I’ve always wanted to be a writer. However, wanting to do something, and actually doing it are two quite separate things. I’d vaguely assumed that writing was something I would end up doing at some point in my life. I just wasn’t sure when, exactly. I spent my twenties travelling and living in different countries, and most of my thirties balancing the dual demands of a working life with being a parent.
In 2006, the summer after my second child was born, I had a lightbulb moment. I realised I didn’t want to be lying on my death bed regretting that I’d never done the one thing I’d always wanted to. So I started writing. At the time, I believed (poor, deluded fool that I was) that I would write a novel during my maternity leave, it would be an instant best seller and I wouldn’t have to return to the day job.
Fast-forward to 2020 and I’m still doing the day job….
But I’ve also managed to build a career as a moderately successful crime writer. It hasn’t been easy; as all writers know, the path to publication is a perilous one. Whether you choose to self-publish or, as I did, to go down the traditional route, you need a thick skin, dogged determination and a self-belief that’s bordering on delusional.
I signed with my first agent in 2011, got a four-book publishing deal the following year, and had three books published between 2013 and 2016. It was hard work but hugely rewarding. My novels sold well and received lots of glowing reviews. I wasn’t yet making enough money to give up my day job, but I was confident my writing career would continue to grow.
Then my publisher had a change of direction and stopped publishing crime fiction. They told me they wouldn’t be publishing the fourth book I’d been contracted to write. Around the same time, my daughter became seriously ill. I had to stop working so I could focus all my attention on taking care of her.
Yet, somehow, during the worst time of my life, I managed to continue writing. I look back on that time now and I have no idea how I managed it. The only way I can explain it is this: the need to write is such an essential part of who I am that I had to keep doing it, no matter what. The author Isaac Asimov famously said: ‘If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.’ I love this quote because it perfectly describes my own urgent need to write.
As my daughter gradually recovered, I managed to finish the first draft of a new novel. Until then, I’d written three crime novels. These were part of a series, featuring second-generation Irish police detective Ellen Kelly. The new novel, called I Could Be You, was a departure from the ‘Ellen’ books. I hoped it would be the first in a new series but that was dependent on finding a new agent and a new publisher.
So, I started submitting again. As an already published author, finding an agent was a lot easier this time round. I quickly signed with Laura Longrigg of MBA literary agents. Laura really liked I Could Be You and was confident she would find a publisher. Her belief was reassuring but it didn’t stop me worrying. In this precarious industry, there are no guarantees!
In fact, several publishers got back very quickly to say they loved the novel and wanted to publish it. I was in the weirdly brilliant position of getting to choose which publisher I wanted to work with. This was a difficult decision as they were all lovely. However, I went with my gut instinct and signed a four-book deal with the digital publisher, Canelo. Since signing with them, Canelo have launched their Canelo Crime imprint, which publishes paperbacks as well. All my books are now published under this imprint.
I Could Be You, was published in January 2020. Set in my adopted home town of Eastbourne, the novel is the first in a new crime series featuring jaded journalist Dee Doran. The second Dee book, When the Dead Speak, was published in July and the third one, Before You Were Gone, comes out on 28 January this year. In addition to these three books, I’ve just finished a fourth standalone crime novel, which will come out later this year.
All in all, then, it’s been a busy few years. As I write this, copies of Before You Were Gone are being distributed to bookshops and other retailers ready to hit the shelves on 28 January. But most bookshops won’t be open by then, which means it’s hard to get excited about this.
As we head into 2021, I’m not sure what happens next. For the first time since I started writing, I’ve finished a book and have no idea what I’m going to write next. Usually, I’ve already started the next book before finishing the one I’m currently working on. This time, I find myself in a strange situation where I don’t know what to write next or even if I’ll have a publisher (I’ve now written all four books I was contracted to write with Canelo).
In a non-COVID world, this uncertainty would have unsettled me. In fact, it’s had the opposite effect. It’s liberating not to know what the future holds; it’s a relief to stop planning and simply let things happen in whatever way they’re meant to.
When I first started writing, after my daughter was born, I felt a profound sense of relief. Until then, I had drifted from job to job, constantly searching for something. It was only when I started writing that I realised this is the thing I’d been looking for. I am a writer. And I will keep on writing, no matter what the future may hold.
(c) Sheila Bugler
Before You Were Gone, by Sheila Bugler is published by Canelo Crime.
About Before You Were Gone:
The truth can’t stay buried forever…
Emer Doran’s life was torn apart when her sister, Kitty, drowned. Her body was never recovered. Twenty years later, Emer sees a woman who is the image of Kitty. In that brief moment, Emer is convinced – her sister is alive.
Dee Doran jumps at the chance to get to know her long-lost cousin when Emer calls asking to meet. But it is not the happy family reunion Dee had expected. Emer is desperate for Dee’s help to find out what really happened to Kitty.
As Dee works to uncover the truth, one thing becomes clear: there is a tangled web of lies that date back many years. And those with the answers are determined to keep their secrets at any cost.
A tense and gripping crime thriller perfect for fans of Alex Marwood and Fiona Barton.
Order your copy online here.