Top five reactions when people discover I’M AN AUTHOR.

Recently I’ve made a lot of new friends (in-the-flesh, for a change, and not just online!) and the way they react, on discovering my profession, usually falls into one of five categories, some of which  make me a bit wary of wearing my “I’m a writer” T-shirt.

1  They become starry-eyed. In awe. I blame JK Rowling for this 🙂 People imagine red carpet events and sales in the millions. They start inserting complex words into their conversation (that I don’t understand) and talk of the high-falutin’ literary works they read, as if intimidated. So I thank them, but if pressed further, make it clear I’m nothing special. I’m not curing cancer nor have I discovered a new planet. I’m simply lucky enough to be getting paid for an activity I adore.

2  Almost without exception, they declare that they have always thought of writing a novel. This irritates some authors, but not me – as I’ve said above, I’m not exceptional. If I can do it, why not anyone else? I’m a grafter – had to keep my nose to the grindstone during my four years at university, unlike some friends who could socialise as much as they pleased and just cram at the last minute. It’s been the same with writing – I wrote novel after novel at home, for eight years filled with tears and rejection, before landing my publishing deal. So when people react like this I say go for it! You might surprise yourself. Or, you  might discover it is a lot harder than you imagined.

me writer tshirt

3  Quite often, when people discover my genre – romantic comedy – their awe turns to disdain. And I annoy myself by going on the defensive. I laud Mills & Boon authors who earn more than your average writer could dream of. I explain what a diverse, popular genre it is. I did this recently and received the sneery reply “I’m sure it is”. I imagine, in some circles, actors find this if they tell people they perform in a soap and not on the Shakespearean stage. I’m working on not letting these people press my buttons. Huge skill is required in making prose sound chatty and light. The same prejudice is sometimes shown towards children’s authors. I just have to accept that his is just one small downside to a career I thoroughly enjoy.

4  People say what a difficult job it must be – don’t I ever run out of ideas? I explain my belief that the brain, like any muscle, performs better the more you use it. Before you know it, you automatically take on board inspiration. I used to particularly find this when selling short stories. At the beginning I struggled to write even one. But before my novel deal, I sold 50 in one year. My brain just seemed to adapt to searching out suitable material. What’s more, there are a lot more challenging jobs out there, like nursing or serving burgers and fries all day. So yes, you do require determination and stamina but your passion makes it an easy career to follow.

5  The final reaction – it must be the only job in the world where people feel they have a perfect right to ask how much you earn! Not that this bothers me too much. In fact (just between us) I take a certain pleasure in telling them that most writers never earn enough for it to be their only source of income, and watching their jaws drop! Again, I blame JK Rowling (sorry!) for their misconception that being an author automatically means riches beyond your heart’s desire. If you are lucky, with a decent back catalogue out there, then yes, one day you might earn enough to support a mortgage and family. But don’t count on it. It’s not a profession you enter to become a millionaire.

Where To Find Inspiration

As an author, I am often asked where I get my inspiration from. People not connected to the writing world are amazed that us pen-pushers don’t run out of ideas. But – it may seem obvious to say it –  there is inspiration to be found all around us, if we keep our eyes and hearts open. Here are some of the places that have provided stories for me.

The Zeitgeist – I am fascinated by what grabs the public’s imagination. With my new summer novel, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun, it was the TV series Poldark. Women across the world seemed enamoured with this programme, especially the lead character. And this got me thinking, what would it feel like to meet your fictional hero in real life? Kate Golightly finds out, in my story, when she heads off to the coast to find her very own mining hero! Likewise, the public’s obsession with Downton inspired my debut novel, Doubting Abbey.

Whereas the inspiration for my Christmas bestseller Mistletoe Mansion was the public’s obsession with celebrities and the gossip magazines featuring them. The main character, Kimmy, lands a house-sitting job in a posh area and becomes friend with a famous person – and discovers that the celebrity life-style isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all…

Locations – places you have fallen in love with, over the years. For me, obviously rugged, brooding Cornwall. Plus Paris (as in my novel From Paris with Love). I worked there as a young woman and never forgot its romantic, bohemian feel. My honeymoon was on a Greek island. The cheery village feel and stunning sunsets inspired the setting for my award-winning 2015 novel Game of Scones. My novella, How to Get Hitched in Ten Days was set in a fifties diner after I’d eaten in one which blew me away with its fab American memorabilia, and reminded me of the film Grease. So think back over your life and places that have meant something to you. Draw on that passion. The setting doesn’t need to be exotic, just somewhere you can get excited about as a background to your characters’ stories.

Cornwall sea

The Tabloids/Magazines/Reality shows. Well, they do say life is stranger than fiction! If an article makes you gasp enough to tell your family or friends about it, then that is probably something worth writing down. I founds these forms especially useful when I used to write short stories for women’s magazines. And they don’t need to be the sensational stories – perhaps the heartwarming ones  instead, like communities pulling together to overcome adversity.

