My Journey to Publication

When you think about getting a book published, you probably think about agents and publishers and deadlines. But my journey to publication started much earlier on. And for many years, it was solely as a reader. I read every single day and have done so for much of my adult life.

My family were working class and financial hardship was the norm. Books were both my escape and my solace. For the first time in my young life, the world opened up beyond the boundaries of the small Lancashire village in which I spent most of my childhood. I became an avid reader when I was about fourteen. I had a paper round and, at long last, I could buy my own books.

Although I left school at fifteen before my ‘O’ Levels, I went on to have a successful career, acquiring many qualifications along the way and even lecturing at university. And those early years were filled with life experiences that continue to influence my writing.

In 1996 I established my own training consultancy, and it was there that I forged an embryonic writing career. I wrote the majority of materials for the workshops I ran and also sold them to other organisations and trainers. My greatest love was writing role-plays and case studies. They were in themselves one page stories, which would then be acted out by willing participants before my eyes.

It was only when we moved from Cornwall to South Gloucestershire in 2008 that I took the opportunity to study creative writing, initially with Open University, followed a few years later by the MA Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in Corsham. Along with completing NaNoWriMo the previous year, this was another critical turning point in my journey towards getting a book published.

The MA was daunting. I had to learn a whole new vocabulary. Fortunately, the first piece of work I submitted was well-received. That very same piece, after graduation, was included in the Spark’s Anthology for 2016. Getting a book published with your work inside was a wonderful opportunity for myself and my peers. The anthology, a critical element of the MA, was sent out literary agents throughout the UK and is available in digital and paperback formats. Four weeks later there was a formal launch in London, where students could pitch their work to agents.

Back in the January, I had attended a two-day residential Women in Fiction Workshop in Bath. We were offered a fantastic opportunity – there was to be a Dragon’s Den type of competition. Writers could submit five thousand words of their manuscript, then pitch it to an editor from Harper Collins and a literary agent. Much to my huge surprise, I won. The prize – a bottle of champagne. But more importantly, something of greater value – a critique of the work submitted. The editor very kindly offered to read the full manuscript, but at that time I was only about thirty thousand words in. It was without doubt a confidence builder, so much so that I pitched to an agent at the London Book Fair. She too was interested in reading more.

The Spark’s Anthology was launched in digital and paperback in early April. The first agent emailed me three hours later. During the following weeks I was contacted by a further nine agents, including representatives from some of the leading agencies in the UK. I was overwhelmed, to say the least.  I sent more additional chapters to the first five agents who contacted me. Of those, three offered me representation. One declined and another said they’d wait until the full manuscript was ready. The rest I sent a thank you email to because, by the end of April, I had agreed to sign with Jenny Savill of Andrew Nurnburg & Associates.

In May 2016, Jenny and I agreed a deadline of the 31st August for the first draft. I would send her a few chapters every week or so. Importantly, she advised me to just write and not worry about the word count. The plot truly twisted and turned, it seemed to have a life of its own. At times I struggled. I wrote three potential endings, all of which ended up in the archive file. Four months later, the first draft was completed, all one hundred and sixty-five thousand words of it.  It was then that the feedback process began in earnest. The advice and guidance from Jenny was invaluable. The following December, I undertook a massive edit, the result of which reduced the word count to 95k. Slowly it was shaping up. The final draft, finished early July 2017, was submitted to editors and publishers. This is when I knew I was finally close to getting a book published. Jenny passed on to me a number of very kind rejections who praised the writing and creativity. No doubt there were others, not so kind, but thankfully she didn’t send them to me.

To keep myself busy and sane, I started on another manuscript and wrote a summary for another idea (still on file). I carried on studying; I attended residential workshops at Moniack Mhor and Arvon. More recently, I undertook an online course with Unthank Creative Writing School.  For me, the structure of learning, writing and critiquing is essential. All three programmes were highly enjoyable and I met lots of interesting people, many of whom I’m still in contact with.  

I was delighted when Betsy Reavley of Bloodhound Books offered me a contract. I signed with them in June 2018 with a target date for publication of September 2018. Life since then has been pretty hectic. I asked Betsy if it would be possible for me to go through the manuscript again; there were amendments that I wanted to make. Much to my relief, she agreed. I believe the book is better for it. I found both the editing and proofreading elements of the publishing process challenging yet invaluable. Getting a book published is not always plain sailing.

She Lies Hidden by C M Stephenson

She Lies Hidden by C M Stephenson

She Lies Hidden was released on Kindle on 24 September. Whilst I was filled with trepidation, I was also excited at the thought of people reading it. For me, that has always been the dream. To add icing onto the cake, I signed an audiobook contract with Bolinda Publishing, am Australian publishing house, in December 2018. Available in the UK, North America and throughout the southern hemisphere, it is due for release via Audible on the 28th March 2019.

My debut novel, She Lies Hidden, was a UK Kindle Best Sellers Top 100.

How far would you go to find your missing sister?

