This Is How It Starts - The Story of a Book Deal


I’m currently reading This Is How It Ends by Kathleen MacMahon and I’m engrossed. Fantastic characters, immersive plot, strong writing – a real treat. It’s the kind of book that once you start, you just can’t put down and I’m already looking forward to getting back to Addie and Brunos’ tale this evening. It’s set in Dublin and is a love story with a difference. The main characters are thirty-eight and fifty and have the battle scars to prove it. It reminds me in a way of The Bridges of Madison County, another love story with a seam of melancholy running through it. I re-watched the film recently and I was struck by the simplicity and timelessness of the story. This Is How It Ends is very much set at a particular time (just before Obama was elected), but MacMahon's writing has the same classic feel to it.

Over the weekend I read an interview with the writer, a journalist in RTE. In the interview (an excellent piece by Róisín Ingle of the Irish Times) she explained that it wasn’t her first book. She has been writing for eight years now, and had wanted to write a book since she was ten. As Mary Lavin’s granddaughter (the Irish short story writer), she felt the legacy held her back. “I spent a lot of time thinking about writing,” she says in the Irish Times, “but I had to find my own voice. I think if I were doing it ten years ago I might have been trying to impress others. In my family people wouldn’t just be delighted that you had written a book: they would be saying, ‘But is it any good?’ ”

But eventually she decided to put her misgivings and doubts aside. She wrote a novel, The Sixth Victim which landed her an agent, Marianne Gunn O’Connor (via Cormac Kinsella, a well connected literary publicist who recommended her to MacMahon). Gunn O'Connor is highly respected and also represents Cecelia Ahern and many other internationally successful writers. The book was never published although it came close.

MacMahon says in the Irish Times “At the time, Marianne was very disappointed and I was very relieved. Because I thought, Oh no, I am going to have to tell people I am writing now. I was looking around the newsroom in terror. It felt like I was going to have to stand up and take off all my clothes.”

But MacMahon tried again. She wrote a second book and once again sent it to her agent. This time things were a little different. Little, Brown paid £600,000 for a two book deal at last year’s London Book Fair (the deal of the Fair) and the rest is history.

There’s a lesson here for all writers. You get knocked back and you get back up again. You get rejected and you fight back with something even stronger. You try again (multiply by however many times it takes) and you get published. It does happen. Kathleen MacMahon is living proof. Her first book was rejected so she wrote a better book, it’s as simple as that. Her ‘better book’ happens to be an exceptional piece of work and now she has a glowing career ahead of her as a writer.

As Samuel Beckett once said: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX