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Advice from a published author
Write about something you feel passionate about… the story you absolutely have to write, not what you think publishers want to read.
Get quality feedback by joining a writers’ group or enrol on a course. My novel only took off after I changed the protagonist, point of view and tense. If you get stuck with a story, put it aside and start something new. Sometimes ideas need time to germinate and mature.
Set yourself some discipline, whether it’s a daily word count or a minimum number of writing hours per week.
Take your time. Draft and redraft, then when you feel you can’t do any more work on it, leave it for a month. When you pick it up again and read it afresh, you’ll be surprised at what jumps out at you.
How a literary agency helped Shanta
How often do we hear of – and even experience for ourselves – finding a good idea that just won’t let go, no matter what?
That was the experience of Shanta Everington, in writing her debut novel, Marilyn and Me, published in May 2007 by Cinnamon Press.
Narrated by Jane, a young woman with a learning disability who models herself on Marilyn Monroe, the story begins after she is left for dead at a bus stop on Christmas Eve. Reflecting on her life, it interweaves the past and the present, exploring what has happened to her and her thoughts of what may become of her.
The novel was developed from Shanta’s experiences of working in community care during the 1990s. ‘I started writing it five years ago,’ says Shanta, ‘while working in the voluntary sector, but abandoned it after 30,000 words, mainly because I felt I was too close to the experience. I had left community work earlier because I became burnt out. But I always knew it was a story I had to finish.’
MA was a confidence boost
She returned to it two years later, when she took an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, and was awarded a distinction. ‘I was told that the novel was one of the strongest submitted, which was a real confidence boost,’ she adds.
With a varied record of the written word in magazines such as REVISE, Coffee House Poetry and e-zine Audacity, among others, Shanta also writes regular articles for Disability, Pregnancy and Parenthood International journal, where she works as Commissioning Editor.
Sadly, she encountered a lot of negative attitudes from the publishing industry when submitting her novel, and was told more than once that writing about disabled characters didn’t go down well with readers. It was when Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time, about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, was a success that she felt vindicated in tackling this subject.
‘I don’t think publishers always know what they want until they see it,’ says Shanta, adding, ‘As a writer, you have to have a lot of faith in yourself and your story.’
Having an agent helped
What helped was that she was already signed up with an agent, Eve White, at the time, on the strength of a teen novel she’d written but which wasn’t taken up for publication, although it attracted a lot of interest. Eve encouraged her to focus on the next project…which became Marilyn and Me.
‘The final stretch to publication was rather unusual,’ says Shanta. ‘The manuscript was short-listed in a writing competition run by Cinnamon Press, and that led to an offer of a contract.’
This article first appeared in Writing Magazine in May 2007.