Once I’d told myself this, I knew it was only a matter of time and persistence.
When you’re a writer trying to get published, it’s easy to think that everyone else has had an easier time of it than you. Often this is not the case and once you peel back the layers of someone’s writing life, to the very core, you’ll more than likely discover abandoned novels and rejections that tell a very different story.
I’ll share a little of my own story because I think I’ve taken the longest route possible to publication! I hope it inspires someone else not to give up.
I’ve come from the bottom and worked my way up. For me it wasn’t just been about learning my craft and becoming a published author, I wanted to regain my confidence and believe in myself.
I left school at 16 with one ‘O’ level. I’d been a promising student, expected to do well in all subjects, but I missed most of my final year because of life-changing surgery for a spinal condition, scoliosis.
It took me years to pluck up the courage to go back to learning. But my dream was to be a writer and I needed to brush up on my English language and literature knowledge and skills.
Fast forward several years of courses to Sheffield Hallam University. I couldn’t believe it when I was offered a place on the prestigious MA in Writing course on the strength of my portfolio. By the end of three years, I realised that even though I’d completed my first novel, there was so much more I needed to learn. Soon after, I was offered a place on the Gold Dust mentoring scheme with Jill Dawson. I wanted to find out if I could write a novel straight off without all the stopping, polishing and handing in of the MA process. Jill guided me through the first draft of my next novel and by the end of ten months, I felt this might be the one to launch me.
How wrong I was!
After spending ages editing, I paid for a critique from The Literary Consultancy, which was incredibly helpful. I edited my novel again and when I felt it was as ready as it could be, I took it to The Festival of Writing in York.
Feedback wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, so I went back to my MA novel and restructured it. I took it to York two years later and this time agents were asking for the full manuscript. But nothing came of it. It was a low point, but I didn’t want to give up on either of these novels – I didn’t do giving up!
On a Retreat West retreat, I met Richard Skinner, Director of the Writing a Novel Faber Academy course. I was impressed by his gentle, deep and thoughtful approach. I sensed that here was someone I needed to learn from. I applied and was offered a place on Richard’s WAN course three months later.
I continued submitting to agents but although there was interest, nothing concrete was happening, even after Agents’ Day at the end of the Faber course.
I decided to start working on a new novel, but the idea wasn’t fully formed. One evening I sat down to watch a friend on a TV programme showing people transforming their lives over a year. In the same episode, a surrogate pledged to have a baby for an older couple. They seemed to have everything in life but had struggled to conceive. I was transfixed by this young woman who already had a baby of her own and clearly wanted to help them experience the joy of parenthood. They came back on at the end of the show when a year had passed. The baby was in its new parents’ arms, but the surrogate looked like a rabbit in headlights. She’d suffered ill health throughout the pregnancy and was looking longingly at the baby. I sensed that part of her regretted the whole experience.
Being a nosy writer, I googled the couple, curious about what happened after the show, but I couldn’t find out anything about them – as though they’d wiped themselves off all social media in preparation for being in the public eye. An idea struck me – what if the intended parents weren’t who they said they were? What if the surrogate didn’t really know who she was handing her baby to?
That was the beginning of a feverish two months planning and researching my idea. Starting on 1st January, it took four months to write a rough handwritten draft. But even before I finished it, I wanted to test out people’s reactions. On the strength of my opening chapters, I won a place at the Meet the Agent day at the International Literary Festival in Dublin, run by Writing.ie. Afterwards, I discussed my new novel with Sara Sarre at the Blue Pencil (Editing) Agency, who had recently edited my other two novels. Sara was excited about this book and encouraged me to type it up. That summer, I won the chance to meet author Amanda Reynolds and her publishing team with my pitch. In September, I won Best Opening Chapter at The Festival of Writing in York and my pitch was runner-up.
Competition long-listings quickly followed: Caledonia Novel Award, Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize and The Bath Novel Award. After yet another edit, I was delighted when agent Jo Bell at Bell Lomax Moreton offered to sign me.
It’s hard to believe that one of my novels is being published. I may have taken many years to get here, but I’ve enjoyed every moment. The best part has been making so many good writing friends. The writing community is incredibly generous and supportive. I’m particularly proud to be published by Hera Books, a dynamic female-led digital publisher. Someone Else’s Baby is my first published novel – I hope there will be many more!
(c) Ruby Speechley
Ruby Speechley is a novelist and short story writer. She completed the Faber Academy novel writing course in summer 2016, under Richard Skinner. Someone Else’s Baby is her debut novel.
About Someone Else’s Baby:
She gave away her children. Now she wants them back.
Charlotte Morgan knows how it feels to desperately want a baby. As a child, seeing her mum devastated by losing her longed-for babies, Charlotte wished another woman could give her mother what she so craved.
Now Charlotte’s a mum herself, and knowing how much love her daughter, Alice, brings into her life, she vows to help others achieve their dreams of becoming a parent.
When she meets Malcolm and Brenda on a surrogacy website, it seems that she has found the perfect couple. In their late forties, they’ve spent their life building a successful business and travelling the world, but there’s just one thing missing – a child of their own.
When Charlotte falls pregnant with twins, the pair are overjoyed. And while Charlotte’s heart breaks as she hands them over, her reward is knowing how much happiness the two tiny babies are going to bring into their life.
But are Malcolm and Brenda all they seem? As secrets become unravelled, Charlotte is forced to face that she has handed her babies over to virtual strangers. And when Malcolm and Brenda disappear without a trace, Charlotte is plunged into a frantic search for the babies she carried – before it’s too late…
A gripping psychological thriller with a heart stopping ending – readers of The Wife Between Us, Rachel Abbott and C.L Taylor will not want to put this down…
Order your copy online here.