When I was ten, I wrote and illustrated a story called ‘The Giraffe who Sneezed’. It was a joint project with my dad, who used to read to me all the time when I was a child. The story won a competition at my school, and it was the first time I had ever won anything (minus the pot of gunge that was sent to me by The Young Telegraph magazine, though I can’t remember what question I’d correctly answered or task I’d successfully carried out to win this much-treasured prize). I was an awkward child who grew up to become an awkward young adult, and I always found it easier to befriend fictional characters than I did real-life people. I always wanted to write – I was at my happiest when I was writing – but I never really believed that someone ‘like me’ could become a writer, and most other people didn’t seem to either. ‘So what are you actually planning to do with your life?’ someone once asked me; I was twenty-eight at the time, and yes, it smarted more than a little. In hindsight, the person who asked it did me an inadvertent favour, as I never forgot his words and they provided me with a short sharp kick every time I became lazy or was about to give up. But my dad always believed, and always told me to ‘just keep writing’.
During my MA course, one of the lecturer’s agents came to the university to chat to us about getting signed and how to approach literary agents. It was the first time I realised that ‘normal’ people could do such a thing, and suddenly the publishing industry seemed less of a foreign country that could only be accessed by an elite group who all held special passports and had a secret handshake. I started to submit work, though in hindsight I was submitting far too early, when the work still needed a lot of editing – and, in some cases, ripping up and starting again. Knowing when something is working or not has turned out to be one of the hardest things for me as a writer; abandoning something you’ve put so much time and energy into feels soul-destroying, but sometimes it is necessary. It was when I started getting positive comments from agents (albeit still alongside refusals) that I began to believe that getting published might just be a possibility. One response in particular stuck with me – ‘you’ve got something…keep writing’. I followed the advice, though there were plenty of times when giving up seemed if not preferable then at the very least, easier.
I was on holiday in Lake Garda when I got an email from an agent who wanted to see the full manuscript. I reminded myself not to get too carried away (this had happened before, and hadn’t led to getting signed), but I had a good feeling about it – this particular agent had outlined some specifics she was looking for, and I had ticked the boxes. She read the book and enjoyed it, though she advised that it was straddling genres – part police procedural, part psychological thriller – and I should go one way or another. I opted for police procedural, did a complete rewrite – same characters, new story – and The Girls in the Water was born. She signed me, and then there was more reworking and editing to make sure it was as strong as it could be. Then the process of sending off to publishers began. I was offered a contract with two different publishers on the same day, something that just six months earlier I could only have dreamed of.
I am published with Bookouture, who are a dream to work with. A few months after publication in 2017, The Girls in the Water reached number 5 in the US Kindle chart, which was the most surreal experience of my life. I had to double check the phone screen to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, and even when it was confirmed I was still convinced there had been some kind of technical error. Since then, I have written another seven books, and am currently near the end of a first draft of book nine. I hope it won’t end any time soon, as I love my job and writing often feels like the only way that I can make a sense of a world that is sometimes incomprehensible. Since my first book was published, I have suffered bereavement and become a mother (twice), with the highest highs and the lowest of lows coinciding. Without writing, I’m not sure how I would have coped with or responded to either. Writing offers an escape when there isn’t any other (never more felt than during lockdown), in much the same way as reading.
My two pieces of advice to anyone working towards getting published would be firstly to just keep writing and secondly to use a respected writers’ service to appraise your work. The first will cost in terms of time and energy (and sometimes tears); the second will cost financially, but a reputable editorial service is worth every penny. I sent my manuscript to one prior to getting signed with an agent and I’ve no doubt that receiving that feedback and changing the book accordingly helped me to then get interest in my writing. Friends and family will always tell you that what you’ve written is great, but a professional will tell you what you need to hear.
(c) Victoria Jenkins
Author Social Media Links:
Twitter: @vicwritescrime https://twitter.com/vicwritescrime
About The Playdate:
Arranging the playdate was easy. Child’s play. Preparing the house was more difficult. It was only now she realised how many photographs there were: the picture-perfect unit. Wife, husband, child. All of it a lie.
I made a new friend at playgroup today. She’s different from the other mothers. She feels like someone I can trust. Someone I can confide in.
But there are some things I can’t tell her. Things I can’t tell anyone.
Because I have a secret that no one else knows. One that still haunts my dreams, wakes me up in a cold sweat at night.
Even another mother would never understand. Unless, of course, she’s hiding something too…
From the bestselling author of The Argument, this utterly addictive psychological thriller will have you hooked from the first page to the final, mind-blowing twist. Fans of Friend Request, The Silent Patient and The Girl on the Train won’t be able to put this down.
Order your copy online here.