This is the time of year when lots of people make resolutions, and for a number it may well be to write a book. I’ve been thinking about this for a few days, but only (finally) got around to writing this blog post when my editor emailed me with some frankly stunning news that made me look back at the beginning of my own writing career and think about what my goals were.
Honestly? When I began to write, the main goal was simply to see if I could complete a book. I’d spent my entire adult life, pretty much, earning money through writing – but as a journalist I had to interview someone then turn what had happened to them into around 1500 words maximum, before reading it back to them so that they could give approval before publication. Making things up was totally alien to me.
And then there were all those words… How many words were there in a book, anyway? I actually had to look that up – it’s roughly 80,000-90,000, by the way, but can be more or less depending on genre. Gosh, that seemed like an impossible amount of words…
There were a couple of false starts; ideas abandoned at around 8,000 words because it either seemed as if there was nothing else to say, or like there was too much to say and I’d no idea how on earth to go about ordering it.
Then I decided to start on an idea that had been popping into my head on and off for years now, ever since I’d worked briefly at Barlinnie Prison, Glasgow. For some reason, as soon as I began that story it felt different. Special. As if I wanted to take the time to reach that finish line of writing ‘The End’. The character of the nameless woman searching for herself inside a marriage where her husband only ever called her ‘Babe’ felt real to me, as did her complex husband, Daryl. Exploring a theme of how well people can ever know each other, from friends to lovers to colleagues, lured me in, as did the idea of there being an invisible victim of crime whom no one ever considered.
Still, the only goal was to get to the end of the story. To see if I could.
Reader, I did! What’s more, I self-published it.
By the time I started writing The Darkest Lies, my third book, I’d already hit some incredible markers for an author: I’d been a genre bestseller in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia, as well as an overall Kindle bestseller in the UK. Me!
The Darkest Lies was hard to write, though. It sometimes felt as if it would never be finished, as the weight of the main character’s despair and anger was sometimes all-consuming. The idea had been sparked when I read about how Levi Bellfield had befriended the father of Sarah Payne, the eight-year-old who had been snatched from the side of a country lane and murdered. I can’t begin to imagine the horror Michael Payne must have felt, having already suffered so much, when he discovered one of his drinking pals had been arrested for being a serial killer. As for Bellfield, I couldn’t help wondering what he’d got out of doing that. The desire to explore both sides was what drove me to create the Oak family, and tell the tale of how they coped when their daughter is found unconscious on the sea marshes surrounding the small village of Fenmere.
The Darkest Lies was worth all the angst I felt while writing it, though. It was the book that landed me my publishing contract with Bookouture; it appeared on the USA Today bestseller list, as well as an Amazon and Kobo bestseller in several countries. Now it’s about to do something else…
It’s about to hit 100,000 sales!
That is something I may have dreamed about in a ‘wouldn’t it be great if…’ way, in the same way 14-year-old me dreamed of marrying Patrick Swayze, but I certainly never though it would actually happen. And now it is!
Do you want to hear something even more amazing? The Darkest Lies is currently in a race with another of my books, The Perfect Friend, with both neck and neck as they approach that incredible, milestone sales figure.
The Perfect Friend came to me just when I felt I’d completely run dry of ideas. A friend of mine offered me a break in her home to get some thinking time done, so I took her up on it, and as I walked along the beach in her hometown, thanking my lucky stars for such a wonderful friend…I was struck by an idea. What would happen, I thought to myself, if our friendship were toxic? If I were a compulsive liar? If we both were? My mind starting spinning with ideas, and I sat down on the beach, pulled a notebook from my rucksack, and started making notes there and then. The idea changed a lot along the way, but at the heart of The Perfect Friend lies a toxic friendship and an exploration of the way lies can be wrapped around someone as a form of protection as well as something that can do damage.
So what does all of this have to do with New Year resolutions and wannabe writer?
It’s that every journey, no matter how long or short, starts with one step. When I began writing fiction, I had no clue that I’d end up with my sixth book about to be published, and two of my books racing each other towards 100,000 sales. My advice is: don’t think about the end goal, just think about the story – because just as each journey begins with a single step, every book starts with a single word. Then another. And another. Just start. Then maybe start again – that’s okay. Then keep going and see where your story takes you. Good luck.
PS – Just in case you haven’t got a copy of The Perfect Friend or The Darkest Lies, and like the sound of them (and you’d like to help an author’s dream come true) here are links to them both.
The Perfect Friend: https://tinyurl.com/yd7n7uvl
The Darkest Lies: https://tinyurl.com/ybum959e