The journey started sometime in 1972 when an English teacher scrawled “You could make money!” underneath a story I wrote about being stuck in a lift with David Cassidy. It ambled along with notebooks full of romantic drivelling culminating in 80,000 words handwritten by lamplight whilst working as a volunteer midwife in West Africa in the 1980s. I submitted this steamy tale of doctors and nurses to Mills & Boon – who sensibly rejected it, in part for being “too strong” for their readership. Thereafter, my creative journey ground to a halt as I focused on being a responsible grown-up.
Early in the 1990s, I rediscovered my foolscap manuscript and briskly worked my way through it, typing it up on my new laptop, editing forcefully as I went. Some bits were truly awful but other bits were really quite good and I began to wonder if Mills & Boons had updated their editorial requirements – but then I got involved in writing and editing non-steamy non-fiction for professional books and journals.
Fast-forward fifteen years to the wine-fuelled evening when I confessed my stalled writing ambitions to a friend – who suggested I sign up for a writing course. By the end of the first week, any daft notions I had that writers are born rather than made were completely obliterated. By the end of the second week, I had buried the M&B manuscript behind multiple passwords. By the end of the third week, I was churning out 1000 words a day using the inspirational tool 750 Words. I missed the fourth class because I was on holiday in Cornwall but it was there, in a hidden garden by the sea, that inspiration struck and I started my first novel (or second, if you count the torrid M&B submission). I submitted two chapters for my final course assessment and my tutor said some very nice things – but it honestly won’t have mattered what she said because nothing was going to stop me. I subsequently wrote 170,000 words in 12 months (whilst working full-time) and loved every glorious minute.
Things changed dramatically in April 2017 when I made one of the hardest decisions of my life, said goodbye to a proper salary and embarked on life as an author – only to find (a) that the NHS didn’t totally collapse without me, and (b) the hard work was only just beginning. The more I wrote (I started a second novel in 2018) the more I realised how much I had to learn and the more intimidated and demoralised I became under the deluge of advice and workshops and masterclasses there are available; terrified of missing that one crucial course that would lead to publication whilst desperate not to waste money or – much more importantly – time. (I suppose, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised: it took me five years to become a confident midwife – so maybe a three year apprenticeship to become a half-way competent author isn’t so strange but try explaining that to doting family and doubting friends!)
Where am I now? Well, I’m resigned to that fact that I’ll never stop learning as a writer (and wouldn’t life be dull if one did?) but, equally, I know it’s all down to me now. There is no magical Open Sesame path to publication, no obligation on anybody’s part to show interest in my books, no benign literary god overseeing my path to success. I just have to write – and stay open-minded and focused – and, if I falter, I remind myself of the joy I felt scribbling that first story distracted only by memories and the whine of mosquitoes.