Not writing can take up an amazing amount of time. I spent years on it. During that time I did lots of things – worked and travelled and took all manner of evening courses, but nothing that would actually help me towards my lifelong dream of being a writer. I think I was afraid to really try. I had several novels that stalled round the 30,000 word point, and couldn’t get any further. Finally I decided I had to finish something, picked an idea and worked at it for two years. Finishing that book, with its hundreds of rewrites and deletions, is still one of the best writing moments I’ve ever had.
So what to do next? I’d probably have spent the rest of my life working on it, but my husband convinced me I had to start submitting to agents. So I did. And I got rejected. It was difficult – it does get easier, but when I started out I could hardly bear the idea of anyone reading my work (not ideal for an aspiring author!)The fourth agent asked to see the rest of it, and I sent it off, convinced this was it and I would be famous overnight.
Six months went by. Frustrated, I decided to write something else, a story that had been pulling on me for months after I had the idea in a dream. I finished this one in three months, writing on my commute each day in the middle of crowded trains. I wrote the end while on holiday, sitting by the pool with a notebook that was getting splashed. The day after I came back a friend emailed me. She’d seen a competition for unpublished novels, but the only problem was it closed that day – was I interested?
I checked it out and actually it closed in ten minutes’ time. On a whim, I decided to send the book I’d just finished. I had nothing to lose. A few months went by and I learned I had been shortlisted and was going to an awards ceremony in Swansea along with Cerys Matthews and other celebrities. It was hugely exciting. The results were printed in The Bookseller magazine, and then even more excitingly, agents and editors starting tracking me down through my blog and asked to see the book. After nearly a year getting nowhere, I couldn’t believe it! I quickly signed with an agent and sold the book shortly after. The Fall came out in February this year and is released in paperback on 16 August.
When I was starting out, I imagined that the moment you got ‘the call’ from an agent, and then about your book deal, would be the best of your life. Well, it didn’t really happen that way. It can take months of negotiations, during which you’re about 80% sure it will happen, but consumed with terror in case it all falls through. In the end it finally happened when I was going in to talk to my boss about reducing my hours – the call came, and I handed my notice in instead. That was a good feeling. Now I think life isn’t really about these moments, but more about being lucky enough to wake up and do what you love every day.
I didn’t win the competition, but I firmly believe it was being shortlisted there that got me published, catching the attention of agents and finding me an agent. So I always advise entering any contests you can find – and also, if a book is getting you nowhere, think about writing something else. I always say it’s
possible to write and sell a book in less than a year, because it happened to me.