Therese Walsh is the author of The Last Will of Moira Leahy, which is already racking up the raves. Says Booklist, “Walsh’s debut is a magical, involving journey, one that mixes a compelling mystery from the past with a suspenseful search in the present.” Therese offered to do a guest blog, and her "I had to write it" is, I think, in the soul of every writer I know.
The Story Behind the Story of The Last Will of Moira Leahy
I had to write it.
If I were going to write a memoir of my time with my debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, that is how it would begin. All first lines should do a job, and if that one is working properly you are now wondering, “Why did you have to write it?”
Let me tell you.
I began writing this story in 2002 as almost a writing exercise. I’d been writing children’s picture book manuscripts, but I’d become increasingly enamored of longer words and meatier stories. I decided to give myself a bigger canvas: adult fiction. I thought, at first, that I would write a romance, a traditional love story, but as I wrote my story veered off into unromantic territory.
Originally, the main character, Maeve Leahy, did not have a twin. But one day, Moira was just there, explaining her sister’s behaviors and trauma. And there was a Javanese keris involved in the story, demanding its fair share of attention.
You can see the problem, I’m sure: When I submitted the book, it was rejected by agents—not for lack of voice or unique content, but because it was too much of a square peg. It was structured like a romance, but the breadth of the novel didn’t fit the genre. One agent suggested I should be writing women’s fiction. Deep down, I realized that agent was right. What was I going to do? Begin a new book? Quit entirely?
The timeline is a little fuzzy, but 2004 was a big year for mulling over my options. I did a lot of thinking, a lot of reading in the genre of women’s fiction, and a lot of craft work. All the while, my rejected project writhed in the “unfinished business” category of my mind. There was no use fighting it.
I had to write it.
I salvaged one critical scene from the old draft and started over again in 2005. Then I scrapped everything again in 2006 and started over for a third time. Maybe I would’ve quit but my characters refused to leave me alone. You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, that disquiet you feel when you know something needs to be done and it’s important and you’re messing up? That’s how I felt whenever I wasn’t working on this project. When I was at least actively thinking about it, the anxiety eased. And so, little by little, I worked through the last draft.
In 2008, I finished polishing the women’s fiction version of The Last Will of Moira Leahy and found an agent, Elisabeth Weed. Shortly thereafter, she sold the book to Shaye Areheart, an imprint of Random House, in a two-book deal.
How do I feel about my second book, my work in progress?
I have to write it.