I’ve always loved to write. But after an initial attempt to write a romance, begun on an old typewriter, I put my aspirations on hold and life intervened. Fast forward through a degree in Drama and French, various jobs, and a couple of children to the year 2008 when my local library held a Saturday-morning romance writing workshop.
That’s when I started taking writing for publication seriously. I entered a writing competition run by Mills and Boon with Woman’s Weekly magazine. My short story was one of the runners-up. Much to my surprise! It was published on the Mills and Boon website for a few months in the summer of 2009. I also won a supply of romances which dropped through my letterbox on a regular basis for an entire year!
I’ll skip over the next four years and just say that there was a romance submission, followed by a rejection letter, a couple of unsuccessful contest entries, a successful pitch with a request to see more, and another rejection, plus a second minuscule success in a short story competition which earned me a special mention in The Lady magazine.
I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme, and submitted the first draft of “What If He’s The One”. When the reader’s report came back I got to work. While I was revising, HarperCollins launched the sparkly brand new HarperImpulse. I cracked on with my revisions, and when they announced the Winter Wonderland competition, with my penchant for writing contests, I couldn’t resist giving it a whirl. After all, the opening scene finds fashion student Magenta Plumtree dressed as a sexy Santa and being kissed senseless by her drop-dead-gorgeous “friend” Alex Wells. That’s Christmassy, right?
But … I wasn’t done revising. Being one of the world’s worst worriedy-worriers I faffed right up to the deadline and finally submitted just before the competition closed late one night in October last year. I tried to forget about it. I’d entered competitions before and (apart from the year’s supply of books – yay!) I hadn’t got anywhere, so I kept my expectations low. Still, I checked @harperimpulse from time to time to see if anything was happening winter-wonderland-wise and spotted an entrants-are-being-contacted tweet. I checked my email. Nothing.
Oh well, I thought. That’s that then. It’s all a bit of a blur after that. There was another tweet. This time about contacting winners. I didn’t dare imagine that could include me. I checked my email, and there in my inbox was one from HarperImpulse asking if they could call me the following day. The penny did not drop. I did not believe that I could possibly have won the competition! I thought, maybe just maybe, they might have seen a modicum of potential in my story. I phoned a friend. We pondered. The next morning she called me back. “I think you’ve won,” she said. “Why else would they be calling you?” Oh-so-slowly I began to think my friend might have a point. In my, by then, five years of attempting to write romance I’d read many call stories, and knew enough to confirm that editors don’t call aspiring writers to chat about the weather.
I emailed HarperImpulse to say that I’d be in all day, never more than a few inches from the landline. I pottered. Pointlessly. It happened to be my mum’s birthday. She lives in Ireland. I live in England. I called her and wished her many happy returns and told her what was happening. Then I pottered some more. I did dull-but-necessary things. Things I never do. Like cleaning windows. At lunchtime the phone rang and I jumped out of my skin. Was this it? Nope. It was my mother phoning in whispering tones for a top secret update from the Ladies’ loo in the pub where she was having a birthday lunch. I know – too much information – but such was the excitement.
Five o’clock came and my phone hadn’t rung again all day. Not a peep. Not even a cold caller. It was Friday and I had to go out and do family taxi duties. I worried. I fired off an email to HarperImpulse, explaining.
I needn’t have worried. I got home sometime after six and the phone rang. Still wearing my coat, I picked up and the most lovely, charming voice told me that HarperImpulse loved my story, that I had been picked as one of three winners in the competition, and asked me if I would like to join the team for tea at Fortnum and Mason.
I remember silly details – like that the socks I was wearing had hearts on and the beginnings of a hole in one toe! It was ten days after bonfire night and someone in my street had decided to use up their leftover fireworks right in the middle of my call, sending my dog into a full scale panic. Quaking Scoobydoo-like, all eighty-plus pounds of him endeavoured to climb into my lap while I tried to sound compos mentis on the phone. It’s hard to sum up how I felt – how I still feel – after so many years dreaming of becoming a published writer. Stunned. Delighted. Fortunate. And happy! I hope that readers will enjoy the book I’ve created with HarperImpulse.
You can read fellow author Michelle Betham’s account of tea at Fortnum and Mason on the HarperImpulse blog here.