The road to publication

NSF-Tablet-17June2016-LoRes-Web2crop-IMG_5550For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a published writer. It turned out to be quite a slog but I got there in the end.

When my five children were small, with four of them under five at one time, I had neither the time nor energy to get down to serious writing. I was lost in admiration for Charlotte Lamb, the wonderful M&B romance writer, who was said to write with her children playing round her feet.

I started in a very small way with letters to the editor about the funny things my children said, household tips, recipes. There were lots of trade competitions in those days, too, with astonishing prizes. Creating slogans and completing rhymes or sentences was a good way to hone writing skills and resulted in some exciting prizes. These included a trip to New York, another to Rome, household goods, etc. When the children left one by one for uni, etc., it was time to find a career of my own. A bilingual secretarial course made me realise I didn’t particularly want to be a secretary but how grateful I was to have learnt ‘proper’ typing. When a lecturer suggested I study for a degree, the writing went on the back-burner while I studied law and languages.

Guess what? Nobody wanted a graduate in her forties with no work experience. I started writing short stories, though I always wanted to write something longer. The stories sold to magazines such as Fiction Feast, People’s Friend, Woman’s Way of Ireland and Australian Women’s Weekly. Too old for the EC or UNO I became a freelance legal translator. I enjoyed this and it paid the bills.

My first book sale was to Robert Hale. What a thrill, but what a slog! An editor phoned one day to say he was rather taken with ‘Twentieth-Century Pirate’ but it was too long according to their unique method of counting. I cut out a complete chapter and shortened the rest. It was still too long. I cut out every superfluous word which actually made it a tighter story. Bingo! They offered me a contract and I was over the moon. The proofs arrived for me to check, which I did immediately. Three weeks later they phoned to ask when I would be sending them back. My precious manuscript had been lost in the post!

As I’d written the story on a typewriter (remember those?), I had to type the whole thing again from the carbon copy. It was tempting to think this was a sign that I was never meant to be a writer and perhaps ought to give up. I didn’t, of course, and in due course I held a copy of my first published book in my hands. What a thrill!

At some point I heard about the Romantic Novelists’ Association. I joined – one of the best decisions I ever made. Meetings took place mainly in London where I met lots of like-minded people and listened to many inspiring speakers such as Simon Brett, Clare Rayner, Joanna Trollope, Margaret Pemberton and Stella Whitelaw. I would go home full of ideas and good intentions.

Buying an Amstrad, though followed by more sophisticated machines over time, made a vast difference.

Robert Hale bought several more of my romances, all of them going into large print with Thorpe. Some were translated for countries that included Germany, Holland and India.

My Weekly Story Library bought a romance set in Vienna. ‘Vienna Masquerade’ was too long a title for their cover so, rather disappointingly, it became Secret Love. This, too, went into large print.

I continued to translate and started ‘Blackthorn Child’. The initial title had been ‘Downton’s Heir’ but by the time it was published it was too close to ‘Downton Abbey’ and, anyway, ‘Blackthorn Child’ suited the story better.

I wrote ‘Love Thine Enemy’, a steamy wartime romance between an English heroine and a German hero. After it was rejected by a couple of publishers I asked Thorpe if they would be interested. They advised me they didn’t have an editing department but they bought it anyway.

I continued to bring ‘Blackthorn Child’ out of mothballs occasionally, re-editing and offering it to agents and publishers. I even sent it to a critique expert. Great critique but still no sale. An agent suggested I start at a different point in the story. This worked well but rather than bat it back and forth to agents and publishers I put it straight on Kindle or rather my son Basil did ( – Authors’ services). Amazingly it sailed up the Amazon lists, hitting number one on occasion.

I’ve put several more books on Amazon Kindle, including ‘Love Thine Enemy’ but ‘Blackthorn Child’ is still my bestseller.

A recent exciting development is that Samhain, the US publisher, have taken five of my romances for their Retro Romance line. The first of these, ‘To Sara – with Love’ is being released in June 2014. The others will follow at two-monthly intervals.

Besides joining the Society of Authors I’ve been elected to the committee of the Romantic Novelists’Association. Helping with the RoNAs, the main award, meant handling other writers’ precious efforts as we sorted and posted over 450 books to readers. The award, won by Veronica Henry, was presented by the delightful Darcey Bussell. It’s wonderful to be involved with this awesome organisation.

I’m currently working on a historical novel set in fourteenth-century Italy and a couple more romances. Will I try a traditional publisher? Possibly. Watch this space.