I’m not sure if many Kindle bestsellers are born in a dingy, creative writing course classroom in south-east London (Penge to be precise), but mine was.
I had signed up following the birth of my second baby after experiencing a nagging sense that I’d left my brain somewhere and couldn’t quite remember where (possibly in the back of the fridge with the car keys).
The course gave me the chance to re-engage with people over the age of three and such interesting ones at that; a retired engineer, an out-of-work actor, a fellow mum, a successful local businessman, an Indian granny; all sharing the urge to write. We were taught with smiling patience by an enthusiastic tutor who offered as many ideas as we could handle and two published books to her name. I longed for a mind-hoover to suck out her knowledge and transplant it into my own feeble mind.
My goal was simple. I wanted to know how to write a novel with plausible, engaging characters surrounded by a convincing, flowing plot that made people laugh and cry. Surely that should be achievable during twelve two-hourly sessions? Move over John Grisham, I’m coming through.
One week, our sparkling teacher looked even more twinkly than usual. ‘This week we are going to look at romantic fiction and turn to the masters in this field for inspiration.’ As the male writers in our number groaned, she passed round print-outs from the Harlequin publishing website. Our teacher fixed the naysayers with a steely gaze. ‘This is a brilliant place to learn the art of story-telling,’ she said with finality.
This should probably have been the moment when trumpeters began blasting a fanfare, fireworks fizzed in the sky and a gigantic light-bulb appeared above my head. For this was the moment when I thought, ‘I’m going to try and write a novel.’ The next week Emma Darcy was born, followed shortly by her sister Rachel and then a cast of supporting characters. I’d like to say that it was all plain-sailing from here but it wasn’t.
I read a lot of ‘How To’ books and a lot more novels. I plotted and re-plotted and then gave up plotting and wrote and wrote. At 20,000 words I nearly gave up but Stephen King (via his brilliant book, On Writing) had told me to write every day and you don’t mess with that man. So I kept on going until one day I finished my book. I felt excited, exhausted and weirdly bereft. I missed my characters.
The book and my characters remained trapped on my computer for another two years experiencing encouragement, disappointment and many re-writes before joy of joys, they found a happy home with Harlequin’s new digital imprint, Carina. It was meant to be.
And as for my heartfelt wish to make my audience laugh and cry? If what my readers are telling me is true, I seem to be on my way to achieving that too.