Listed is a new series where we give a platform to local voices who have a story to tell, and we're delighted to share an insight into the life of local author, Jenny O'Brien.
Juggling her successful writing career with shifts as a nurse on a busy ward at the hospital and raising her three children, local author Jenny O'Brien truly is an inspiration. Twelve books, three genre shifts and many rejection letters later, Jenny now has a six book deal with Harper Collins for her crime thriller series. We asked her to tell her story of work-life balance and achieving her wildest dreams for our new Listed series.
Here is what she told us.
Firstly, thank you for inviting me to be Listed. Some of you will know that I’m a nurse as well as a writer, neither of which I planned but, if you’re going to have two careers, then I suppose it helps that they’re completely different. It stops boredom from creeping in and, yes, I now view my writing as a career - in the beginning it was only messing about with words.
My journey from scribbler to becoming a traditionally published author has been a long one. When I started out, my three children were under five. In fact, it’s a miracle I managed to write anything more complex than a shopping list, let alone a book. My eldest is now at university, which tells you how long ago it was.
Back in the beginning, when the first character exploded in my mind, it took me months to find the courage to put pen to paper. I hadn’t written anything creative since school and I didn’t have a minute to myself, let alone the opportunity to write. Lack of confidence was also a huge issue. Who was I to think I had a book in me, anyway? The only thing I had going for me was a love of reading and a determination to spend a few minutes of my day doing something that didn’t involve either nursing or childcare. My way of reclaiming a tiny part of my identity.
I spent the evenings catching up with housework and, during the day, I was working as a nurse on a busy ward at the hospital, a job I still hold. I took to carrying a small notebook in my scrub pocket and scribbled down some words during my coffee breaks. Within six weeks, I had a very poor first draft of a book.
I didn’t tell anyone apart from my husband. It took years and a few minor successes to share my secret, the fear of failure and ridicule an ever present chip on my shoulder. Twelve books, three genre shifts and many rejection letters later, HQ Digital, an imprint of Harper Collins, offered me a three-book deal for my crime thriller set in Wales. Another three-book deal followed. Book five in the series, Buried Lies, will appear as an eBook this month (November 2021) and in paperback in January 2022. Book six comes out in May 2022. I’m currently working on my seventh police procedural and have plans for a standalone psychological thriller. I also now have a literary agent, which is something I’m trying to push to the back of my mind. It all seems very grown up and, almost, as if I’m a proper writer. Despite everything that chip lingers. I don’t think it will ever disappear.
Funnily enough time is still an issue with my writing but now it’s more that there’s usually something better I can think to do than staring at my laptop. Cleaning the oven. Ironing. Even worming the cats: procrastination is a writer’s constant buddy. Despite deadlines, I also have to be in the mood to pick up my work-in-progress. Yes, with a publishing contract, there are now many deadlines. Four layers of editing for each book and a completed manuscript that has to ping into my editor’s in-box by a specific date. There’s nothing quite like a deadline to make me want to ditch my desk in favour of something exciting.
Like most authors, I try to write every day. I usually aim for two-thousand words, but some days I don’t manage even a tenth of that. But if my nurse training has taught me one thing, it’s discipline. The odd two-hundred words here and there quickly mounts up. It also keeps the momentum as well as the story moving forward to its ultimate conclusion. It’s far from rocket science. One word after the other until my two favourite words of all. The End.
Once you’re over that initial hurdle of a blank page, the story takes over.
So, follow your dream. You never know how far it might take you.
Born in Dublin, Jenny O’Brien moved to Wales and then Guernsey, where she tries to find time to both read and write in between working as a nurse and ferrying around three teenagers.
In her spare time she can be found frowning at her wonky cakes and even wonkier breads. You'll be pleased to note she won't be entering Bake Off anytime soon. LIke so many islanders nowadays, she's also a year-round sea swimmer.
Image: Harper Collins