultimately, Healy settled on five major characters whose perspectives the reader gets to experience.
“Five characters are a lot to deal with in terms of writing, but they are all so different. I loved writing them into a room or scene together and seeing what would happen.”
Readers who love her characters as much as she does should beware. Healy knows the rule of writers: kill your darlings.
“I don’t necessarily mean to give them all happy endings. I mean to be true to the story they all need to tell. That’s the challenge and the joy in writing,” said Healy.
After rounds of vigorous edits, Healy submitted her novel for publication, just “to see what that aspect of the process was like.” With her book out of her hands, she went on to write something else. “I didn’t think for a moment that anyone would be interested,” she confessed – which made her call from Bloomsbury all the more exciting.
“I snorted some tea dribble down my nose, I was in such shock,” admitted Healy. “This has been my baby for four years!”
Of course, the big yes from a publishing house is not the end of the story.
“The publication process takes a bit of time,” Healy explains. “There were emails between the editor and me about tweaking the text, and then a copy edit.”
After edits came the cover.
“We toyed with many different designs,” said Healy. “We wanted to convey the idea of a link between the donor and the main character.”
But the journey to publication has not been all edits and writing.
“I have really enjoyed meeting – virtually – all my fellow Sparkies,” Healy says, referring affectionately to the group of authors published by Bloomsbury Spark. The Sparkies represent every genre from contemporary to fantasy and offer a wide range of experience and personality. “It’s a great support being able to chat to other authors, to run ideas as well as ask advice.”
Writing one book does not make anyone an expert, but she’s learning through experience. “There is much more to the process than sitting down to write… all of which I am learning as I go along.”