At the age of 14, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind what I wanted to be when I grew up. A Spanish countess.
A petite, blonde, blue-eyed aristocrat married to a hawk-faced Spanish count with a cruel smile and clever hands. I spent endless school assemblies and dull geography lessons fantasising about walking daintily down a majestic staircase towards him, wearing some sort of diaphanous garment and impossibly high heels, and desperately trying to ignore the inconvenient truth that I was a 5ft 6 brunette with size 7 feet who wouldn’t be able to walk daintily in heels if my life depended on it…
Eventually I realised that it might be a good idea to have a Plan B.
The Road to Publication
So, I sent off to Mills&Boon for their writer’s guidelines and started my first book. I’m ashamed to say that then, as now, I found the process of invention far easier than the discipline of writing, so it was the first of many that didn’t make it beyond the opening chapter. But in the years that followed I kept those writers guidelines with me. Every January 1st they got transferred from the pages of the old, tattered diary into the new year’s pristine one, and my list of New Year’s resolutions on the first page always featured ‘Start book’ (somewhere between ‘go on diet’ and ‘be more organised’.)
A degree in English followed, and hot on its heels marriage (rather disappointingly not to a Spanish count, but a man who has turned out to be a true hero in terms of the support he’s given my writing) and three daughters. In the summer of 2004 I saw an article in the paper about a local author who was starting a writers group and looking for members. The author was Penny Jordan. When I met her I certainly remember thinking how lovely she was, but I wonder if I missed the sign— the clap of thunder, beat of angel wings or sparkle of pixie dust in the air—which indicated that this was the person who would change my life forever!
It was at the January meeting of the writer’s group in 2005 that she challenged me to write an opening chapter. My list of New Year’s Resolutions still featured ‘Start book’, though my beloved HMB writer’s guidelines had long ago been mislaid; but Penny, with the generosity that seems so characteristic of romance writers, gave me something even better. Kate Walker’s ‘Twelve Point Guide to Writing Romance’. I took it home, read it, re-read it, underlined bits, and then felt ready for Penny’s challenge.
I wrote the first chapter of what was eventually to become The Italian’s Defiant Mistress easily and with huge enjoyment, and sent it off to Penny one morning in March. By the end of the day she rang me to say she’d emailed it straight to her editor in Richmond and they were very keen to read more. I suppose this is where the first phase of my development into a writer began: I learned that writing is easy when you’re not under pressure, but when you are it’s like swimming uphill through custard. I wrestled with two more chapters and sent them off, and became unpleasantly acquainted with Phase Two of the writer’s development. The phase where you check your email 32 times every 10 minutes and become intensely superstitious (if the next car through the traffic lights is red I’ll hear from HMB today…) When I eventually did hear it was to say that the editor liked my voice, but didn’t like the direction the book had taken in chapters 2 and 3. It was ‘too domestic’. Could I re-write them and get back to her?
Stuff happened. We moved house. The builders moved into the new house with us, filling it with plaster dust, swearing and loud radio. At some point I did send off two re-written chapters, and kind of limped on with writing more, but the editor I was dealing with went on maternity leave and I heard nothing. Christmas loomed. My New Year’s Resolution for 2006 was ‘Start New Book’
I was getting on with that when, in February I got an email from Lucy Brown in Richmond apologising for the delay in getting back to me and requesting the full ms of the first book. The book I’d abandoned at Chapter Six.... Yikes.
Phase 3 of the writer’s apprenticeship must be that part where you get out of bed at 5am to write, and the world blurs at the edges as the characters you’ve created become more real to you than the people you talk to at the school gate. The book was finished and sent off just before Easter.
At the beginning of June I got a very detailed, two page revision letter and with a mixture of hope and terror did the revisions and sent it back. And waited. And got an email from Lucy Brown on the first day of the girls’ summer holiday.
The timing wasn’t great. My children aren’t, you know, hooligans or anything, but they’re also not the kind of quiet girls who might while away the summer stitching samplers. For the next 6 weeks I no doubt looked like any other harassed mother in the park and on the beach but my mind was completely focused on sexual tension. I’m a little ashamed to say it was with a degree of relief that I dropped the girls off at school on the first day of term and returned gleefully to my desk, delighted at the prospect of acres of time stretching ahead of me...
On Friday September 15th the phone rang. I pounced on it in the manner of a woman who has been staring fruitlessly at her computer screen for hours and is seriously in search of a diversion. If it was someone selling double glazing we could have a good old chat about the merits of wood versus uPVC...
It was Lucy Brown, calling from Richmond to ask how the revisions were going.
‘Fine’ I lied airily, staring at my screen, which said Chapter 2 at the top. ‘Nearly finished.’
‘Great! The thing is, we have a Presents slot free for July next year and I really want your book to be the one that fills it. We’ll need to have it with us by the middle of next week for it to be considered, and of course it still might not be suitable for acceptance, but do you think you could get it to us by then?’
‘No problem’ I said, wedging the phone against my shoulder and starting to type frantically.
I worked solidly for the next five days (and most of the nights too). At 6 am on Wednesday 20th September I wrote the Epilogue in a rush of exhilaration and tears, and sent it off at 9. Then I went back to bed for the rest of the day. With a chocolate éclair.
I'd just got home from picking up the girls from school, and was having my first proper conversation with them for days when the phone rang. Lucy and I spent the first few minutes chatting and I found myself feeling really, desperately sorry for her. I was certain she was trying to find a nice way of mentioning that the book hadn't come up to scratch, and letting me down gently. I'd braced myself to hear that when she said that she was calling to say they wanted to buy it! The feeling was indescribable.
I’d still quite like to be a Spanish countess when I grow up, but in the meantime I’ll definitely settle for being a Mills&Boon author. You get to enjoy all that drama and passion whilst wearing old jeans and extremely unflattering jumpers. Perfect!
To learn more about India you can visit the joint Blog she runs with two other writer's here. And we here at The Pink Heart Society wish her every success with her new writing career!!!