My oldest friend remembers me telling stories when I was five years old, but I didn’t decide to be a writer until I was ten. That was when I discovered not all authors were dead. My life took detours, as life will.
In my twenties, I despaired of ever being a real writer, because I was too tired at the end of a boring work day to write at all. Instead, I put boredom to good use and became a chartered accountant. As my own boss, I had a small consulting practise and wrote part-time in a garret, albeit a dry and relatively warm one. During that time, I signed up twice in a private (but written) contract with myself to see what I could accomplish in the next few years in return for a lot of penny pinching to buy myself time.
Alone in my garret, I had no idea that there was anything like a literary scout. So I was shocked to find out that the manuscript of my first novel, The River Midnight, had been leaked to German scouts, excited by the concept: a shtetl story with sex and secrets, women centre stage. As a result of the buzz (which I thought had something to do with bees), The River Midnight was a prize-winning, national best-seller. It sold across North America, the UK and Europe in a matter of weeks, just in time for my wedding, thus enabling the purchase of her garret and the house around it.
Having learned the secret of success, I knew that writing my next book would be easy, fast and make piles of money, and that as a new mom of two perfect children, I would spin stories, change diapers, and in my spare time learn to speak Chinese. I did change diapers, many of them, I learned one phrase in Chinese, and took to my bed with the flu for a month while deciding whether I ought to give up writing altogether. Instead I got up and slowly wrote The Singing Fire, in which east meets west, and mothers cope in old London. It garnered much critical acclaim and the assurance that I had avoided the second novel curse: “Toronto’s Lilian Nattel proves her debut was no fluke” (Nancy Wigston).
Now that my kids were toilet trained, life was obviously too undemanding, so I decided to embark in a new direction and write my most challenging book yet, a contemporary novel about a woman with DID (dissociative identity disorder) who is agent, not victim. As a true optimist and slow learner, I again expected it to be fast and easy. The writing gods had a good laugh. Eight years and ten drafts later, Web of Angels was done. It was an important book—even Walmart featured it!—and I was privileged with the writing of it.
All this time, I had had an idea in reserve. The fact that she would have to do research in Russian and I doesn’t speak Russian had kept it on the back burner until Google Translate had evolved to the point it was usable…if you consider weird robot-English usable. With a team of human translators as backup, I scoured the Internet for information on my namesake, the famous yet elusive Lily Litvyak, the young ace fighter pilot of WW2. With research taken care of, it was time for imagination to take over. By now, my children had left diapers far behind. They were the same age as my heroine, and though, thankfully, they didn’t face the horrors of war, they had a personal devastation to face—the illness and death of a beloved auntie, another sort of hero. She got to read the first draft. And it’s to her this book is dedicated, GIRL AT THE EDGE OF SKY.
(And there’s a new book on the way–a contemporary novel set in my own neighbourhood!)