My Writing and Me (Part 3)

Finding the time to write my first book was tough. I was teaching all day and then had the boys to look after in the evenings. Once the boys were in bed, I had a couple of hours of school work to catch up on, after which I’d fall into bed exhausted. The only choice I had therefore was to start setting my alarm for 4.30am and getting a couple of hours of writing done before my day began.

Once I got into the routine of doing this, I found that I really enjoyed it. I need complete silence when I write so those two hours when the boys were still fast asleep were bliss. Ok, so I was drinking far too much coffee than one ought to, but I’m sure there are greater sins in life.

It took me a year to complete the first draft of ‘Grace-Ella’. When I typed ‘ends’, I sat back and felt sheer elation. I had written a book. A whole book. A book I loved.

‘I’ve done it, I’ve finished my book,’ I said, beaming at my husband.

‘What are you going to do with it now?’ he asked.

It was a bit of a ‘bubble-bursting’ moment. I had no idea what to do with it. I couldn’t submit it to anyone, I was too terrified. Then I remembered how I’d felt after having my first short story critiqued and decided that that would be my next step. I researched literary consultancies and with each service I looked up, the more deflated I became. I couldn’t afford them.

Quite by chance, I came across the critique service offered to writers in Wales, by Literature Wales. I submitted and waited.

When the brown envelope came in the post a few weeks later, it was like those horrible exam results days all over again. I felt sick. What if the report told me I was rubbish? What if it laughed in my face at my pathetic attempt? I wanted so badly not to have my dream of being a children’s author quashed. I opened it gingerly, took a deep breath and read …

The report was full of positivity and constructive feedback. I was overjoyed. I immediately began editing. After a couple of weeks, I was thrilled with my story. Whilst the positivity was aglow, I submitted direct to a publisher, that I had, once again, stumbled across by chance – Firefly Press. Once I clicked send, that horrible sick feeling flooded through me. What have I done? But, it was too late for regrets. Besides, I wasn’t going to hear anything back so there was nothing lost.

By this time, it was the summer holidays, so ‘Grace-Ella’ and any other writing had to be pushed to the bottom of my ‘things to do’ pile, whilst I paddled in the freezing sea, crunched on sand-filled sandwiches, played endless games, bounced on the trampoline with the boys and tried very hard to smile through endless damp drizzly days.

Three months after submitting, I received an e-mail. It was from the editor at Firefly Press. She really liked what I’d sent her and was requesting the full manuscript.

‘Oh my god!’ I screeched. ‘It’s happened.’

‘What?’ shouted my husband, running to the office in a state of panic (I was expecting our third child, you see).

I tried to explain whilst I pirouetted up and down the hallway.

‘Does that mean you’re getting published?’ he asked.

Pop! Bubble burst.

‘Well no,’ I said coming to a sudden stop. ‘But it means that I’m on the right track. That I’m perhaps doing something a little bit right.’

‘Oh,’ he said.

A month of neurotic nail-biting and self-doubt battling followed before the second e-mail arrived. It took me several attempts to sit down and click open. I peered at the message through one half-opened eye. In a nutshell, Firefly Press loved my story and wanted to meet for a chat over coffee. Needless to say, my husband really did think our third child had made an early appearance following my screams.

Coffee was consumed, chat was chatted and I drifted home on a pink fluffy cloud. My book would be edited then put in for an ‘Individual Book Grant’ with the Welsh Books Council. I couldn’t have felt happier.

Editing done, the waiting began. I started on another writing project, to try to keep my mind off the looming grants’ meeting. The date arrived and I sat staring at my inbox. That evening, it came. The e-mail I had been dreaming of for the last few months. The e-mail that meant that my dream had come true. My book had been awarded the grant and was being published by Firefly Press.

Contracts were signed, more coffee was consumed and lots of crazy dancing was done (the latter in the safety of my own home).

Some days, I still stop in my tracks as it hits me that my book will be publishing next year. It’s the best feeling in the world. My husband too is thrilled, primarily because the manic bouts of screaming have subsided … for a short while anyway.

I can’t wait for ‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’ to publish next year. And I hope that there will be children who fall in love with Grace-Ella, just as much as I have.

My one snippet of advice – never give up. When it happens, it really is like finding that elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow … only with slightly less financial gain!

Hwyl am y tro x

My Writing and Me (Part 2)

Once I started to think about writing a book, I couldn’t stop. The idea plagued me, day after day. A voice telling me to do it. But I didn’t really know how. I hadn’t written creatively for over 10 years. What was I supposed to write about? I tried to shrug the feeling off – it was just a stupid dream. But its persistence haunted me. It wasn’t going away.

So I set up the computer and started to write. The first story I wrote came to me as fragments of memories from my childhood and once I started to write them, they seemed to fit together like pieces of a jigsaw to form a short story. I became lost in the words. When I finished, I sat back and felt elated. I had written my first story and it felt so bloody good.

I spent a few days wondering what to do next. The voice in my head still shouted at me to write a book, but I needed to know if I was any good, if I was worthy of the challenge. I browsed online and came across Writers’ Forum magazine and their monthly short story competition. I read the guidelines and noted that you could have your story critiqued. That was what I needed, I decided. So without giving it too much thought, I submitted my story, ‘Waiting for Light’, paid for a critique and pushed the whole experience to the back of my mind.

A month later, I received an e-mail from the magazine telling me that my story had been shortlisted and that someone would be in touch if it advanced to the top three. I couldn’t believe it. The critique arrived, which was so positive I felt like I was reading about someone else. When another e-mail arrived to say that the story had been placed second and would be published in the magazine, I felt completely overwhelmed. My story? Published in a magazine? A tiny voice started to whisper, ‘Maybe you can do this.’

