Saturday, 29 March 2014

How I started out as a writer

Like most authors, I'm often asked when I give talks 'How did you get started?'  Understandably, aspiring writers are always looking for help and advice, which I do try to give whenever I can. But I have to say, my path to publishing success wasn't a straightforward one!

I always wanted to write - from as far back as I can remember it was what I did for fun. (Some might say I was a strange child!). It remained my hobby all through school, through my teenage years when I scribbled endlessly in diaries and wrote experimental poetry, right to the time when I had my three daughters and wrote stories for them. But I never seriously considered becoming a published author at that time. It was certainly a dream - but I didn't think it was a realistic one. Even back then, I knew how hard it was and probably didn't think I was good enough.

It was a story for children that became my first publication - I'd seen the little stories in the 'Brownie' magazine that my girls enjoyed at the time, and for the first time, thought: 'I could write one just as good as that'. But I was still completely stunned when it was accepted!  I remember I was paid £28 - this was in the mid 1980s. I went on to sell them quite a few more short stories and serials, and when my daughters were a little older and took 'Today's Guide' magazine instead of the 'Brownie', I sold stories to them too.

At this stage, I started wondering whether I could try something more ambitious. I had no idea where to start - but then I saw an advert in the paper for 'Writing Magazine'. At this stage I still felt quite self-conscious about the whole thing, like I was being ridiculous even expecting to be taken seriously as a writer. I didn't tell many people what I was doing - it wasn't so common then to have these kind of aspirations. Nobody in my family had done anything like it, I hadn't got an relevant qualifications apart from an A-level in English, and I'd never been to a class, writing group, a talk of any kind or asked anyone's advice. 

But there was a short story competition every month in 'Writing Magazine' (there still is) - and something made me have a go. And to my amazement, I won first prize. A year or so later, I entered another one, won first prize again, and was then judged their 'Winner of Winners' for the year - which involved me attending a big posh 'do' in London where I received a shield, and a very nice cheque.
And it was there I met Dawn, another prize-winner, who's been a good friend and fantastic support ever since although we live at different ends of the country. Dawn was already having short stories published in women's magazines and talking to her, I decided I was ready to try going down the same route. I suppose the competition wins had given me the confidence I'd been lacking.

My first submission, to 'Woman's Weekly', was accepted - and then I was on a roll. I finally believed I could do it, and that other people might take my dream seriously. Over the course of the following ten years or so, I would have over 100 short stories published in the various women's magazines, but my best market was 'Woman's Realm'. I was earning a nice, fairly regular extra little income, and was chuffed with my success. But when 'the Realm' went out of circulation, I suddenly had a vision of the future. Fiction in magazines was becoming less popular. The other magazines weren't publishing so many short stories. I needed to investigate other possibilities.

I'd tried a few times before to write a novel - but it had somehow never worked. Looking back, I think I probably tried to be too serious, or too clever, or to produce something that I thought people ought to like. This time, I just wrote what I wanted to: a very light-hearted story about an ordinary working mum approaching her 50th birthday whose life was hectic and difficult but also very funny.

I approached agents, then I approached publishers direct (some of them still allowed direct submissions at that stage). For about 18 months it was a continual stream of rejections - but I was heartened by the positive tone of some of them. ('I loved it but it wasn't right for us', etc). So I kept going. And in February 2002 my first novel 'The Trouble With Ally' was accepted by Piatkus Books.

That was the start of my career as a novelist. I was working full-time in a busy job, so I'd still never done a writing course, joined a group, or read any how-to books and still didn't have an agent (I have now) - so I had absolutely no idea what I was doing at any stage of the process! Luckily my editors were very helpful, and so was the Society of Authors, who checked my contracts for me. And after the first few books had been published, I heard about the Romantic Novelists' Association. Joining the RNA introduced me to my best writing 'buddies' locally, and they've been a fantastic support through good times and bad.

Now on the verge of producing my twelfth book YESTERDAY - which is in a completely different genre - I've taken a couple of twists and turns along the road including the big change to self-publishing, which has worked out well. As you can tell from my 'career path', it's quite difficult to answer that question about how I got started ... it was a very gradual process!  I was obviously not young by the time my first novel was published! And although in some ways I wish I'd had the confidence to try to make my dream a reality when I was younger, in other ways it's been fantastic to have enjoyed this success later in life - doing what I've always enjoyed.

No comments:

Post a Comment