Many people find writing cathartic but, as she was working on a fictional story, Woman Alive’s deputy editor Jemimah Wright assumed that wouldn’t apply to her. But in fact, over the ten years she penned her novel, Isabella’s Voyage, her relationship with herself and God completely changed.
They say your first novel is always autobiographical. Author of Olive, Emma Gannon said: “Turns out writing fiction isn’t that much of a barrier when you’re writing a female character – it might as well be a memoir.”
I thought I would blow that theory out of the water. Ok, my first novel is about a woman, but she is from the late nineteenth century ergo NOT ME! That’s what I told myself, but in reality, I think the theory is probably true. There was so much of me in my first novel (Isabella’s Voyage, Instant Apostle publication date Nov 2022). My protagonist is an English woman from Norfolk (guess where I was born and brought up) who travels from England to Hawaii in the 1880s.
I was writing a book I wanted to read – about hope, and circumstances changing when you least expect it. My protagonist was inspired by a real person – Isabella Bird (1831 – 1904) who was a traveller and adventurer and one of the first female members of the Royal Geographic Society. My character, Isabella Buckley, ends up in Hawaii (then called the Sandwich Islands) like the real Isabella, but unlike Ms Bird, my character ends up falling in love with a Hawaiian man.
This is the part that triggered me learning to love myself. I started this novel about ten years ago, and it has been through many drafts and edits. I have changed and grown as the years have gone by, and that affected my writing. About five years ago I went to visit a friend, Amy, who lives in Kansas City. She is also a novelist and I asked her to read through my draft. I was stuck and I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know how to fix it, so I asked for her help.
“Because you don’t believe you are worthy to be loved, the reader does not believe Isabella is worthy to be loved. The love story does not ring true.”
Amy is a godly woman. She was part of the International House of Prayer, and has a rhythm of prayer and worship in her daily life. When she had finished my novel, she came back to me and gave me the news: “Because you don’t believe you are worthy to be loved, the reader does not believe Isabella is worthy to be loved. The love story does not ring true.”
She made the bombshell with such grace and kindness and I knew she was right. I had faced years of rejection and disappointment in romantic relationships, and this had come out in my writing. No one had chosen me, and it played out by me not being able to write about someone choosing Isabella. All I could do was pray. I asked God to heal me of past pain, and help me to love myself. There was no big obvious change, but bit by bit, I began to take hold if his truth for me – I am loved and already chosen by the King of Kings.
I asked God to heal me of past pain, and help me to love myself
Interestingly, I then ended up getting married, following a whirlwind romance in 2021, but this was after God had done some healing in my heart and in how I thought of myself. I am so grateful for what God has taught me though Isabella’s Voyage. When I embarked on the project many years ago, I never would have guessed writing fiction would help me love myself.
Jemimah Wright is an author and deputy editor for Woman Alive. Her first novel Isabella’s Voyage can be pre-ordered here.