Alum ’20 Jasmine Sealy discusses debut novel The Island of Forgetting

Interviewed by Christine Palka, Creative Writing

Jasmine Sealy’s debut novel The Island of Forgetting released in Canada on April 26. Sealy’s novel is based on her manuscript “A Fair Wind to Take You Home” that won the HarperCollinsPublishersLtd/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction in 2020.

We’re seeking submissions for the 2022 Prize for Best New Fiction until the end of April. To encourage potential applicants, we spoke with Sealy about her experience working alongside HarperCollins and CookeMcDermid Literary Agency to prepare her novel for publication.

Could you tell us a little about your book?

The Island of Forgetting is a multigenerational family saga spanning from the 1960s to present day, set primarily on a family-owned hotel in Barbados. The novel is told in four parts, each narrated by a different member of the family as they come of age on the small island, some dreaming of escape, some of acceptance, but all trapped by a family history that is shrouded in secrets and lies.

Could you share with us a few details on your experience working with the publisher?

One of the most surprising things about working with a publisher was the extent of the editing process. I always saw a publishing deal as the finish line, but really the hard work comes after you sign the contract. My editor Janice Zawerbny at HarperCollins encouraged me to make major changes that I never would have thought to make without her guidance. I balked and protested and grumbled my way throughout the process, but I’m so grateful to her for giving me that gentle, patient push. My novel is immeasurably better for it.

Once substantive edits were completed, the book also went through a rigorous copyediting process. This to me is one of the greatest benefits of publishing with a big house like HarperCollins, the attention to detail from everything as small as a comma splice to big “oopses” like timeline inconsistencies, nothing goes unnoticed. That kind of thorough, careful attention reassured me that my book was in safe hands, and that I had a whole team behind me, working towards making it the best it could be.

How have you benefitted from literary representation and what are some of its advantages?

Publishing is a weird, opaque, confusing business and I wouldn’t have known where to even begin to navigate the complexities of it without my agent, Rachel Letofsky. Things like territorial rights, subsidiary rights, royalties, bonuses. It is easy for authors, especially emerging ones, to get lost in this process, and potentially taken advantage of. An agent is in your corner, catching things you might otherwise miss.

Do you have a special memory or favourite aspect from the process of taking your book from submission to release?

There are many but the one that stands out is seeing the cover for the first time. I was fortunate in that I was given four covers to choose from and I loved every one of them. I remember thinking that the designer simply “got” the book in such a profound way. That was a feeling I had again and again working with HarperCollins, in conversations with my editor and with the marketing and promotions team. Everyone seemed to connect with the book and understand my intentions in a way that was really validating to me.

Do you have any advice for those submitting to the contest?

Sell your book in the synopsis. Treat the synopsis as a pitch. Really sell it. Make it clear what your book is about. And by that I don’t mean a summary of the plot, but rather the central themes that appeal to readers. Read a few book jackets and get familiar with that style. Hook them before they even get to the first page. It will feel awkward as all hell when you’re writing it but it’s a skill every author needs to learn at some point.

Do you have any upcoming publications, projects or happenings you’d like to share with us?

My debut novel The Island of Forgetting is out April 26 in Canada and May 26 in the UK and is available for preorder now.