Welcome to our new feature – From slush to shelf – celebrating the incredible journey that many new Mills & Boon authors will go on before they see their name in print. We ask how they started writing, why they started writing, and most importantly, how did the romance writer dream come true for them…
In our debut edition, we asked debut Cherish author, Jessica Gilmore to tell us how she went from slush…to shelf.
My favourite ever piece of A-level coursework was ‘To write a first page in the style of Jane Austen’. It was tailor made for me as I was completely in thrall to regency romance; breeches, spirited Misses, marriages of convenience, highwaymen, sardonic Dukes, rakes. I loved them all. One day, I vowed, tossing my head like a true heroine should, I will finish that first page. I will be a romance writer.
It took a few years to get started thanks to the persistent voice in my head telling me I probably wasn’t good enough, so why even try? It wasn’t until I had my daughter that I had a go. How could I raise her to go for her dreams if I was too frightened to try for mine?
I then proceeded to tick every box in the How Not To Write a Romance book. Rather than try and find my voice I tried (unsuccessfully) to sound like Georgette Heyer, I had no idea of conflict, a cardboard cut-out hero and heroine and an entire town full of far more interesting secondary characters. I was genuinely surprised when it received a standard rejection!
So I finally did some real research – and came across the New Voices competition. Of course I had to enter and submitted a chapter chock-full of betrayal, intrigue and sizzling tension – or so I thought. I didn’t place, in fact I had no luck in any of the competitions I entered, but it did bring me into contact with an entire community of romance writers. And to a course that changed my life…
Competition mentor and award winning author of sixty Mills & Boon romances, Jessica Hart, was running a ten week course ‘From the slushpile to the bookshelves’ and luckily for me it was in my home town. It was an incredible opportunity to learn from the very best and, after a few subtle hints, my husband bought me a place for my Christmas present. Covering everything from structure to conflict, dialogue to pacing it was a fantastic guide to writing genre fiction.
It also made me think about my own writing style and whether regency romance was really the genre for me. One assignment was to write the opening page of a romance novel and I decided to try my hand at a contemporary romance – the result was the opening page of The Return of Mrs Jones.
I also joined the RNA, knowing the New Writers’ Scheme would give me the opportunity to get my work assessed by a published author. Thanks to Jessica Hart I had the tools, the RNA gave me both an incentive and a deadline to turn that opening scene into a book. It was finally finished just a few weeks before the deadline, printed as I was packing the car to go camping, posted as we set off on holiday. Enthusiastic feedback saw the book submitted to Mills & Boon and a year and a half and one extensive set of revisions later it was accepted.
I learned a lot in the three years between New Voices 2010 and getting The Call. I had to find my own voice, find the line that was right for me, be disciplined with my writing time, learn my craft. I would advise all aspiring writers out there to join your local professional bodies, read, read and read some more, go on workshops and courses, accept critique – and keep writing. After all, it’s the best job in the world!
You can read Jessica’s fantastic debut The Return of Mrs Jones right here!
Plus follow Jessica on Twitter here