I struggle to remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer. I first thought about writing a book when I was seven and I found out there were no more books in the 'What Katy Did' series (written by Susan Coolidge in the 1870s, which was NOT when I had my childhood, just in case you were wondering...) I started writing immediately, but it seemed really, really hard, especially as I couldn't spell most of the words I wanted to use. So I guttered out after a few biro-splattered pages. My mom still has them. Only recently did I realise that it's probably no coincidence that one of my books due out in 2012 is about a girl named Kate.
When I was eighteen, I started writing again. I was living in London and working in a music warehouse, so I began a story about a homeless boy who becomes a rock star. I'm guessing that I came up with this idea because I was a very shy girl who would have liked to have met a rock star, or even a homeless boy. I wrote and wrote every night until I had filled a whole folder full of notes and handwritten scenes. But I didn't finish it. I still love the premise though, and I'm thinking of rewriting it one day.
I completed my first manuscript (80,000 agonising word choices) about four years ago - by which time I was no longer a teenager, but I still wanted to write about them. It was a highschool love story (so far so good) but it was set in the Midlands in 1980 (the epicentre of cool) and none of my characters had a cellphone, a condom, or any common sense. About three times a year I get out this manuscript and seriously think about publishing it. So far I have resisted the temptation.
But I couldn't give up writing.
Then, it happened. The story that writes itself. The one where you sit down at the keyboard and your fingers can't type fast enough to get it all down. The characters that really live and breathe and demand that you tell their story. I wrote American Smile in two and half months and it is still the book of my heart. Two love stories in one - an American soldier meets an English girl in 1944 - and his grand-daughter searches for him with her own American hero in the present day. Brimming with enthusiasm about my story, I approached an agent at a conference, only to be told that 'nobody likes WW2 as a setting for romance'. And I believed her ... for a while.
It was around that time that I realized that writers don't DECIDE to become writers - they realize they ARE writers and they CAN'T STOP being writers, very much like meth addicts, I suppose.
I decided to write a book that agents would prefer. I thought I'd better try mainstream historical romance. I couldn't quite bring myself to do a Regency, but I reckoned I could manage a mid-Victorian story. I wrote the novella Scandal at the Farmhouse as a warm-up for the Big Historial Novel. Scandal turned out to be the book that got me my first publisher - a small press in the UK. Yippee!
Sadly, the imprint folded after only six months, leaving all the authors with the hard task of finding new publishers and better outlets for their work. I self-pubbed Scandal to 'get it back out there' and found that I sold a lot more then the publisher ever did. I wrote the Lady and the Locksmith at this time, aiming for the Harlequin Historical market, which explains why I boxed a big story into a tiny word limit and included what some people thought was a 'dirty' love scene. It may not have been my best work, but 50,000 people read it all the same.
I knew I wasn't writing what I really wanted to write though. So I thought long and hard and went back to the idea of writing Young Adult books. I read more books in the genre - Stephenie Meyer, Alyson Noel, Maria Snyder, Meg Cabot, Amanda Hocking, etc, etc. I knew the paranormal trend was hot in YA, and put together a plot that had both paranormal and time travel elements. The result was JOHNNY DOESN'T DRINK CHAMPAGNE, and I must have got something right because the reviews have been awesome (thank you, wonderful readers, who 'got' what I was trying to say) and the book now makes up forty per cent of my total sales. I'm hoping to have the sequel ready soon, and also to release another world war two story. I'll keep you posted!
In the meantime ... if you haven't read Johnny Doesn't Drink Champagne - it's FREE for kindle right now, so why not give it a try?