Becoming Real: A Writer’s Tale

SkyjackedShirley 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.

IMG_0895But 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:


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