Writing can be a strange occupation at times. I’ve lost count of the number of times that people have asked what I do for a living and then followed my answer with, ‘have I read anything you’ve written?’ or, ‘do you earn as much as JK Rowling?’ It has only been since May of this year that I’ve encountered, ‘Oh you wrote The Woolworths Girl’ upon which I tend to blush and mumble a self-deprecating comment. Someone even said I was lucky to be an overnight success! My ‘success’ took twenty years – twenty years of earning a living as a writer and doing everything possible to learn my craft. I do believe writers have the longest apprenticeship of all the professions. In fact do we ever stop learning?
I started writing short fiction for women’s magazines in the days when the pay was good and many weekly publications carried at least one short story every week. Did I just write a story and pop it into the post? No! I attended workshops, I read many magazines each week and I studied their submission guidelines. Even today I feel a shiver of excitement and anticipation when someone shares guidelines or magazine news even though I no longer have the time to dedicate to that particular market.
Long before I sold my first short story another form of writing caught my attention. I’d been involved in the world of dogs for many years and belonged to breed committees that support our sport – that meant working on members’ newsletters, magazines and yearbooks. It also meant begging for copy to fill the pages and that is when, with deadlines and blank pages to fill, I started to write articles about dogs. After a couple of years I thought I’d try pitching my article ideas to pet publications and try to earn a few pounds. No one was more surprised than me when it worked and I found I could earn money from fiction and features. From writing features I was commissioned to write three books for dog owners that are still available in bookstores. I somehow fitted in a few charity books and anthologies along the way.
In the years that followed I always dreamt of writing a novel and tried a few times to no avail. It was after winning the BBC Radio Kent Short Story of the Year competition in 2003 that I was approached to teach creative writing at several of the Kent adult education establishments – another string to my writing bow! Not one to do things by halves I studied for my teaching certificate which meant I was also able to run stand-alone workshops knowing I had the right qualifications. After six years I left adult education and set up my own writing school at The Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford, Kent. Now I didn’t need to worry about red tape and endless paperwork. I’m proud to say that many of my students are now published authors, short story writers and competition winners – a great crowd of keen writers. During that time I also joined the Romantic Novelist Association and to this day work on the committee running their blog. It is through the RNA that I ‘bumped’ into my agent, Caroline Sheldon, who has been instrumental in taking my career as a historical novelist into the stratosphere with first a two book contract with Pan Macmillan and then recently with a second two book deal. Several years along I am still pinching myself!
So what am I writing at the moment? I’m heading to deadline with a book that is due out this time next year. The odd promotion event pops up for The Woolworths Girls, which came out in May 2016, and the final edits are in for The Butlins Girls, which is to be published in May 2017. As May approaches I’ll be writing book number four for Pan Macmillan and also busy doing promotion for The Butlins Girls. This entails radio and magazine interviews as well as answering questions for bloggers and supplying short pieces to publishers about the book. Life is even busier but it is exciting as sales numbers come in and I get to speak to my readers at talks in libraries and groups.
My advice to any person setting out on their writing career is to build your author platform as early as possible. Get your name known in short fiction and article writing as it is all helpful when you come to promote you novel. Even though I have pan Macmillan’s PR team behind me as well as my own lovely PR lady it helps to be able to know how to pull a article together or even write a short story based on the novel – I’ve done that too!
My overnight success has taken twenty years and I’ve loved every minute of it. I hope you enjoy your journey too!