When DI Thomasine Albright is informed that the remains of her fifteen-year-old sister, Karen, have been found, she promises her mother that she will be the one to find the person responsible. Thomasine is willing to sacrifice everything to find Karen’s killer. And when she does – he’ll pay

Grab your Kindle or paperback copy from Amazon. The audio-book is also available from Audible.

My Writing Day

My writing day varies, if I’m on a deadline, I tend to wake early and, if I’m struggling to get back to sleep, I get up. This could be as early as four-thirty. Today I’m writing this at five-twenty-five. On days such as these, I write in my dressing gown, reclaim my office chair (one of my cats thinks it’s his) and start work immediately.

Alternatively, if I wake later, I wait until my husband has got up for work, around six-thirty, then read for thirty to forty-five minutes. I have a pen and pad by the bed and make a note of any particular words that leap off the page. My early morning reading is for self-development and inspiration. I’ll scan through something like Writing Fiction – a Guide to the Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway. My 1992 edition is well-worn and bought second hand. I love it. Or I’ll read a work of fiction (authors such as Maggie O’Farrell, Val McDermid and Jessie Burton to name but a few). These are generally novels I have already read, found to be beautifully written and want to learn from. Most recently, I was captivated by Educated written by American author, Tara Westover; a tremendous book that was an absolute page-turner.  Although a memoir – it reads like a psychological thriller. If I’ve received a new copy of Writing Magazine, I read through that. It’s a very useful publication for writers of any level.

Then I get up, make the bed and get ready for the day. I try and get a little housework out of the way before I start. The first thing I do is feed the cats, I have two. Then I feed me. After that I load the dishwasher and washing machine and tidy up. All these are practical tasks that would plague me if I didn’t get them out of the way.   

I like to be in the office by nine o’clock. This is a fairly simple commute as I work from home. I make myself a coffee, turn on the computer, have a quick glance at my planner and jot down anything else that comes to mind. This enables me to stay on track and also ensures that tasks progress and deadlines are worked towards. I like the discipline of it.

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With my current project, I read through the bullet point list of the plot line to make sure I’m going in the right direction.

Unless there are more urgent priorities, the first hour or hour and half is usually dedicated to the previous day’s writing. In real terms, this means editing and polishing. Flashing things out, shrinking them back, looking for the right words, behaviour and dialogue. Before I adopted this approach, I would get caught up in the opening chapters, reworking them time and time again. Experience has taught me that there will be several drafts and if I keep trying to improve the beginning, it’ll take me a lot longer to get to the end.  I’ve recently started using a sixty-minute hour glass that I bought for that very purpose.

I’m dyslexic and often horrified to see how many words I’ve missed out or misused, regardless of the fact that I know which ‘too’ or ‘to’ to use. Then I discovered Microsoft’s text to speech and life got somewhat easier. Regardless of all that, things still slip through.

When the hour and a half is up, I check my emails, Facebook and Twitter. I try and limit this to fifteen minutes. It’s easy to get lost in them.

 After that I do new writing, that is the next chapters in the whatever project I’m working on. This involves jotting down a few ideas and then letting my mind go with it. I learnt a great deal from writing Where She Lies Hidden, especially about planning things out (I didn’t) and plotting (I struggled). The first draft is me telling myself the story. After reading through the bullet pointed plot list, I literally close my eyes and write what comes into my head. That early version bears no resemblance to that final draft. Most often, I will write in 3rd person, chapter by chapter and in one document. Then I decide the point of view for each character and edit accordingly again. I am very fortunate to have people I trust to critique my work. They provide me with valuable, honest feedback, and I return the favour. For me, it is perhaps one of the most important parts of the process.

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I usually work through until about two-thirty, then take a break. Then I will watch a crime drama – notebook and pen in hand. It’s one of the many ways I gather description. I make notes on dialogue, gestures, facial expression and voice. I examine the way actors interpret the script; my current favourite is Unforgotten – great writing and superb acting. YouTube is also an invaluable resource. For She Lies Hidden, I used it for research into brain injuries, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, police interview techniques and for the case histories of missing people. I also speak directly to those involved in the areas of work I’m writing about.   

Every few weeks, I like to treat myself to coffee and cake. Tea and coffee shops are a goldmine for detail. I usually spend a couple of hours observing how people move, gesture and talk.  I take copious notes which I keep for reference purposes. I rarely leave home without a notebook and pen. However, on the 1st January, I gave up anything with processed sugar in it. The cakes are now, quite literally, off the menu!

Every other day I back up my files to the Cloud. Once a week I copy the directory to a detachable hard-drive. That way my work is safe.

I finish work about three-thirty, hopefully after achieving my word target. Currently I’m aiming for 700-1000 words a day. Then I peer into the fridge and wonder what the hell I can whip up for dinner.

Life isn’t all work.  We live in a very lovely part of the country and like to get out walking a couple of times a week. Plus, I meet up with friends. There is so much inspiration out there and I don’t want to miss it!