Origin of the Writer is a series of essays giving emerging writers the opportunity to share their writing journey so far.
Most Australians are familiar with the race that stops a nation, the Melbourne Cup. In the lead to the big race is the Spring Racing Carnival, and 2017 threw up the epitome of the Aussie have-a-go attitude. The decision of trainer Amy Johnston to enter her middle grade horse Skyfire in the Gr1 Turnbull Stakes against champion mare Winx created much media discussion. Why bother when Skyfire is so far outclassed by Winx?
For the ultimate racing fan, this is simple. The owners get to rub shoulders with the best horse in the world (not an exaggeration*), to stand in the birdcage with her is pure fandom. *Winx is currently rated the number one racehorse in the world by the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities.
And then there is the gamble, with only seven horses in the field, and prizemoney paid out to eighth place, the owners were guaranteed at least a $10,000 payout. That isn’t to be sneezed at. Skyfire’s owners saw an opportunity and grabbed it. It’s the Aussie gambler at its finest. No matter where Skyfire finished, the owners win, which is why it didn’t matter that Skyfire ran last (seventh). The owners had a fabulous day out, and trainer Amy Johnston donated her trainer’s portion (10% of prizemoney earned by the horse) to charity, creating even more emotional winners on the day.
How does this relate to being an emerging writer? As an emerging writer, I have the same long term dream as Skyfire’s owners – to be seen on the same stage as the established, champion writers. For all of us, it is an outsider’s chance in a competitive field, with thousands of other writers submitting their work to publishers. And it might not have worked for Skyfire, but outsiders do win. Often enough to give hope to the dreamers.
Racing and writing are both built on hopes and dreams. We forget about the odds of success, and throw ourselves at publishers knowing that most submissions will end in rejection.
How far can I take this analogy? I didn’t always have this dream. I started writing fiction purely as an intellectual challenge. I’d written non-fiction for magazines for over a decade, and after being commissioned to ghost write a biography, longer form writing grabbed me. Why not branch out and have a crack at fiction? Naturally, I chose to write what I enjoy reading – romance. It’s often said that writers should write the book they want to read. That’s exactly what I did. I muddled along writing most days over winter in 2015, eventually ending up with a first draft of To Charm a Bluestocking. Once I’d done this, I wondered what I should do next. I submitted a first draft (yes, so naïve) to an agent, who sent back a timely response in less than three months. Lucky, right! “A good story, but less tell and more show will improve it.” What? With one small sentence I realised my ignorance in the switch from non-fiction to fiction.
After that feedback, I made the best decision I could have. I joined RWA, did all the courses, and applied my education to this book and the next one in the series. I pitched this series at the RWA conference in 2016 to Escape Publishing. Kate Cuthbert wanted to see more, sending me scurrying home to edit in all the things I’d learnt at conference. This application to craft and improvement obviously worked its charm, as I became one of the lucky few who win on debut. My debut novel, To Charm a Bluestocking, the third draft of the first novel I wrote, was accepted to be published, and came out in March 2017. In the meantime, I wrote the sequel, but this was bumped to fourth by Escape, leaving me scrambling to write the second book in a timely fashion.
The second book in the series, In Pursuit of a Bluestocking, will be out in October 2017, and I’m currently writing the remainder of the series. The third book in the series is with beta readers, and I will start editing it soon. The fourth one is already written, and the fifth one is at the pre-planning stage. I’ve also pitched a series to the new Harlequin Dare line, and am working through the process of editing as we go with them. They loved the first three chapters, and asked for more. The next three chapters came with a long list of comments, all of which will make the book better once applied. It’s a different way of working, very similar to magazine work with closer editing and faster feedback, and I’m really enjoying learning as I go. Seeing this all written down looks slightly manic, no wonder I don’t have time to watch tv, as I’m juggling this with a day job and family!
For the emerging writer, hardly anything in this journey could have gone better. There have been minor setbacks – the first review of Charm was mean spirited and awful (or maybe it just felt like that to my fragile writer’s ego). The sales figures to date for Charm have only been mediocre, hopefully they will pick up now that two books in the series are out in the world. I keep telling myself that my break out book will be Book Five (or maybe Seven or Ten…) I just have to write myself towards that goal. And every time I doubt myself, I try to remind myself that I’m lucky to be in this situation at all. I’ve beaten the odds to get here. All I can do is keep writing, build a backlist, and hope that this will become a career.
My initial expectations – can I write a book? – have been well exceeded. My goals with my writing have grown from ‘finish a book’ through ‘get published’ to ‘build a career’ in a crazily short amount of time (less than three years).
A horse doesn’t become a champion on one win. It’s the collection of victories over time that builds a champion. Keep writing. Keep trying. Odds are there to be beaten.
To find out more about Renee, check out her website Renee Dahlia.
In Pursuit of a Bluestocking by Renee Dahlia
When he goes hunting a thief, he never expects to catch a bluestocking…
Marie had the perfect life plan: she would satisfy her father’s ambition by graduating as one of the first female doctors in Europe, and she would satisfy her mother’s ambition by marrying a very suitable fiancé in a grandiose society ceremony. Only weeks away from completing the former, Marie is mere days away from achieving the latter. But her whole life is thrown into chaos when her fiancé dies, mysteriously returns, and then is shot and killed, and Marie risks her own reputation to save the life of the man falsely accused of the murder.
Gordon, Lord Stanmore, finally tracks down the conman who stole from his estate, only to find himself embroiled in a murder plot. The woman he rescues offers to rescue him in return, by marrying him and providing an alibi. Gordon’s ready agreement to the scheme grows the more time he spends with his new wife. Her wit, her intelligence, her calm, her charm: Gordon finds himself more and more enchanted with this woman he met by mistake. But as the clues to the identity of the murderer start to align with the clues to the thief, they reveal a more elaborate scheme than he could have imagined, and though he might desire Marie, Gordon is unsure if he can trust her.
As their chase leads them out of Amsterdam and into the UK, both Gordon and Marie must adjust to the life that has been thrust upon them and decide if marriage came first, can love come after?