New to the PHS this month is #Aspiring Authors where we will chat with unpublished writers about their writing and goals for the future. First up is Mairibeth MacMillan !
It’s probably a cliché but I have been writing ever since I could hold a pencil. I still have stories, poems and plays that I wrote in primary school in an assorted collection of notebooks, diaries and ring binders. Some are even illustrated – badly – and I also have tape recordings of plays that I wrote and made my friends read out and record on the enormous ghetto blaster I got for my twelfth birthday. There are videos somewhere too – I should probably have them converted to DVD and send copies to my friends. The sets mainly consisted of travel rugs draped over clothes-horses and for some reason my character wore a glow-in-the-dark skeleton mask. I have no idea why.
It was probably around 2000 that I decided I wanted to try and write for a living but my actual job as a teacher and then three small children got in the way – nothing to do with the fact that I am a skilled procrastinator, honest! While off on maternity leave I took two creative writing courses with the Open University and after that began to take my writing more seriously and started to enter competitions. I’ve had a few competition wins and other stories published in anthologies which is always a boost to your confidence. I’ve also self-published two anthologies with my former writing group, Women Who Write With Elves, but it was such a lot of work – physically and emotionally – that I’d prefer to keep aiming for a traditional publisher.
In 2012 I attended a writing conference at Loch Lomond Shores. One of the days was set aside for romance writing. Marguerite Kaye was one of the speakers and we’ve been friends ever since. Without her support I’d probably have given up years ago. She lives across the Firth of Clyde from me so a few times each year we take two different ferries and meet up for coffee.
At that conference Marguerite spoke about the Mills and Boon New Voices scheme. Sadly it no longer existed by that point but searching for it led me to Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write and their other forums. Harlequin/Mills and Boon offers regular opportunities to submit work to them from single log lines to entire novels I took part in as many of these as possible. The feedback from their editors has regularly kept me inspired to keep writing – even if I haven’t quite managed to write a book they are willing to buy yet. Despite already reading widely in the genre actually writing and getting feedback really helped me to understand the requirements – especially what was meant by the term conflict.
I am so grateful for all the friends that I have made from all over the world as a result of these forums and it is lovely to see them succeed with their dream of publication one by one. I’ve recently started working with a critique partner who I met on those forums. Jean Barrett is also an NWS participant and we’ve never met in person but hopefully we will sometime soon.
What I write is a very difficult question. I’ve tried just about everything! I began with Historical but after sending in a partial and being told that my voice didn’t fit the line I experimented with other lines trying to find out where my voice did fit.
In 2014 I was lucky enough to receive feedback on my SYTYCW entry – a story written for the Cherish line that was also nominated for the New Writing Award at the Festival of Romance but in the end that hero was deemed to be too unsympathetic. I then wrote another novel that got a full request from Blaze. I got an invitation to revise and resubmit the month before it was announced that the line was closing.
I have also written two romantic suspense novels for Love Inspired Suspense that were both rejected but at least I was a finalist in their Blurb to Book competition in 2015. I still keep trying to rewrite the book written for that but I think it has got to the stage that I should probably start from scratch. I have been regularly inspired by feedback from one the the Love Inspired editors, Emily Rodmell, and she is a really useful person to follow on Twitter and Facebook.
In 2016 there was a Historical Blitz and I decided to try historical romance again. I had recently started watching the TV series Vikings and further reading made me realise that two of Ragnar Lothbrok’s sons, Ivar the Boneless and Olaf the White, had been responsible for capturing Dumbarton Rock in 870AD – although this depends on which version of the story you read. This ancient fortress lies just a few miles further up the River Clyde from where I live and the connection inspired me to give historical romance another shot. I sent in a synopsis and the first three chapters and I was lucky enough to receive a full request. It has taken me a whole year but I have finally finished that book.
My goals for the next six months are to start by sending this novel to the RNA NWS scheme. While I’m waiting for the comments to come back I’ll be finishing my thesis for the MLitt in Playwriting and Dramaturgy that I began last year – the week after I was accepted onto the course I received my full request from Mills and Boon Historical and I’ve tried to work on both during the year but it’s been a struggle. Once I get my feedback from the NWS I plan to submit the rewritten novel to the historical editor and will be keeping my fingers crossed that I’ve got it right this time.
After that I hope to try to be more disciplined about my writing. I always hope for that though and life rarely works out that way. Both my parents have dementia and I try to make sure that their lives stay organised as well as trying to keep on top of my own. I live in a rural area so I spend a lot of time in the car driving my children to various activities that seem to get further and further from home the older they get.
It would be nice to think that ten years from now I might be writing enough to make a living from it but I’ll have to write much faster than I currently do to make that a reality.
One thing people might be surprised to learn about me is that Kate Hardy and Marguerite Kaye both rashly promised to come with me on a trip to Sweden if I ever get The Call. Hopefully one day soon I’ll get to find out whether they meant it or not!
Mairibeth was a secondary Drama teacher for many years until she decided that she had repaid any outstanding debt to society and opted for a career change. If you would like to learn more about her published stories and her writing, you can find her on Twitter and on Facebook.
Are you an aspiring author? Have you made plans for your writing future? Share them with us in the comments or using #AspiringAuthors on Social Media and mark the date you officially decided to make your dream come true!