A second story followed and was placed second in a different competition and was published in their anthology. My third story, ‘A Silent Lament’, won a competition and was published online.

The joy of writing that I’d felt years earlier had come back. I wrote every day. If I didn’t write I felt agitated, like something was amiss. The more short stories I wrote (a further 5 shortlisted in Writers’ Forum) the stronger the want to write a book became. The only problem was that I was writing short stories for adults, whereas I knew that what I really wanted to do was to write for children.

I began looking at online courses, but their cost was way beyond my means. I was off work on maternity leave and couldn’t justify spending so much. So I decided that I’d just have to do it myself. I started by writing short stories (some of which are now available to download on the Alfie Dog Fiction website). I bought the ‘Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook’ and submitted a couple of picture book texts to some pretty big publishers. They came back as rejections. After such an early flurry with my adult short stories, these rejections came as a bit of a blow. I wasn’t good enough after all.

But then I started to ‘research’. I read everything I could about publishing and the long and slow journey of most authors. I began to feel less disheartened. I realised that the texts I’d submitted weren’t particularly bad, they were just not marketable as picture books.

By now, I had no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a children’s author. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, in fact it was looking damn near impossible, but whilst there was the tiniest glimmer of light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel, I wasn’t going to give up.

I tinkered with a few more picture book texts, but knew that they were never really going to come to anything. Then just like that, everything changed.

I was driving to work (my glorious maternity leave had come to an end) when a name leapt at me. Grace-Ella. I felt like I’d been slapped in the face. My mind began to race. Who’s Grace-Ella? What is she doing in my head? Round and round the cogs whirred. I had to pull into a layby to scribble frantically in my notebook. By the time I arrived at work I was buzzing. The day dragged by. I wanted to get home. I wanted to start writing my book.

That night, I began to type. The words that had been buzzing around my head all day like an angry swarm of wasps flowed freely from my fingertips; my heart raced along with the tappity-tap of the keys. Excitement bubbled as I began to fall in love with my story. Grace-Ella had been born.

(I have posted my short stories, ‘Waiting for Light’ and ‘A Silent Lament’ on this blog if you’re interested in reading them. In my next post I’ll talk about getting my first publishing deal for ‘Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners’.)

Hwyl am y tro x

My Writing and Me (Part 1)

I grew up in a small town in North Wales, immersed in myths about giants and fairy rings.

I devoured books from a young age – stories, to me, were magical. I was a shy child and would happily curl up with a book and escape on adventures with Jo, Bessie and Fanny to Enid Blyton’s ‘Enchanted Wood’ or get up to mischief with the rascally ‘Brer Rabbit’.

We had a crab apple tree at the bottom of our garden, which had the shape of a small door, half way up its trunk. If I scrunched my eyes closed and tapped on the door three times, I would be magically transported to the Crabble Fairies’ Kingdom inside the tree.

Wet playtimes were my favourite at school as they meant having to stay in and listen to a story (and living in not-so-sunny Wales, wet playtimes weren’t a rarity). I would sit cross-legged on the mat, captivated by Roald Dahl’s words.

A trip to the library was the highlight of my week. I’d totter home, arms piled high with books. Some days, Mrs Roberts, the old lady who lived next door would come out to the garden and ask me to return her books in return for 50p and a packet of Jammie Dodgers – she really didn’t need to give me anything, I would have happily skipped along to the library for nothing.

At Secondary School, English was my favourite subject. The first book we studied was ‘Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH’ by Robert C. O’Brien. I loved it and read it again and again. Then came E. B White’s ‘Charlotte’s Web’, which is still one of my favourite ever children’s stories.

Early in Secondary School we were asked to write a piece of non-fiction as homework and I wrote about board games and their importance in family life. My teacher kept me back at the end of a lesson and I stood nervously at her desk, tears threatening, trying to work out what I’d done wrong.

‘Your homework,’ she said, ‘about board games. Did you just copy it from a book?’

‘Um, no,’ I said blushing. ‘I wrote it myself.’

She looked at me funnily and said, ‘Well, it’s extraordinary.’

It was about this time that I can remember seriously saying to myself that one day I was going to write a book. I would fill endless notebooks at home with stories. I won the school’s R S Thomas award for creative writing and walked onto the stage to collect the prize thinking, ‘Me? My writing’s actually good enough?’ A two-day writing retreat at Ty Newydd followed, which firmly cemented in my mind, that I wanted to be a writer. Writing excited me. It could make my heart pound as my hand tried to keep up with the words flowing from my head.

I went to University and studied English and Education, and began to write creatively less and less. University life just kind of took over. I graduated then panicked … what on earth was I supposed to do now? Writing didn’t even enter my mind. I needed a proper profession, a proper job from which I could earn money. So I completed a year’s teaching training – I didn’t know what else to do. By the end of the course, I had secured my first teaching position.

And that’s when real life began. The stories that had, at one time, filled my head drifted further and further away to gather gossamer cobwebs in the recesses of my mind. I was a teacher … I got married … we had our first son … then our second. Life trundled along, keeping a steady momentum.

It took the deeply distressing time in my life, when my second son was diagnosed with meningitis at six weeks old, to finally make me step off life’s wheel for a moment and think, ‘Life is so precious. Live for right now, this moment.’ And it all came flooding back to the forefront of my mind, a tidal wave of stories. I wanted to be a writer. That was my dream. It was never going to go away. The yearning to write gripped me vice-tight. I had to go for it. I had to start writing again.

(Part 2 will follow shortly)

Hwyl am y tro x