When you have a story to tell, some characters and scenes arrive crystal-clear and complete in your mind. The snow-covered mountains, the athletic skier zig-zagging through the alpine forest, her doubts, fears and motivations. The novice writer often forgets that the reader is not telepathic; you must coax them into caring enough to come along for the ride, with the right words, at the right time, in the right place.
In March 2013, I finally accepted that I had too much to learn about the craft of storytelling to do it alone and I signed up for the Writers’ Workshop Self Edit Your Novel Workshop with Debi Alper and Emma Darwin.
Wow! Talk about intense. For the first time I began to see how to address the disconnect between vibrant threads dancing effortlessly in my head and solid, stodgy words on paper. Nothing had prepared me for the jaw dropping, light bulb revelations of that course.
And what fun we had!
The first novel had split into two books (that’s the trouble with beheading monsters).
At the Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing in York, September 2013, I arrived with both stories for sessions with inspiring book doctors, Debi Alper and Andrew Wille.
I took a contract job in the Shetland Islands to give myself time write.
One year later, all fired up and ready to query, I met two agents at the York Festival of Writing in 2014. Both lovely. Neither interested. I came away thoroughly dispirited, put the novels in a drawer, and started a new job.
After the Self-Edit Course, I fell into the warm embrace of a wonderful on-line writing group. Too busy with the day job to write new novels, I entered flash and short story competitions and discovered the discipline of the shorter form. Fewer characters, simpler plot, more scene setting, less action. Just the tonic I needed. And the best thing that ever happened to my writing.
My new job was full-on and holidays were the only time for editing. Book 1 was still in a drawer, rattling and hissing at me in the middle of the night. Book 2 – which became The Chemical Detective – was relaxation: capable women; gorgeous, disposable Bond boys; ghastly villains. When I supported Authors for Nepal, I won a session with a professional writer and editor, Kate Foster. She suggested that I step away from Book 1 and focus on Book 2.
I put out a call to some writers I admired. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. Reading their brilliant stories, my own shortcomings were thrown into sharp relief. By analysing their skill, I started to see fixes for my faults.
But there was still one person I wanted as a reader more than anyone else.
Many years ago I married the cleverest, sexiest, best read man in the world. We have shared books and stories for 35 years. He has more writing talent in the fingertip of his pinkie that I have in my whole body. My obsession strained his patience. Always travelling. When at home, up early, late to bed, tap, tap, tap. Often absent in the head even when physically present.
He was incredibly supportive, doing all the stuff I was neglecting in the house, encouraging me to write other things. But while hugely encouraging of my non-fiction, he had studiously avoided reading my recent fiction.
In 2016, I was in an airport hotel in Shanghai when I got his message. He’d devoured the new opening of The Chemical Detective. He liked it. Awarded me a borderline B+ (high praise indeed). He made me so happy, I cried.
That’s when I started querying in earnest.