Katy Regan: On a Promise Fulfilled
Katy Regan grew up on the north-west coast of England. She began her writing career as a magazine journalist and is former Commissioning Editor of Marie Claire magazine. She has written for most national magazines and newspapers. She has also written two self-help books, (a cause of great amusement among those who knew her well.) How to Find Your Way Home is her sixth novel and her second to be published in the United States by Berkley, Penguin Random House. Her first was Little Big Love.
In this post, Katy discusses the promise she made herself that led to writing How to Find Your Way Home, how she learned to plan her story beforehand, and more!
Name: Katy Regan
Literary agent: Grainne Fox at Fletcher&Co (U.S.); Lizzy Kremer at David Higham Associates (U.K.)
Book title: How to Find Your Way Home
Publisher: Berkley, Penguin Random House
Release date: February 15, 2022
Genre/category: Commercial Book Club Fiction
Previous titles: One Thing Led to Another, The One Before the One, How we Met, The Story of You and Little Big Love
Elevator pitch for the book: A nature-loving homeless man and his sister reunite after 17 years of estrangement and go on a birding trip, confronting the past together.
What prompted you to write this book?
When I was 17, I volunteered at a soup kitchen for the homeless. Amidst all the hardship you’d expect, I was struck by how much laughter there was in that place. The basic love of life, despite the rough hand that life had dealt the people who came there. My favorite bit of the shift was to sit down after we’d served breakfast and chat. What surprised me then, besides the sheer resilience these people possessed, was how little there was between my life—a “normal life”—and theirs. A few wrong turns, a relationship break-up, some bad luck, was all it seemed to take for you to wind up sleeping on the streets. Most of all what I learned there (as well as from my research for How to Find Your Way Home) was that the difference between those who managed to dodge homelessness and those who slipped through the net, was just that: too-big holes in the net. If you had no support network, you were out of luck.
When I became a writer, I promised myself I would one day write a book telling the story of a homeless person. But I didn’t want their homelessness to be what defined them: They’d have passions and hopes and dreams like anyone does—like the people I met in that soup kitchen. They’d have a past, and most importantly a future. They’d have something to teach us about survival and what’s really important.
The result was How to Find Your Way Home and the character of Stephen Nelson. Stephen loves birdwatching, nature, and drawing. Most of all, he loves his sister Emily and will do anything to protect her.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
It took a loooong time—three years to be exact! Precisely because the idea changed so much along the way. This wasn’t ideal! I learned a lot from the process of writing this novel—which is actually my sixth. I learned that I’m going to make things a whole lot harder for myself if I haven’t at least loosely mapped out and crucially decided on the story before I start writing. Indecision is a big problem for me! I’m still a work in progress on that front.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
Certainly, there were many in the editing process anyway. I did a big restructure for the second draft, (before copy editing stage,) introducing a whole timeline that I didn’t have in the first draft, but which enriched and clarified the story, giving it much more tension.
In terms of publishing surprises, I guess you’d have to ask my publisher. The reveal of the stunning cover was the best surprise for me. It far exceeded my expectations.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
As I explained earlier, I wouldn’t say surprises so much as a lot of dead ends, confusion, and rewriting! But that’s OK, that’s just the way it is with some books. My experience is that they really are all different.
For How to Find Your Way Home, the main surprise was what it became in the end, as it bore no resemblance to the idea I’d had three years previously. In hindsight, that’s probably because I hadn’t had a clear idea to begin with and needed to excavate it, through writing and re-writing and an awful lot of talking the story through with people.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
Whilst researching this novel, the one thing that every single homeless person I spoke to said was: ‘The worst thing is feeling invisible and being ignored.”
So, without wanting to sound too worthy, I’d love it if it made people think twice about the homeless person they perhaps pass every day; about saying hello or having a chat with them. The only thing that separates that person and us is luck, after all.
If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?
I know this isn’t the case for some writers, but my advice after writing this beast is plan your novel before you begin! It doesn’t have to be in detail, but have a roadmap, a vague idea of the beginning, middle, and end. Otherwise, you may waste a lot of time writing into the abyss!