People. Keep your eyes and ears open. Tap into conversations you hear in a shop or pub. Speak to people on the till or in a queue. I’m a very chatty person and can’t help but strike up conversations. It is fascinating what people will tell you. I know many of the workers at my local supermarket – the one that plays darts, another who goes camping, the lady whose son has a Masters degree in astronomy, the man who works on local radio… I listen to the ups and downs they go through. I’ve also spoken to fellow customers who are on a health-kick or lonely ones who are widowed… Everyone has a story and are often keen to share it if just prompted by a friendly word or smile.

Moments of emotion – whether that is something sad, moving, hopeful, happy or funny. We all experience these on a day to day basis. Draw on the incidents that really make you feel something and stay in your mind. They could provide material for a plot or character. Keep a record of them in your notebook. Like in the short story I wrote about someone who accidentally poured hollandaise sauce over a pudding, instead of custard – that was based on me and my laidback husband still polished off his dessert! How that had made us laugh. Or the time we got burgled whilst we’d gone on holiday. We’d left the house in a terrible mess. The neighbours thought the criminals were responsible and we didn’t confess it was us. Oops! Cue a few feelings of shame!

spotted dick

Also, don’t be afraid to tap into your own mood when writing. Don’t hold back. I was in a very happy, sunny, shiny place when writing Game of Scones and I think that probably showed. Whereas this year has brought challenges and I think that is reflected in the heartache a couple of characters deal with in Breakfast under a Cornish Sun. So be your own inspiration, because that will mean the writing has real meaning, is heartfelt and true.

The Squiggly Line of Success

Victoria success

Recently, my lovely editor at CarinaUK gave a talk at a book event and tweeted this photo of one of her slides. The line on the left represents how people feel the road to success progresses. The one on the right represents what it actually looks like. And I would definitely say that is true in my experience.

I’ve had a long and rocky road to publication and penned my first novel in 2005. The very first agency I sent it out to was Darley Anderson. It came back with a swift, standard rejection letter (thoroughly deserved). To my disbelief, ten years later, I have just signed with this agency, a moment of success for me. But the line of progress in between those two dates has certainly been squiggly, with ups and downs and moments where I felt I was going around in circles.

Whilst completing a first novel is a huge achievement, it represents the beginning of a long and tough journey only those with a thick skin will complete. I wrote novel after novel that got rejected. Sometimes the line of my progression halted when I declared I’d give up my dream of becoming a published author. Of course, that was like declaring giving up food or water – the compulsion to write is in my bones and I never stopped for longer than a couple of days.

Then in 2011 my line progressed a little further. I sold my first short story to a women’s magazine. I went on to sell over 50 to the People’s Friend. In 2013 publisher Alfie Dog Fiction brought out a collection of my short stories in paperback and Kindle form, called Sweet Talk. That was super-exciting and a huge boost to my confidence and my little line edged a further forwards. I even bagged a great romance agent so, on the surface everything looked like it was going to plan.

However lots of squiggly bits were happening at the same time. I failed to sell more than a couple of stories to Woman’s Weekly, for example and the first novel my agent submitted didn’t find a publisher. Despair set in time and time again. In publishing, I find that highs are often followed by lows and then circles where nothing seems to change for a while and then you might hit another high. The one constant is that words, with hope, continue to be written. Smaller successes become very important such as a lovely comment from a reader or an encouraging line from a publisher who rejected but nevertheless enjoyed your work

And then in 2013 I landed a deal with CarinaUK, thanks to my then-agent and my debut book Doubting Abbey. It got shortlisted for an award. Then my bestselling summer 2015 book Game of Scones actually won an award. For a while the squiggles straightened themselves out which was thrilling for me.

But, of course, my line still isn’t as straight as in the left of that slide screenshot. Some books sell better than others. Bad reviews still come in. I have a long way to go. In my opinion, you are only as good as your next book, not your last. A writer can never, ever become complacent. I am working harder than ever now, with my first novella out on the 11th February, How to Get Hitched in Ten Days. This will be followed by my summer novel Breakfast at Poldark’s in July and after that, who knows…

I guess that means the squiggly bits are important. They prepare you for the lows and make a writer realize that above all, determination and perseverance rule the day. So if you are going through a down or circular bit at the moment, don’t worry. Everyone has been there, it just doesn’t look like it on the surface. Look at all the rock bands who disintegrate and then re-form years later. Or the politicians who fall out of favour but make a comeback. Life is messy – just like squiggles. The important thing is that you are trying, maybe sometimes failing, but picking yourself up, learning and then moving forwards again, even though that may not be in a perfectly straight line.
As Robert H Schuller said:
“Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly.”