Shirley Golden is a respected short story writer and a good friend. Her work is beautiful, and I’d be saying the same if she wasn’t a mate. Last week her debut novel, Skyjacked, was published and I cannot wait to read it. Here, Shirley asks if she’s now a real writer?
Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to try and turn my childhood dream of becoming a ‘real’ writer into reality. I embarked upon a novel, and it came out in a flourish! I worked from 7am – 7pm, clocking 2 – 3,000 words per day and completed 130, 000 words within three months.
But once my first draft was complete, I began to doubt. Why did I think I could write? I didn’t even fully understand the rules of grammar. So, I back-pedalled. I read advice on grammar and how to write, including Stephen King’s On Writing, and Teach Yourself Creative Writing. I joined writers’ groups, where I encountered, sometimes decent, and sometimes poor advice. I decided to try short stories, mainly to practise the craft but also to see if I could get published.
I studied women’s magazines because they paid for short fiction. But I quickly realised such stories weren’t for me. They were twee and constrained – both in their subject matter and in the way the magazines dictated viewpoint and tense. I searched for other markets online and trawled through The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, where I discovered the small presses. And what an absolute gift they were (and are). Among the first magazines to capture my attention were Scribble, Staple, Writers’ Forum, and Leaf Books.
I remember my excitement at submitting stories and my odd persistence when I began to receive rejections. Odd, because I’m not a confident or pushy person and I find it a mystery as to how I kept going. I prepared the first three chapters of my novel for agents and received more rejections.
But I also received feedback for a short story from the editor of Staple. It was a rejection but he’d written a couple of encouraging lines and suggested that I submit more work. I was so grateful for this lifeline amongst a sea of rejections.
Then it happened, a year and a half after first setting ink to page, one of the big agencies asked to see my full manuscript. I was so excited, I thought I’d pop! This was it. I was going to be a ‘real’ writer.
A couple of months later, I received a reply, which was complimentary about my characters and story, but stated they didn’t think they could market it.
This news would have undoubtedly been devastating had I not received an acceptance for a short story from Scribble in the same month. I was a published author! Only after my initial elation, I realised that this was just the first tiny step towards achieving my goal.
I continued to write short stories as they were an invaluable place to experiment with structure and style. I received three more acceptances that year, and the next year won first prize in a short story competition run by Writers’ Muse. I continued to receive rejections from agents, and so began work on the next novel, and the next and the next…
Five years after my first short story was published, I won the Exeter Short Story Prize (and started to admit that I wrote). That same year (acceptances have a definite bus-like behaviour), I won second place for the opening chapters of my fifth novel. Nearly two years later, I signed a contract with Urbane Publications for that novel: a space fantasy called, Skyjacked. And I am elated. But it’s more tempered these days. Experience has taught me that success and failure are best viewed stoically, and that self-doubt will never completely go away; even now, I fear my stories were picked because it was a poor month/quarter/year for submissions. And I often wonder at what point, if ever, an author feels like a ‘real’ writer.
To buy Skyjacked, click on these links: