Copy of blog post written for booksbywomen.org Thank you Barbara @WomenWriters for inviting me
‘You just think lovely wonderful thoughts,’ Peter explained, ‘and they lift you up in the air.’
Peter Pan, J M Barrie
She’s Mine, my debut novel marks a milestone on my three-year journey from aspiring writer to published author. If I had to sum up my advice to new writers from what I have learnt along the way in just three words, it would be these:
Never give up!
Of course, my writing journey goes back much further than three years and has been long and winding! Etched deep in my dna, writing a novel was a childhood dream. Having a Franco-Russian mother, I grew up surrounded by marvelous books of Russian, French, English and American literature in an extended family of editors, journalists and translators all engaged in some form of writing.
As a schoolgirl I enjoyed creative writing (the week-end story being the one homework I never found a chore), and together with my sister, whiled away long hours in the holidays making comics and magazines complete with ads, cartoons and ‘agony aunt’ columns.
As a teenager, I fell in love with the modern classics, especially the iconic novels of Evelyn Waugh, E M Forster, Graham Greene, J D Salinger, F Scott Fitzgerald and Patricia Highsmith. I was struck by the tantalising appeal of the printed word that could immortalise and bring to life the thoughts and emotions of authors long-dead!
During my studies in Philosophy, French Literature and International Relations at Oxford and Cambridge universities, I became involved in journalism – writing and editing for the Oxford student newspaper Cherwell and later working as production editor for my MPhil course journal in Cambridge. As one of the Cherwell Arts editors, I loved writing film reviews and previews (imagining the film even if I hadn’t seen it!) as well as interviewing actors and going along to their theatre groups and shows.
After a brief spell at the Bank of England (where what I found most interesting about the job was that my colourful boss, alongside her role as manager in the banking supervision division, was also a prolific author of Mills & Boon romances!), I decided that Finance was not for me and turned to the Law. I later discovered that The Bank of England has something of a literary tradition, with famous British writer Kenneth Grahame having penned The Wind in The Willows whilst employed as The Bank’s Secretary in the days when banking in the City of London was a more sedate and genteel profession than it is now!
Having passed my Law Finals, I started work as an articled clerk in a law firm in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, leading to qualification two years’ later as a lawyer specialising in Aviation law. And so, my writing journey continued, moving from the academic and journalistic, to the endless reams of professional and business writing that characterise work in the Law. As a junior solicitor, I was excited to be sent on secondment to the legal department of Emirates Airline in Dubai and on my return was delighted to get a position as an in-house lawyer for the airline Virgin Atlantic. It was a challenging and fascinating role (involving a lot more than just writing!) and I made many great friends as well as having the opportunity to travel the world.
After my second child was born, I took a career break that became an extended career break when my third child was diagnosed with autism and his care and development became my chief ‘project.’ It was not until my high-achieving teenage girls became impatient with my paranoid imaginings and my tendency to interfere with their creative writing assignments, that I decided the time was right to find an outlet for these annoying psychological traits/behaviours of mine with some creative writing of my own…
And that’s when I became a writing course junkie!
I started modestly with an online beginners creative writing course run by the Faber Academy. I found this a very effective and interactive way to learn. Each week we were given resources and tasks on a particular aspect of the novel working our way through practical exercises relating to narrative voice, characters, setting, structure, plot, style etc and peer reviewing each other’s work.
It was so interesting experimenting with the tools of fiction such as narrative viewpoints and, my particular favourite, the device of the ‘unreliable narrator’ which underlies the narrative voice of Scarlett in She’s Mine. As a busy mum the online format was ideal since I could do the work in my own time and at my own pace. In addition, I started an online ‘Storytelling for Screen’ course aimed at professional screenwriters – though I have to confess I have as yet to complete the final task!
She’s Mine was born of a short piece I wrote as an exercise on ‘setting.’ My description of a little girl going missing on a sun-scorched Caribbean beach when her nanny falls asleep in the shade of the parasol became the opening for my psychological suspense novel when I submitted it with my application to the Faber Writing A Novel Course held in London.
Our lovely group of committed Faber writers with engaging and varied life experiences led by published author Shelley Weiner, included a retired vicar, a medic, an art historian, a former head teacher, a criminal lawyer, a trustee of Kew gardens – all such inspiring, talented and perceptive writers and critics whose great company and constructive feedback I enjoyed in the classroom and beyond.
The course was hugely motivating in terms of getting down the word count with wise mentoring from our excellent tutor. We also received valuable insights into the world of publishing from industry professionals invited to come and speak to us. It culminated with a published ‘Faber Anthology’ (Oh the joy of being featured in a book with Faber on the cover!) and an Agents’ Day where we all had the opportunity to read the opening pages of our novels to a room packed full of London literary agents.
In fact, I had only written three chapters of She’s Mine and had no idea how or where the story was going to end but had polished and re-polished those three chapters so many times that I approached the Agents’ Day without too much trepidation and naively submitted my three chapters to agents thereafter.
It was a rookie mistake…
But perhaps not!
Despite the many inevitable rejections, I was lucky enough to receive positive responses and requests for a full manuscript from three agents including the wonderful Hayley Steed at my dream agency, the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency. It was embarrassing to have to reply that the three chapters submitted were all I had written – but if ever there was an incentive to get writing – it was that.
Some two years and eighty thousand words later I was able to re-submit to Hayley armed with a complete manuscript and an offer for a three-book deal from the digital-first Aria imprint of publisher Head of Zeus – and I was thrilled that she gave me a second chance and became my agent!
In the meantime, She’s Mine was itself becoming well-travelled having been rewritten, edited and self-edited a hundred times, represented by another agent whose early faith and patience I shall always be grateful for (ultimately my book was not a great fit for her agency and we parted ways amicably), reviewed by very many ‘first-reader’ family members and friends who so generously gave up their time, entered for competitions, sent out on submission to publishers and eventually launched on the route to self-publication.
I had almost forgotten my direct submission via the Aria Fiction online portal when, out of the blue my brilliant editor Hannah Smith called me with the news that she would like to publish She’s Mine. Ever since that surreal phone conversation (partly drowned out so fittingly by the sound of breaking waves on a sandy beach), Hannah’s been fabulous to work with and I am so very thankful for her boundless enthusiasm and expertise, as well as her inspired editorial notes! I’ve also been so well looked after by Vicky Joss and the marketing and production gurus at Aria who created the eye-catching cover for She’s Mine and are always on hand to help with all-things social media. My writing journey shows that there is more than one road to publication and that if you just keep going, you’ll get there in the end!
So, the last few weeks have been a whirlwind of editorial revisions and marketing and connecting with all the lovely reviewers, bloggers and authors in the Twittersphere.
Now She’s Mine is no longer mine – she’s well and truly out there, running the gauntlet of book reviews! But my writing journey is by no means over.
There is so much more to do – first drafts of novels two and three are due in April and November of this year, and beyond that I’m plotting and planning in my head for a book of short stories and a ‘feel-good’ fictional story about the joys (?!) of bringing up a child with communication difficulties and special needs. Oh, and one of these days I must finish the treatment for the film adaptation of She’s Mine (wishful thinking…) which I never completed for that screenwriting course!
I can honestly say it feels as if my writing journey has just begun!
…‘I’ll teach you how to jump on the wind’s back, and then away we go.’ Peter Pan, J M Barrie
Claire Simone Lewis is represented by agent Hayley Steed of The Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency in London. She is an author at Aria Fiction with editor Hannah Smith of publisher Head of Zeus. Claire studied philosophy, French literature and international relations at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge before taking her professional qualification as a lawyer at The College of Law in York and pursuing her career in aviation law with a City law firm in London and later as an in-house lawyer at Virgin Atlantic Airways.
More recently, she turned to writing psychological suspense, taking courses at the Faber Academy. She’s Mine, her debut novel will be published by Aria/Head of Zeus on 5 March 2019 as the first in a three-book deal. Born in Paris, she’s bilingual and now lives in Surrey with her family. When not making up stories, she loves reading those of others, watching films and visiting exotic locations ‘for the purpose of research.’
Follow her on Twitter: @CSLewisWrites
Amazon link: amazon.to/2C9Lqiw
NetGalley link: http://netgal.ly/LYG95C
It’s Scarlett’s worst nightmare when the little girl she is looking after goes missing on a crowded beach under the blazing Caribbean sun. As the police investigation gets underway the young nanny becomes entangled in a web of intrigue surrounding the disappearance of Katie. Is she drowned? Lost? Has she been abducted? Scarlett turns detective in a desperate attempt to find the child and clear her name. She stumbles on perplexing clues and witness sightings that incriminate Katie’s glamorous mother Christina and her ruthless lover Damien. But are they really to blame?
As Scarlett begins to unravel the complicated past of Katie’s mother, she begins to think there’s more to Katie’s disappearance than meets the eye. But who would want to steal a child? And how did no-one see anything on the small island?
While the search continues, a sinister new narrator discloses a series of photographs revealing a toxic love triangle at the heart of the mystery. Dark and tragic family secrets have menacing implications for Katie’s chances of being recovered alive.
Paradise can be deadly…
Time is running out and Scarlett is certain of only one thing – she didn’t kill Katie. Did she?
She’s Mine is fast-paced and thought-provoking with complex and compelling characters. This edgy and emotionally intense novel will keep readers second-guessing and gripped to the very last chilling twist…