Local author’s debut novel ‘Guard Your Heart’ to be released in April
A new gritty contemporary novel set in Derry is to hit the bookshops next month.
‘Guard Your Heart,’ the debut novel by local writer Sue Divin, tells the story of 18-year-olds Aidan and Iona who were born on the day of the Good Friday peace deal.
The young adult and crossover novel was snapped up by a literary agency after it was shortlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award, an international novel competition based in Edinburgh, and was joint winner of the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair.
The book garnered interest from a number of publishers and was acquired by Macmillan.
“It felt like a miracle,” says Sue. ‘The odds of getting an agent are unbelievable – like a lottery win. To then land a major publisher was overwhelming at first. It took me a long time to admit I was a writer – when success began to hit, I actually went into shock slightly. It was hard to believe the novel I wrote in evenings sat in my living room armchair would actually see the light of day.”
Sue has signed a two book deal with the major publisher.
She revealed that while the second book isn’t a direct sequel too ‘Guard Your Heart’, it will feature a similar gritty, contemporary style.
Sue, who works as the PEACE IV Manager in Derry City and Strabane District Council, began writing ‘Guard Your Heart’ in 2016, the year in which the coming of age romance is set.
The Armagh native, who moved to Derry over two decades ago, said that she began scribbling novels, short stories and flash fiction when her son was very young and she had little access to babysitters.
However, Sue said she has always been interested in writing and her work often tackles subjects around diversity and reconciliation in contemporary Northern Ireland.
“I write because I like to make people think, but I also like to make them laugh. Something poignant that packs an emotional punch, but still leaves you with a wry smile on your face is the type of space I like to be writing within.”
She said that ultimately what lies behind her writing is the quest to ‘humanise the other’.
“Conflict dehumanises the ‘other’. Stories connect us to the ‘other’. I write because fiction is a powerful tool for creating empathy, and empathy is a powerful tool for creating peace.
“In life, just as in my writing, I believe that hope happens because of risk takers. I see a lot of community workers across our city and district taking positive and creative risks for peace.
“In a different sense, Guard Your Heart, was my way of doing that.”
Sue said it isn’t lost on her that the book is published during the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland and the Partition of Ireland.
“Whether you see it as a party or a wake, 2021 is a significant year. The novel has something to say about the legacy of conflict and where we’re at in building peace.
“Then again, it’s published on April Fool’s Day so who knows what the real meaning is, perhaps I’ll leave that to readers to decide!”
Sue said she is very grateful to local arts organisations and other writers, like Dave Duggan, Bernie McGill, Damian Gorman and Maria McManus who ‘have been a fantastic support and encouragement over the last couple of years’.
“Writing courses held in the Verbal Arts Centre and Playhouse were instrumental in my own development as a writer and it’s great to see the Nerve Centre delivering so many writing based events and workshops.”
Comparisons have been made between ‘Guard Your Heart’ and Joan Lingard’s classic novel ‘Across The Barricades’.
“I’m humbled by those references,” says Sue.“‘It was also definitely in my mind that we’re almost 50 years, or two generations on, from when the tale of Kevin and Sadie was first published in 1972.
“I think today’s generation have a new story to tell. That’s what I wanted to put on the map.”
Guard Your Heart will be available in local independent bookstores, including Little Acorns, as well as Waterstones, Eason, Amazon and other retailers, from April 1, 2021.