I started this as a “comment”, a response to some of the comments on my previous blog, but it got too long, so help yourself to a slice of toast and make your comfortable.
Ally Blake said:
"Even before I ever started writing for publication I used to collect things like this, as I always found they took me somewhere else, to an emotional place or back to the time when I first found them."
My ideas files are full of memories, too, Ally. Some of the clippings are very old. “BP” (Before Published) old. Flipping through them never fails to brings back that vivid enthusiasm, eagerness, the thrill of embarking on the new. Then, back in the 80s and early 90s when I had decided that writing for Mills & Boon was the next step on my writing career ladder, everything I read, everywhere I looked, there were possibilities for a story and I thought that I could re-invent the wheel. If I hadn’t had that belief, that innocence, I would never have written AN IMAGE OF YOU.
A lippy heroine who hung out with the homeless, took part in “demonstrations”, handled a night in jail without shouting for Daddy’s lawyer to bail her out? Today she’d seemed like a fairly run-of-mill heroine. Back then she was anything but.
In the early 90s, romantic fiction didn’t go in for humour. Romance was angst-ridden, sexy, soul-torturing stuff. When the hero made his move on the heroine and the “earth moved” it wasn’t because the tent had collapsed.
Back then, there was no ‘net, there were no online boards where a new writer could run ideas past experienced authors, editors, be warned that some themes were less likely to sell than others. Back then I just wrote what appealed to me, which is probably why, before that first acceptance I’d had books turned down because of under-aged sex (legal implications), because of sexual abuse (our readers wouldn’t like it), attempted murder and amnesia -- and those last three were all in the same book! My first attempt was turned down because it just plain “wooden”. I didn’t have to look up the letter -- yes, I still have it. That one criticised my writing rather than my plots and we never forget the words that really hurt.
I made it with my fourth book because it landed on the right editor’s desk at the right moment. Timing and luck are as much a part of this business as talent; I was about three years too soon to be writing about sexual abuse. With IMAGE, I was still out on a plot and character limb, but this time it was the very difference, the freshness, that caught the editorial attention and made it attractive.
I’ve probably pushed the envelope as hard as most in my career. I’ve never been afraid to take a risk, do something different. An editor recently commented on the proposal for my latest wip that I “...never make it easy...” for myself. Well, no. What would be the point? If I’m not challenging myself, taking myself somewhere new, how can I expect to captivate the reader?
But the pay-off for experience is, if not caution, perhaps a certain loss of innocence. I know what will make the editorial lip quiver in panic and I no longer have time to make mistakes. That is why new writers will always be needed to carry the genre forward to the next generation, keeping it alive, taking it in new directions. Writers who haven’t learned that there are things you can’t do. Exciting new voices like Julie Cohen and Historical author Michelle Styles, whose Gladiator heroes are so far out of the “box” that they can’t even see it, but who serendipitously coincided with the screening of “Rome” on British television (see earlier comment about timing!)
Writers who are, even now, pouring their hearts out onto paper, hoping that this will be the one that makes it.
Keep the manuscripts coming. We need you.