Kathleen Hickey: Writing a novel in the pandemic

Apr 20, 2021

MATTAPOISETT — For many, the start of the pandemic was also the start to new hobbies and projects. For Kathleen Hickey, that new project was a novel.

On trips to Cuttyhunk Island with her husband, Mike Hickey, Kathleen would pass by Penikese Island, which she said inspired her.

“I would just write the story in my head,” she said.

Those trips passing the island were about five or six years ago, but Kathleen hadn’t really put pen to paper yet.

“And then the pandemic hit,” she said.

Before covid shutdowns began, Kathleen was active in the community. A retired teacher, she volunteered at the library, exercised and visited her mother at her nursing home.

Then, everything closed, and Kathleen was left with a bit of free time and a story in her head.

So she got to writing “Penikese Island Adventure,” a young adult novel set on the titular Elizabeth island.

In the story, Julia, a 15-year old girl from Connecticut, spends the summer with her father on Penikese Island, where he takes on the role of head psychologist at a boot camp for 12 delinquent boys. At first, Julia is begrudging about having to spend the summer on the island, but she becomes attached to one of the boys in the camp.  

Kathleen would take a few hours a day to write a chapter, and with her husband serving as chair of the Mattapoisett Fire Station Building Committee, she said he didn’t even know she was writing.

“He was so surprised,” Kathleen said. “He was like ‘I didn’t even know you were doing this.’”

And when the book was finished, it was Mike who encouraged Kathleen to publish.

“I wasn’t going to publish,” Kathleen said.

But after her mother, an avid reader, died at the age of 103 while Kathleen was writing, Mike told Kathleen she could dedicate the book to her.

So Kathleen began looking for publishers.

She said getting published was “part of the big long process” of getting the book together. She would take one or two hours a day to reach out to publishers.

“It was as much work — not as much fun — as writing the book,” Kathleen said.

But, through a writer friend in Rochester, Kathleen found Briley and Baxter Publications.

“I just lucked into them,” she said.

Then the edits came. Kathleen said she accepted about 75% of the edits. But the rest of the time, she had to remind herself that she knew the mind of her main character.

“I had to keep telling myself ‘I know that age,’” Kathleen said.

She said that in her years as a teacher, she’d gotten used to being the editor, and that “to have my work [edited], especially at my age,” was a challenge.

Kathleen also had to expand her book, after she was advised that the first draft was too short.

She said that to add to the book, she wound up taking the first part of the sequel she had already begun writing and weaving it back into “Penikese Island Adventure.”

“I just took that beginning part of the second book and blended that in,” Kathleen said.

Kathleen is still writing that sequel — part of a planned trilogy — but she said once the books are finished, she’s looking forward to becoming “more of a grandmother” to her grandchildren.

“Is this a second career for me?” Hickey said. “I say no.”

“Penikese Island Adventure” will be available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble on May 4.