I’m brilliant at worrying and procrastination, but I’ve never been any good at deciding what I want to be when I grow up. As a result, I’ve had a wide variety of jobs since leaving school – from designing clothes and cards, to teaching ballet and aerobics, and working in TV and for the CAB. My only proper “career” has been working for two Members of Parliament, one of whom was a Minister. (I never reveal either of their names, so please don’t ask!)
My dad describes me as a “perpetual student”, and he may have a point, even though he shares the family tendency to exaggerate. I studied for a degree in English Literature and Politics as soon as I left school, and then – decades later – I decided to go back to college to study for a second degree, this time in Creative Writing. (I’d finally decided to make a serious attempt to become the writer I’d wanted to be since the age of eight.)
Somehow, I managed to get a first-class degree, and I even won my university’s prize for Creative Writing in my final year, but none of this convinced me I could really write. I didn’t have the confidence to enter writing competitions, or to believe I could ever write a “proper” book, and I was close to giving up, until my husband decided to intervene. He sat me down one night and ordered me to keep on writing, and not to give up before I’d even started.
“Don’t be so pathetic,” he added, with all the sensitivity that long-term husbands are so famous for.
Pathetic is what I continued to be, for quite a while. Even with my husband’s “encouragement”, I still spent most of my time looking for any excuse to avoid writing (even if that meant doing housework instead), and this went on until I realised that what I needed was a deadline. That’s when I had my bright idea: I’d write a comic novel as a blog and I’d publish a new instalment every day. I also decided to call the blog Mid-Wife Crisis, and to write it under the pseudonym of Molly Bennett, the main character. I wrote and published the first instalment that same day, before I lost my nerve.
I hadn’t really pre-planned what I was going to write as Molly, but I wasn’t worried about that minor detail. I thought I’d have plenty of time to work out where to take her story while no-one was reading what I wrote, which I assumed would be the case for years and years, if not for ever. There were more than six million blogs at the time, so the chances of anyone bothering to read mine seemed pretty much non-existent.
Never assume anything where the internet is concerned. Within two weeks, my blog had been picked up by several influential commentators, and it quickly developed a large and enthusiastic readership. That meant that I had to keep to the idiotic schedule I’d set myself: of writing a post a day, every day, without a clue what I was intending to do with my characters until I sat down to write each post. Worse, I’d also decided to write the blog as if it was happening in real time, to a real person, and this meant that I had to make it topical, if it was to be believable.
After a year, the daily effort to keep on top of events and then to write and edit a new episode in Molly’s life was nearly killing me, and I was so stressed that my family often felt like killing me themselves. I was on the verge of giving up again, when something unexpected happened – and that changed everything.
My blog was long-listed for the Orwell Prize (the UK’s most prestigious prize for political writing), and then it made the shortlist, too. It didn’t go on to win the prize but, by then, I’d already started to get offers of representation from a number of fantastic literary agents, and eventually I was offered a two-book deal by HarperCollins.
That day was one of the most exciting of my life – but the next morning I was panic-stricken, as that’s when it finally dawned on me that now I had two books to write.
Thanks to gallons of Rescue Remedy – and to giving up sleeping – my first novel, “Diary of an Unsmug Married” was published in February 2014, and my second book, “Would Like to Meet” is due out on 30 June 2016. (That’s if I finish it in time. I don’t suggest you hold your breath.)