About five years ago, I got an idea for a story. This happens to me a lot (‘where DO you get your ideas from?’), but this particular story wouldn’t go away. It bugged me when I was at work. It bugged me when I was on holiday. It bugged me when I was chatting with my children.
Anyway, my busy job suddenly ground to a halt. My husband was at home. He offered to continue looking after our toddler for ‘some time’ while I trogged off to our local libraries and coffee shops to write. He even did it after I admitted that I spent at least 2 hours each day Googling while I psyched myself up to be my narrator.
Three days a week I walked across Wandsworth Common, or down to friendly Balham, to find a quiet spot to write. I told people what I was doing, if they were kind enough to ask, but their eyes always glazed over after about a minute. The only people who read the early drafts were my younger stepdaughter and one of her friends.
After five months, a competition deadline was due and I quickly readied the book to send it off. I showed it to my husband, who up to then hadn’t seen a word I’d written. When I’d come home each day, emotionally exhausted and struggling with a character or structure problem, he’d just say ‘you’re a writer. It’s your job. Deal with it.’ Perfect, perfect advice. Anyway, much to my astonishment, he read my little fashion fairy tale (he’s a Harlan Coben man) and loved it. I sent it off.
I showed it to a few daughters of friends. They loved it. I showed it to an ex-model friend of mine. She was very kind about it. I gave it to my brother. He never quite finished it …
Anyway, stuff happened. Then one day I got home to find a yellow envelope on the hall table with ‘Chicken House’ on it. My language on seeing it was totally inappropriate for an aspiring children’s author. I rang Barry Cunningham. He was very complimentary over the phone. I was beyond ecstatic.
I was shortlisted. I got on with the sequel. Another publisher showed interest but didn’t want it. My accountant suggested which tax credits I was eligible for. My bank account strayed into the red more often than I was used to. I won the competition. I couldn’t tell my friends. I nearly went crazy. Not good at secrets.
They liked it. They really liked it. More than that, they got it. It wasn’t just my fairy tale any more. Lots of people I was talking to understood the characters, were moved by the sad bits, were thrilled by the happy bits, enjoyed the humour.
I started starring in my own fairy tale. Weird. Really weird. Only objective results so far are that I can’t eat or sleep and I have impressive bags under my eyes. And my darling husband is worried for my mental health. But one day, not far away, a young teenage girl will be holding my beautiful book in her hands (I love the draft cover design) and some crazy, baggy-eyed woman will accost her tearfully and say ‘I WROTE THAT. THANK YOU FOR LOVING IT.’ And my life will be scarily, utterly complete.