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Vanessa Johnson

Perseverance has paid off for Vanessa Johnson 
and now she can finally call herself a real writer, MiNDFOOD reports.

Vanessa Johnson

The day I found out that my novel Lush 
was going to 
be published, 
I cried. I wasn’t crying because I was sad – my reaction was fuelled by 
a cocktail of emotions: one part victory, one part relief and a generous dollop of joy.

On February 2, 2009, I received the phone call I’d been waiting for – and dreading – because I’d decided that if the publisher said no this time, I’d have to pack it in. I’d have to accept that Lush would never be sold in a bookshop and move on. Only this time the news was good – the publisher said yes!

The feeling was overwhelming. It was as though I’d climbed a tall mountain or finished a long race. Getting published was the sweetest success I’d ever tasted and the reason for that, I know, is because I’d never worked harder to achieve 
a goal in my life.

Deciding to try to become a contemporary female fiction writer in the field of chick lit seemed like a good idea in 1996, and this was the first time I seriously entertained the idea of writing a novel. The genre was just emerging and it seemed as though those writing it could speak directly to me. They knew about the things that interested women of my generation and they made me laugh. Although I have a degree in English literature and think the world of Thomas Hardy’s novels, curling up with a book had renewed appeal. Suddenly 
I couldn’t get into my PJ’s 
fast enough.

My first attempt at writing a book was the story of a woman who loses weight and then loses her man. It was a bit ‘out there’, but I’m proud to say it got noticed by one Australian publisher who asked me to revise it.

This was my first introduction to rewriting. 
The rewrite never really finished, principally because starting it led to a phase of deep procrastination and fridge raiding that I found impossible to overcome.

It took me about eight years to decide to try again. The idea for Lush, my second novel, came from the years my husband Chris and I lived in London. Chris ran a software company and I worked mostly in corporate communications. We found an amazing flat in bustling Notting Hill Gate and made friends with the locals. It was home and, to me, it rocked, 
so when I was thinking about where to set Lush, I chose the places in London that I knew and loved the best.

I wrote Lush after we’d returned home to live in New Zealand. Even though I was perched in front of my PC 
in Auckland, my imagination travelled back to London where I let it misbehave terribly, visiting all our old haunts so I could dream up my characters and their antics. Although the people 
in my book are invented, I’d seen my colleagues immersed in the same lifestyle and had even dabbled in it myself.

Lush is the story of Lydia, a thirty-something party girl who gets a wake-up call when her boyfriend suddenly leaves her. Lydia has a problem that she can’t accept but when she’s forced to finally put down her wineglass, she discovers that romance can survive without champagne.By the time I got a positive response from Penguin New Zealand, the third publisher I’d submitted Lush to, I’d had 
a while to ponder the whole 
getting-published malarkey and managed to gain an 
insight or two.

I learned that writing 
a book is a bit like becoming 
a parent. You create a perfect offspring made entirely by you, and when it finally arrives (or finds a publisher, in the case of a book) you experience the purest delight. In the same way having a baby makes you a parent, a publisher taking you on makes you a writer.

You can submit as many manuscripts as you like but 
if all you get are rejections, 
it feels like you’re locked outside the impenetrable gates that held back King Kong. But I had to preserve my self-belief. I had to believe Lush would find a home even when there was no evidence to suggest it would. 

Rather oddly, once my book did get accepted it was a bit of an anti-climax. Unlike parenthood where everyone tells you your baby is gorgeous regardless of whether it is or not, suddenly I learned that my manuscript had innumerable deficiencies and all of them needed to be addressed before it had any hope of becoming a book.

And so, the rewriting began … again. This time 
I rose above procrastination and, powered by Tim Tams, I sank into the task until eventually Lush was finished. The proofs stopped arriving and the chance to make any more changes passed by. It was finally done.

Looking back, the journey has been remarkable. I’ve learned a lot and made plenty of mistakes I’ve vowed never to repeat. And in January, Lush will be released and go on sale. I can’t wait to press my nose up against the glass and see it in a real bookshop. Then I’ll be able to say without any doubts at all 
that I am a writer.  

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