Apparently I won a Cadbury’s essay competition in primary school. I don’t remember but I do recall an exciting day the teacher shared out chocolate. With hindsight I have to wonder if that was my prize. Maybe that was my first intimation that one shouldn’t expect to get fat, or rich, from writing. J
Secondary school produced my first ‘published’ work, in an end of year magazine. I was about sixteen. Unfortunately it didn’t actually have my name on it; it was a piece I’d dashed off for a friend when she’d begged for help. If you haven’t guessed, the entries weren’t voluntary. She did offer to own up, but I told her I wasn’t bothered. The truth was I didn’t want my name in print; by that time I was abnormally shy, something I still struggle with despite numerous public appearances.
I got a job as a teacher. I wrote exam papers. Once I wrote a playscript for a music teacher who fancied being another Andrew Lloyd Weber. I recall a scene where the young hero climbed the church tower to talk to the weathercock, a chance to write choral music without words to represent the wind as the boy climbed higher. But the musician vanished to another school with it. I have no idea if he ever completed the libretto. It would be nice to know, but it was fun anyway.
Maybe by now you’re seeing a pattern? I liked writing, the challenge, the excitement, a lot more than I did people knowing about it? In fact, I kind of preferred them not knowing. I went through my teens frankly too self-conscious to live; the kind of ‘shyness’ that means taking a deep breath before walking into a room with actual people in it. I did manage to partly handle the problem during my college years. That’s when I studied Drama- and did rather well at it. Because I discovered I could perform pretty well in public - if I let ‘Terry’ replace‘Teresa’. It wasn’t the real me, it was this much braver alternate persona. (No wonder I like fantasy.)
But neither Terry nor Teresa was brave enough for a long time, they let ‘life’ get in the way. Till one day I thought, ‘All right. Why not. But how? How do I know I can write anything worth reading?’ And that’s how I enrolled in a writing course. Hey, it was long distance, and it promised if I completed the course and hadn’t earned back my fees they would refund them! Couldn’t lose.
Lesson one: plan three articles for three magazines. Bother, I’d wanted fiction. Never mind, it would still be good for me. I planned them. Lesson two: write them. Done. Lesson three: send them off.
Long story short, they all sold and one turned into a series. I’d earned my fees in three lessons. And editors asked for more. A great compliment, how could I refuse. For ten years my spare time – I often worked six day weeks in my ‘day job’ - had a waiting list of articles. I’d become a ‘writer’. I was fairly sure I was a good one, at least in fifteen hundred word bites. I finally had my name on my work. I got paid. The problem I wasn’t trying the fiction I’d intended.
And of course I had no idea how to sell my writing. I’d never had to.
So picture the shock when I finally switched tracks into fiction. I was supposed to submit stuff? You’ve guessed it; the old me came rushing back; the me who had trouble facing people. I sold a couple short stories, but I didn’t send out anything once it failed a couple of times; obviously that meant it wasn’t good enough.
In fact I did exactly the same thing with Ashamet, Desert-Born. Getting the world the story is set in just right took a while but eventually I took a breath and sent it out; twice. First time: a senior editor held it for a year, then said no. The second: they said it was “too difficult to market”. I knew it didn’t fit an established niche, but stupidly I’d thought that might be a good thing. Obviously not. I was disappointed, but prepared to shelve it when, amazingly, Dragonwell Publishing heard about it from another writer and asked me if I’d “like to send them something”! When I recovered from the shock Ashamet was sold, in ten short days.
Truth really can be stranger than fiction. But trust me, it’s not the way you should intend to get published. Even if it makes such a great story in itself.