2015, and I was teaching adults in various towns near to where I live in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. I worked as a Post 16 tutor, educating students on working in schools, special educational needs, autism, and specific learning difficulties. I was working, studying my Cert Ed and finishing my BA Hons, helping my husband with his business, and raising two young sons. I had wanted to be a teacher and author ever since I was young, but no-one knew the truth now. I looked in control, happy, and doing well. What they didn’t realise was the fact I was a huge fraud.
TO TEACH OR NOT TO TEACH?
The truth was, I was desperately unhappy, tired and stressed. My children were struggling in school, I was trying to get them help, attending hospital appointments and school meetings, but no-one was listening. I was paying for childcare while I worked and attended college and university, my nights were filled with bedtime meltdowns, piles of washing, hours of marking and assignments, and other than a competition I had entered in my favourite Prima magazine, and a self published book in 2013, my writing dreams were just that…dreams. I didn’t have the time or energy to read half the time, let alone write. I had been hit myself in the face with my kindle so many times, because I had fallen asleep mid sentence. I couldn’t help but think it was a metaphor for the relentless hamster wheel I was on. I was teaching people how to help children with additional needs, but I couldn’t even help my own beautiful children. I found myself, like thousands of working parents out there, feeling overwhelmed, and more than a little trapped.
Shortlisted – So close!
I had never been shortlisted for anything writerly before, but I loved entering the competitions for the practice and the feedback for my writing. It’s a good way to learn about submissions, how to set them out, apply etc, so when I had written my piece about a woman who escapes the rat race and sets up a craft shop in Yorkshire, I was proud of myself, for finishing something and submitting it. When I heard I was shortlisted in the Prima Magazine Flirty Fiction competition to find the next Mills & Boon writer, I couldn’t believe it! I look at the other hopefuls on the list, wondering which of them would win. For me, being shortlisted was amazing, and I took heart in the fact that this meant my writing wasn’t half bad after all. I filed the submission in my sub folder, and carried on with my life.
Egg mayo, a kitkat….and a book deal?
I will never forget the day I heard I had won. I was teaching a group of students in Huddersfield, and on our lunch break, I took my sandwich and smartphone, sitting in the garden on site to check my messages. School were phoning and emailing most days about my sons, so I was on edge scrolling through the texts till I saw one from Prima Magazine. It read,
we are trying to get in touch with you, please call etc. All very polite and happy as ever, till I read the last line.
We have news!!!!!
Reading that line, my heart started to bounce out of my chest. They wouldn’t say that if they were just winning to say I’d come last, surely? I dialled the number and that was it. I’d won!
Dreams and dumper trucks
I had won the competition, and The Chic Boutique on Baker Street was going to be a real book, on shelves and kindles all over the country, in people’s shopping baskets, their sun loungers, bedside tables. I couldn’t believe it, and I still can’t. Fast forward to 2019, and I have an agent, wonderful publishers, a stack of books to my name, and plans for many more. I now write full time, and am home for my children every day. I am very lucky to be able to do this, and with them both now being diagnosed as autistic and getting help and support, we are a much happier family then when we were on that hamster wheel. Writing is hard work, often solitary, and contrary to popular opinion, we aren’t all a penny behind the lovely J.K Rowling or Stephen King. I don’t earn millions, but when a reader sends me a note telling me how I made her laugh, or cheered her up, it means everything. One day I can be in London at a nice party, or doing a radio interview, the next I’m picking mud off football boots or walking the dog to get a minute’s peace with an audio book. (Going through Game of Thrones at the moment, Oliver my American cocker spaniel is not a fan of Cersei FYI)
Break that wheel
I am just this week starting my ninth book, and each time I sit down to write I still get the same feelings of joy and frustration I did. It’s a bum on seat job, and I love having the characters to talk to in my head. I invent people in my head, and help them to fall in love. What job is better than that?
My top tips
- Try something new. When ebook readers first came out, I declared I would never have one. I now love my Kindle, which is always jammed packed with books. Ideal for when you are feeding young ones, trying to get your child to sleep, or just when you want a portable library. Audio is huge right now, and again I am late to the party, but I love them. Don’t be afraid to try a new format. You might just love it! Reading is reading no matter what, so don’t let anyone shame you. 50 Shades or Pride & Prejudice, there are all stories. Read what you fancy, and mix it up from time to time. Join a book club online or in your library.
- Read. This follows on from the last point. Writers can’t write without being readers, IMO. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on.
- Enter competitions – some charge quite a lot, and writers on a budget like me often struggle but there are free ones out there. My Prima mag competition entry cost me nothing, and you only need one yes to start your journey.
- Reader’s letters – practice writing – write to your 4th grade teacher, your first pet, your boyfriend. Write top tips for mags, some pay too – always a bonus. Prima run a monthly writing comp – free to enter and you can win and get published!
- Follow other authors on social media. See what tips they give, do they recommend an app/book/rain dance? There is no secret formula to success, the writing community are incredibly supportive. Blog, chat, join in. Share your favourite books, review them, tell others. If you don’t like a book, move on to the next. Art is subjective, and we don’t all like the same thing, luckily!
- Don’t give up – 50 words a day, will one day be a book. Start today, and don’t stop.
- Most important of all – have fun! If you don’t, neither will your readers.