I used to love an ‘aspiring author gets published’ story when I was writing my first book… I wasted hours of valuable writing time googling ‘journey to publication’ (and hoping). So I thought I’d write my own for anyone who’s in the position I was in then (and would like to waste some of their own valuable writing time).
I’ve loved writing my whole life – I wrote a lot of bad stories when I was a child, many of them historical, and most of the rest heavily influenced by Enid Blyton.
In our teens, my sister and I promised each other that we’d (attempt to) write a Mills & Boon together one day.
After university, before I had children, I didn’t write stories. I worked in Corporate Tax, which I did enjoy but which did not involve that much fiction. What it did involve was a lot of meetings, a lot of pizza lunches with my lovely work-girlfriends and as few spreadsheets and as much writing as I could manage. I knew that the best part about it (other than the friends and the pizza place round the corner) was the writing, so I had a plan to try to get into financial journalism after a career break when my children were little.
The career break went on for a lot longer than I’d expected and I ended up spending hours every day waiting. In the car waiting for children to finish school or activities; in the kitchen waiting for one of the kids to finish eating unbelievably slowly because they did want pudding but they hated chicken curry; on a walk while a toddler wandered round and round a lamppost. I discovered that waiting is a big part of being a stay-at-home mother. Obviously I adore my children, but I do not adore the waiting.
My sister and I mentioned the writing-together thing again but continued not to do anything about it. But one day, soon after another we-should-write conversation, sitting next to my youngest son’s cot while he held onto my hair while he went to sleep (bad idea to let your child get into the habit of using your hair as his comfort blanket), I’d suddenly had enough of feeling that I wasn’t achieving anything during all the waiting, and I started writing on my phone.
From that point, I was hooked. I wrote whenever I could. I wrote into my phone when I was waiting, and I also wrote when I could have been doing other things, which made me feel guilty because it felt like it was a pointless (and very addictive but slightly weird) hobby. I also didn’t tell anyone about it for those reasons. When I did eventually tell my husband, he said he’d been wondering how one woman, even with five children, could possibly have that much admin.
In 2018, I entered the Good Housekeeping/ Orion First Novel competition (my sister, who had been very ill, guilt-tripped me into it), which required the first 5,000 words of a story and a one-page synopsis. I had to type round my youngest son, who was ill and miserable and having a cuddle on my lap, to make the entry deadline. A couple of months later, completely out of the blue, I got an email telling me that I was a runner-up and had won a laptop. It felt like an amazing validation of the time I’d been spending on my (weird) hobby. I decided to finish writing the book.
That’s when I discovered that writing an entire 90,000 word book is hard. It took me a good six months, in any spare (and not spare) time that I had. When I’d finished it, I entered another competition, the Comedy Women in Print Award 2019. I was excited to get longlisted and beyond excited to get shortlisted (after a week of frantic manuscript polishing and spending hours trying to find somewhere in the house that I could get an okay selfie – the loo as it turned out). My husband and sister had read my Good Housekeeping competition entry but other than that I hadn’t shown my writing to anyone. It was a huge boost to discover that now several other people had read the whole book and liked it. I also got to attend an awards evening and hear Jilly Cooper tell a ridiculously filthy joke.
Anyway, I didn’t win the competition, but I did get some incredibly useful feedback from one of the judges, a Harper Collins editor, and I decided to submit to agents and digital first publishers.
A lot more feedback later, I’d learned that a lot of people loved the story as it was but that they didn’t think it had a saleable hook, and that a lot of other people thought it had a great hook but that the story didn’t include enough (any) tension. So I had no idea how to edit it. And that book has not been published…
It did start a conversation with my lovely editor, though, and last March, on the day our family had to start self-isolating a week before lockdown-proper started, I signed a contract with Bookouture to write two rom-coms. The first, The First Time We Met, was published in November 2020, and the second, The House Swap, is out now.
If I had any advice to offer, I’d say if you want to write you just have to start, whether or not you think you have time, and try to get as much feedback as you can from industry professionals. Competitions are great. And write what you love (I do love a rom-com).
(c) Jo Lovett
About The House Swap:
He needs an escape. She needs an adventure.
So why not swap lives?
When Cassie and James find each other on a home swap website, it feels meant to be. City hotshot James needs a bolthole after a relationship goes sour and Cassie needs to leave the comfort of her little island to research her new book.
Soon, James is living in Cassie’s cute but ramshackle house off the coast of Maine, and Cassie’s living in James’s super smart London penthouse. It’s the perfect solution.
Except it turns out it’s difficult to switch homes without getting involved in each other’s lives. Cassie’s unimpressed when James’s ex turns up, and James is furious when he discovers that he’s going to have to help organise Cassie’s neighbour’s eightieth birthday party.
But as the insults fly, so do the sparks, and when the time finally comes to swap back, Cassie and James find they aren’t ready to give each other up – until a shocking discovery brings the pair crashing back to reality and forces them to decide what life they really want.
An utterly heart-warming love story that will make you laugh and cry, fans of One Day in December, The Hating Game and The Flatshare will fall head over heels for The House Swap.
Order your copy online here.