I remember once years ago coming home from yet another terrible day at the office, and moaning for the millionth time: grr, I hate my job! My long-suffering husband asked a simple question: what would you actually like to be doing with your life? My answer: writing romance novels. Next question: well, what do you need to do to get there?
I knew what I needed to do. ‘All’ I needed to do was to write a novel and get it published. Oh, the simplicity of those words! The path to making my wish come true has been long and tortuous, but never dull. And the final result is thrilling beyond everything!
It’s hard to say where the path first started, as I’ve been scribbling away for what seems to be forever. Maybe the first time I seriously thought I could make a go of it was when I sent off a first chapter to a writing competition. Sadly I didn’t win, but I received a very encouraging letter from the editors, who wrote about my characters as though they were real people. Entering that competition finally gave me some confidence in myself – something I was sadly lacking – and having confidence in your ability to write is an essential first step.
By this time I had a story in my head, but I had a lot to learn about how to get it down on paper in a way that readers would really enjoy. Fortunately there is an organisation in the UK that I knew could provide invaluable help, and so I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme: http://www.romanticnovelistsassociation.org/join/new_writers_scheme
I passed through the New Writers’ Scheme twice. The first year, I sent off just the first three chapters and a synopsis of the novel. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was on the right lines, and it turned out my gut feeling was right. I received a four page, highly detailed letter explaining exactly why the story still wasn’t quite right, and some suggestions on what to do to polish it up.
(If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of my reader’s observations on my particular book, I wrote a post on my blog last year outlining exactly what her advice was: http://helenafairfax.com/2013/04/12/10-useful-things-i-learned-from-the-rnas-new-writers-scheme/)
I took my reader’s brilliant and extensive comments to heart, and rejoined the NWS for another year. I was really excited about finishing my novel, and took both great pains and great pleasure in manipulating the characters and the emotional conflict, to make sure all my reader’s advice was followed and to produce a tight, polished manuscript.
By the end of the year, I finally had a finished novel. I sent it off to the RNA again, waited with bitten fingernails for a response – and finally, hooray! My reader loved it! Just a couple of tweaks required. Hooray again!
This should be the part where I jacked in my job and made millions. Oh, if only life were so simple…
I sent off the novel to a romance publisher and waited. And waited. And waited. And began writing another.
Then I finally heard from the publisher…and it wasn’t good news. They enjoyed my story, but it wasn’t right for their line. So… back to the drawing-board, and back to continuing with novel two. I had confidence in myself now, I had some encouraging words from editors and professional writers, and I had the determination to succeed. What could go possibly go wrong?
One thing I have learnt from my experience in life, above all else, is that we have these neat little plans and we follow them, thinking we are going somewhere, but fate almost always has other ideas. I suffered a terrible tragedy that stopped me writing for a long time.
I put away my novel, moved out of the house I’d lived in for twenty five years, bought a smaller place in need of renovation, and spent an entire year doing it up. Painting and digging the garden were the sort of occupations I could engage in that didn’t require any concentration. My mind was gone.
By the time I felt able to open my lap-top again, the world of publishing had changed in a dramatic way. Writers such as Amanda Hocking and E.L. James were making massive successes for themselves with e-books. I revisited the first novel I’d written and thought, hey – a professional romance writer at the RNA really liked this story. Just because it wasn’t accepted at one publisher doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try another. And what about e-books? E-book romances have taken off in an incredible way.
So, I started looking around on the internet for other publishers who might be interested. After a lot of research, one publisher seemed to draw me more than all the others. Since starting in 2010, MuseItUp Publishing in Canada has made a name for itself as a growing e-publisher, with a supportive and friendly ethos. I submitted my first novel, The Silk Romance to them. After all, I had nothing to lose…
…and everything to gain. They absolutely loved it, and offered me a contract. A few months later, they offered me a contract for my second novel, The Antique Love.
My first two romances were published in 2013. In July 2014, whilst attending the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference, I pitched my third novel, A Way from Heart to Heart, to UK publisher Accent Press. All the lessons I’d learned on the craft of writing paid off, and within a week I was thrilled to be offered a contract by them.
I’m now in the throes of finishing my fourth novel. I’ve learned so much about the craft of writing and the publishing industry as a whole since sending off my first ever draft. I now consider myself a professional writer – and it still gives me a thrill to say those words! Now, my aim has changed from “just” getting my novel published. My aim nowadays is the aim of many a published writer: to try and make my writing profitable.
Some magazines in the UK pay well for short stories. I had a couple of short stories published in anthologies last year, and my plans for the future, besides continuing to write novels, involve researching the short story market and submitting to magazines. I’d also like to write a couple of novellas, both in order to keep my name out there – and for the fun of it!
I’ve never forgotten the excitement I felt on reading my first review from a reader who loved my book, and, although I don’t earn as much from writing as I did in my “proper” job, and the path to publication has been filled with ups and downs, I’ve always been so glad of my husband’s encouragement to set foot on this road.
Publisher: Accent Press
Date Published: 18th November 2014
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Word Count: 85,000
Blurb: After the death of her husband in Afghanistan, Kate Hemingway’s world collapses around her. Kate’s free time is spent with a charity for teenage girls in London, helping them mend their broken lives – which is ironic, since her own life is fractured beyond repair.
Reserved, upper-class journalist Paul Farrell is everything Kate and her teenage charges aren’t. But when Paul agrees to help Kate with her charity on a trip to the Yorkshire moors, he makes a stunning revelation that changes everything.
But can Kate take a risk with her son’s happiness as well as her own?
Short excerpt (300 words): A bird called out in the heather close by, breaking the silence that followed. It was a lost, mournful sound, somehow discordant in the warm summer air. Kate shivered,
‘What did it mean, then?’ Her voice was low, the question intended more for herself than for Paul.
‘I know what that day meant to me.’ The lines of his face shifted and broke. ‘It was the day my heart was ripped into two.’
Kate felt the pain of his words strike right through her. Paul stood unmoving, as though he were one of the boulders on the moors, holding out against the rush of his emotions. The intensity of his feelings, and the words he used to voice them, struck Kate dumb. It was as though everything about him were swept away, leaving only the core, raw and exposed.
His voice gentled as he took in her expression. ‘I know I’m not like Stuart,’ he said. ‘Stuart was easy and open with everyone he met. And I know I kept things hidden from you. But I loved you from the start. Loved you more than I love my own happiness. More than I love my own life.’
The bird called again, and rustled deeper into the heather. Paul took Kate’s face in his hands and bent to kiss her. This time it was no gentle meeting of lips, but a mouth filled with tender, urgent passion. Kate leaned into him, and the sun beat down on them both as they kissed, easing the chill and filling Kate’s very bones with heat.
(Available from other distributors from February 2015)
Helena Fairfax is a British author of contemporary romance. Happy endings are her favourite, and when one of her endings won a reader competition for “The Most Romantic Love Scene Ever” it made her day.
Helena was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in Yorkshire, in the north of England, near to where the Brontë sisters used to live. After many years working in factories and dark, satanic mills, Helena has turned to writing full-time. She walks the Yorkshire moors every day with her rescue dog, finding this romantic landscape the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Helena-Fairfax/e/B00DRBYLO0/