The day I gave up on my job, I cried.
Don’t get me wrong, I was desperate to leave. I had two young children, a workaholic husband and a chronic disease. Something had to give, and everything else was immovable.
It’s not like it was my dream job anyway – on a good day it scored maybe three out of five. But it was a defeat, and I don’t do defeat. I can’t afford to.
Living with a disease like Rheumatoid Arthritis is grim. It’s hard, and tiring, and demoralising. But I made up my mind a long time ago, there’s no way it’s ever going to win. So, when it forced me out of my not-really-a-dream job, I saw the sparkle of a silver lining. Might I still have a chance at my absolute dream job? What did I have to lose? *
I started to write in 2008, while my sons were at primary school. Autumn, winter and spring happened outside my window, then started over again. I ‘finished’ my first manuscript (in the arrived-at-the-end sense I understood then, rather than the arrived-at-the-end-then-put-it-away-for-a-month-before-editing-at-least-another-ten-times sense I understand now) and sent it to Greenhouse, a friendly-looking new agency I’d found online. Unsurprisingly, it was rejected. I tried a handful of others. No luck.
I poked and prodded and scratched my head for a while, then took a deep breath and asked Cornerstones (an equally friendly literary consultancy) for some expert advice. And although they suggested some major reworking, they said they thought it might have potential.
So I ripped it to shreds, stitched it back together, and sent it out to agents again.
And got more rejections.
I moved on to manuscript two, and three, and three-and-a-half. My kids moved on to secondary school. More help from Cornerstones. More agent submissions. More rejections. More years.
Maybe clouds were just grey, after all.
I looked around for new ways to get better. I enrolled on an online course, and found support and feedback and a new determination. In a moment of wild optimism, I applied for a place on Bath Spa University’s MA in Writing for Young People. There, I found endless inspiration and a wonderful writing family. I wrote book number four, and was incredibly proud to graduate with distinction on a rainy (but definitely not grey) day in February, earlier this year.
The Magpie Garden is a story of hope and what can happen when you dare to believe. So, when it was finished, I crossed my fingers and entered two competitions. It was shortlisted in the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition, and runner-up in The Bath Children’s Novel Award.
As Bath Novel Award sponsors, Cornerstones present the runner-up prize. It felt so good to receive this from the people who’d encouraged me all those years ago. It felt even better to meet the junior judge who’d championed my entry (the Bath shortlist is picked by a panel of child readers). Every time I stop and think that there are children out there who’ve read and loved my story, a huge smile spreads over my face.
Supported by the Bath Novel team, I sent out The Magpie Garden. The response was way beyond anything I’d dared to believe. I talked to agents. Pinched myself as they said lovely things about my story. And eventually, on a cloudy day in April, I accepted an offer of representation – from Polly Nolan at Greenhouse.
Sometimes silver linings take a long time to find. The secret is to never stop looking.
*About a decade so far, as it’s turned out. But it’s fun. Mostly. Apart from the rejections.