Today I’m here to talk about my ‘origin story’ and my journey to publication.
Nobody in my family is a writer.
Actually, that’s not quite true: my mum used to make up stories for me when I was tiny, though she never wrote them down. Had she lived, I think we would’ve become a mum-and-daughter writing team, but sadly that wasn’t to be.
But I was always odd. I come from a very working-class background. Yet, there I was, obsessed with books from the moment I was old enough to pick one up. I could read from a precociously early age, and the quick way for my parents to keep me occupied was to give me a pencil, paper and a title (haha — not that dissimilar from how things work nowadays, because I never get my own titles!).
I talked my parents into giving me a portable typewriter for my sixth birthday because I wanted to be a writer. I typed away happily, creating pony stories and ghost stories. Everyone in the family (and at school) knew I was a bit strange. At eight or nine, we had to come up with three questions we really wanted to know the answer to. Others had questions such as, ‘How often should you feed your dog?’ Not me. No. The weird child in the class had other things on her mind. Exactly how far away is the moon? Who was the shortest-reigning queen in history? How long after you bury a body does it become a skeleton? (Fortunately my teacher knew I wanted to be an archaeologist and had already lent me books on Egypt. And my mum was amazing — she’d worked out that I was born to tell stories, and encouraged me to keep going.)
And then, when I was 13, I discovered M&B. (Sara Craven’s ‘The Devil at Archangel’ — years later, I was thrilled to meet her and tell her how she’d inspired me. And how amazing was it that she became my real-life friend, someone who met me at author events with a huge, huge hug?)
My romances didn’t get very far at that age, but I kept writing — very Tolkienesque stories (which I think might be lurking somewhere in the loft, along with reams of terrible poetry). I tried M&B again about ten years later, and was too young and naive to realise that a four-page rejection letter from M&B doesn’t actually mean ‘go away and never darken our doorway again’. So I wrote other stuff (including ghost stories — one of which was published by Virago), and lots of journalism. I wrote some raunchy novels. But, all the time, I wanted to write romance.
And then, when I was pregnant with our daughter, my husband asked me why I didn’t try writing M&B Medicals, given that I loved romance and loved medical dramas on TV. Good point. So I read a few. They all seemed to be written by Aussie doctors, so I thought I probably wouldn’t fit.
But everything all changed the day I was writing an article about bronchiolitis (RSV or Respiratory Syncytial Virus). Chloe, aged 6 weeks, had this horrible cough. It was a couple of days before Christmas. Was I being paranoid, or was she showing the signs of everything I was writing about? I went for the cautious option (I’d much rather be called an overanxious parent than ignore something serious!) and called the doctor. Yes, indeedy, that was intercostal recession I was seeing. Textbook case. Half an hour after our appointment, Chloe was in hospital for a nasal swab, and she tested positive for RSV. She was on the ward for a week — on oxygen, fed by nasogastric tube.
The only way I got through that week at her bedside was to start writing my first Medical Romance. Once she was back home, I carried on. My agent loved it. M&B loved it. A Baby of Her Own was accepted on Chloe’s first birthday and published on her second birthday.
Fast forward to today: she’s going to be twenty in a couple of weeks, and I’m currently working on my 94th M&B.
The point is: it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. If you want to write, then WRITE, and don’t let anything hold you back. Read craft books, yes, but don’t let yourself be boxed in by them; not everyone works the same way, and not every method works for every writer. If you’d rather work ‘into the mist’ (aka ‘pantster’) that’s fine, and if you’d rather plan everything up front (aka ‘plotter’), that’s also fine. Ditto being in the middle and doing a bit of both. Try it, and use what works for you.
No time? Then put half an hour in your diary every day. That could break down into two blocks of 15 minutes or 3 blocks of 10 minutes: whatever works with your schedule. Make sure you ringfence that time and do it every day. In that time, you write and do nothing else but write. Don’t edit, and don’t overthink or worry about the future: write. It doesn’t matter if it’s on screen, or scrawled with a pencil on paper (as long as you can read it!). One page (500 words) per day for 100 days will get you a first draft of a Mills & Boon in a little over 3 months. That’s when you start editing. The main thing is: write, because you can always change a page that doesn’t work, whereas a blank page gives you nothing to work with.
As for me: lockdown and Covid have both reminded me that life is short, so I’m sneakily writing the book of my heart. It’s something very, VERY unmarketable, so I might end up writing it just for me: but the story’s there and it won’t go away. Maybe it’s time to listen to my own advice… 😉
Oh, and my family? They all still think I’m weird. But I hope they’re quietly proud of me.