Please welcome Elizabeth Chadwick, author of the new novel, A Place Beyond Courage, as she talks about what she did before she became a published author!
by Elizabeth Chadwick
Many thanks for inviting me to talk on the blog.
Most authors don’t land a publishing deal straight out of school. Usually there’s a lot of life experience, trial and error before that magical call comes, and I was no exception even though I’m an established best selling author now.
From small childhood I had told myself stories but it was not until my teens that I started writing them down. I began my first historical novel when I was fifteen, and completed it within a year, all 500 or so handwritten pages. Feeling lost when I came to the end, I immediately began the sequel, knowing with complete certainty that what I wanted to do for a career was write historical adventure fiction.
Of course it’s not exactly the kind of job that falls into your lap and openings have always been few and far between. I had my schooling to finish and I was on a steep learning curve as far as technique and ability went. I also had a lot of growing up to do. Still, I began acquiring the practical skills and by a continuing process of osmosis and trial and error, I honed my techniques. Back then home PCs did not exist. I wrote my first novel by hand and then bought a typewriter with my 18th birthday money. I went to night school to learn to touch type so I could write without being distracted by looking for each letter and plinkety plonking with two fingers.
That first novel was rejected but I wasn’t deterred. It merely put iron in my soul. So what if they turned down this one, I would up my game with the next. It helped that story telling was an integral part of who I was. Even if I was never accepted for publication, I would still be writing for my own pleasure today.
I left school at eighteen. I had thought about doing a degree in medieval history, but I needed Latin and I didn’t have it. I thought about doing English literature at university, or journalism, but I was put off by the teacher responsible for career advice. She told me there was no point in me applying to university in those subjects because I would need high grades, and I wasn’t good enough to get them. She said there was no point in me applying to do journalism because there was too much competition. So I took her word for it and didn’t apply. Instead I went to work in a department store as a management trainee. In the meantime, my exam results came through and my scores were of the right grades to have won me a university place. But like a train, my life had changed tracks. I had met my husband and I was working as a shop assistant. And really I didn’t care what I did, because I knew I was meant to be a writer. The job was just to earn a wage while I got on with the real business of working on my novel. In quite moments in the shop, I would write down ideas and stories on pieces of scrap paper and card. My heart wasn’t in the job because what I wanted to do was write.
Finding that a full time job and a new house and husband didn’t leave me the time or energy for writing, I changed to part time hours and went to work filling shelves in a local supermarket for twenty hours a week and used the other twenty hours for my writing. Again it didn’t bother me that I was doing a mundane manual job; it was only a means to earn enough to keep my head above water while I continued to write.
In due course I left the supermarket to start a family. To help out with the finances and because I wanted to buy a word processor instead of hammering the words out on the typewriter, I went back to work on the twilight shift at the same job while my husband looked after the children. My designated aisle was pet food and if nothing else, I certainly kept in shape heaving cases of Whiskas cat food and cans of Pedigree Chum dog food from the warehouse to the shelves.
I was still dreaming about becoming a published author. I had sent my latest novel, titled The Wild Hunt to an agent in London. She had liked it enough to want to represent me, and in July 1989, three months after I signed with my agent, I got the call I’d been working towards ever since I was fifteen years old. She had four publishers bidding for The Wild Hunt and finally I was through the door!
Two months later, with a two book publishing contract under my belt and my advance cheque in my hand, I gave in my notice at the supermarket, stacked my last tin of cat food, laid down my pricing gun, and walked off to begin my new career.
The lesson I’ve learned is that dreams do come true, but you have to be prepared to work for them and most of all to persevere.