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Rachel’s writing dream comes true

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A bucket-list thing: Rachel Sawden has published a novel, Runaways, based on her experiences travelling around the world (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

It was the trip of a lifetime for Rachel Sawden. At 24, she took money she had earned working as a personal assistant and spent eight months travelling the world.

“I rode camels in the Thar Desert in northern India, I went scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia and I explored the temples of Angkor in Cambodia,” she said.

Returning home in August 2010 was a downer.

“I was definitely sad I wasn’t travelling any more. I’d had so much fun.”

Three months later she awoke with a totally different adventure in mind, she wanted to write a book.

“It was something I’d wanted to do since I was little,” said Ms Sawden, now 32. “It was a kind of bucket-list thing.”

It was the slow season at the dive shop where she worked, so she was able to dedicate herself to the project.

“At first, I wrote about my travels, but my friends and family were already tired of hearing about them,” she said. “No great conflict happened on that journey to make a good story. So I decided to write fiction.”

She bought every book about writing she could find: Writing Fiction for Dummies, How Not to Write A Novel ...

“I read them and highlighted them,” she said. “Then I condensed all the books into notes.”

When she finally got down to business, she found writing fun, but hard to stick to over the long haul.

“At the beginning, I was all gung-ho, but as I started writing, doubt set in,” she said. “Then I was procrastinating, and finding excuses to not do it. Sticking with it takes a lot of discipline.”

It took her four years to complete the first draft of her novel.

Runaways is about Harper Rodrigues, a woman who loses her job, boyfriend and apartment in one day. On a whim, she books a trip around the world with her girlfriends.

“She decides to chase her dream of becoming a travel photographer,” Ms Sawden said. “That was a dream she abandoned years ago.

“It is very much about those awkward years of post university and trying to figure out who you are and what you want to do. You have the safe route or the dream route. She opts for the former and then decides to go for the latter.”

Runaways was heavily inspired by her own travels.

“It was fun to revisit the places I’d been, in my mind. It also allowed me to have fun experiences in my imagination that hadn’t happened in real life.”

Finding a publisher was a lot more difficult.

She started trying in 2014, after she finished her first draft. It was a difficult time for her.

She’d moved on from the dive shop to being the weather anchor at VSB, but the television station was closing.

“I really had to think about what made me happy,” she said. “I liked writing and media production. Then I had a friend who was going to South America and I wanted to go travelling again.

“In January 2015, I ended up dropping everything and taking off [to] Peru, Bolivia and Costa Rica.”

Before she left, she compiled a list of possible literary agents. On her trip, whenever she found a café with wi-fi, she sent off e-mails — the rejections flowed in.

“I knew that was normal,” she said. “Whenever I would get feedback, it was always the same feedback — they didn’t like my main character. They couldn’t sympathise with her.”

Once back home in Bermuda, she gave the protagonist a different back story. It didn’t make a difference. It seemed self-publishing was her only option.

“I had my heart set on publishing the traditional way,” she said. “It was mostly an ego thing.”

Her research showed she needed a good social-media following to promote the book, and some knowledge of marketing.

“Then I took off this year in March to go back to South-East Asia,” she said. “I was growing my Instagram following. It was around 4,000 when I left and I told myself that if I hit 10,000 I would contact two more literary agents or self-publish.

“I hit 10,000 in April, and pitched to two agents. I bawled when the first rejection came back. When the second came back with ‘It’s not for us’, I thought ‘I don’t need you. I can do this on my own’,” she said.

Ms Sawden sent queries to several companies and suddenly found them pitching to her.

“Three years ago, I would have said I was disappointed to be self-publishing,” she said. “At this point I just found self-publishing empowering.”

She chose Ingram Publisher Services, a print-on-demand company in Tennessee.

The whole process happened quickly, after that,” she said.

Ms Sawden will sign copies of Runaways on Friday at Brown & Co from noon to 2pm and from 5pm until 6pm.

Her hope is that the book will inspire.

“I am hoping that my readers will book a plane ticket to a place they have always wanted to go to,” she said. “Also, if they have a dream, that they just decide to do it, whatever it is.

“Don’t leave it until it is too late, because you don’t know what will happen in life.”

Visit rachelsawden.com or follow Rachel Sawden on Instagram @runawaysthebook

Into the Thar: Rachel Sawden, left, in the Thar Desert in northwestern India (Photograph supplied)