NOT delusional – a success story from client Fleur Smithwick

Some of us watch X Factor and we cackle and point and use the word delusional, but as aspiring authors, we are all a little delusional, and so we should be. You need to be able to tell a story and tell it in words that flow and resonate and you need luck on your side but you also need to dream the dream and dream it vividly. It is a guilty pleasure, but if you don’t picture yourself sashaying into an agent’s office looking the business, it would be impossible to keep going.

I started writing for the wrong reasons. My husband was away, I had small children, I wasn’t working and I was bored. I read an article about a highly successful Mills & Boon author and decided it looked easy and fun. It certainly was fun but although I thought I’d nailed it with each of my . . . hem . . . eight efforts, the ladies at 24 Paradise Road, didn’t and the letter that came in response to my last submission hinted at barely suppressed irritation.

By then the children were at school. I gave up trying to write romance and settled into work as a school secretary.

Cut to 2008. My husband was away again, my eldest had just started University and I was working but bored. Slumped despondently on the sofa watching Coronation Street, I asked myself if this was IT and my heart sank.

I decided to go back to writing and this time I attempted a RomCom. I liked what I’d produced but I wanted to give it its best chance so I searched the internet for editorial services and found the Writers’ Workshop. Dexter Petley was an excellent editor and the book had an encouraging response. However, as he’d warned me, there is no market for RomComs unless your name is David, Nick or Tony.

Having failed to learn the lesson about not writing what you think people will buy, I plumped for Chick Lit. I could almost hear the agents yawning. I didn’t send it to WW and in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t. The book simply wasn’t worth it.

In 2009 I wrote a short story that was shortlisted for one competition, gained first prize in another and was a finalist in another. Encouraged, I turned it into a novel. This was my baby, the first book I’d written without worrying about where it would sit on the shelf. I showed it to an agent’s reader whose children attended the school where I worked (yes, it helps), but although she was keen, I just couldn’t get it right for her. It was desperately disappointing.

In despair, I contacted Writers’ Workshop and Debi Alper was able to take me on and it was the best thing that could have happened. She pinpointed exactly where my problems were and I sorted them out. That was all it took.

The email from Victoria Hobbs was so much like a fantasy that I have to quote it, ‘I’ve just turned over the last page. I have been totally gripped and resented all interruptions. What a fabulous read!  When can we meet?’

Delusions can come real.

Victoria found an editor at Transworld willing to publish a story about a man who wasn’t there and a girl who thought he was.

For me writing is not simply about the pleasure of telling stories – it is the whole package; it’s meeting other writers, going to talks and giving readings, pinching myself because I’m at the AM Heath Summer Party. It is sheer joy. I made plenty of mistakes but I kept going and having learnt my lessons the hard way, I’ll never forget them.

If you are trying to decide whether to pay for constructive help my advice would be to go for it, with a couple of provisos. Do as much work as you possibly can, put aside your novel for a least a month and then do a whole lot more. Then send it. Don’t waste money putting silly things right. When you receive your report, don’t knee jerk, don’t be precious or defensive. You’ve paid them, so trust them because they know what they’re doing. Oh, yes, and do take the self-editing course. It’s incredibly useful.

How to Make a Friend will be published by Transworld in January.

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The Writers' Workshop is the world's leading consultancy for first time writers.
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