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