It’s been an interesting journey for Heidi since since then, with her making the choice to self-publish her first book, Beneath the Surface. Last week it was announced that Heidi had been offered a healthy preempt from Century (and Simon & Schuster in the US) for her second novel. Here we chat to Heidi to find out more about her journey from course-end to publication…
So, could you tell us bit more about Trust in Me, which you’ve just sold to Century? What is it about and did anything in particular inspire it?
It is about female friendship and betrayal and the lengths you’d go to when you’ve done something awful to your best friend. Charlotte is responsible for her friend’s four-year-old daughter when the little girl disappears at a school fete. Now two weeks later both women are being questioned by the police. Neither of them know what the other is saying, whether any ounce of trust remains and whether telling the truth is the best option or not.
Being a mother of young children myself, the awful thought of losing someone else’s child when they are under my watch has crossed my mind. How could you live with the guilt? This was the seed of the idea but it grew into something much more than that when I started writing it. It was the theme of the two mothers’ friendship and what happened to them both after that awful day that took hold and shaped the novel.
You were actually on one of our very first online courses back in 2013, how did you find it?
Yes, I was on the very first one! I loved the course. . The workshops were great and from day one I had some invaluable advice that I carry with me still. (For me this was to stop overwriting!). Receiving feedback was nerve wracking and brilliant at the same time but the course was definitely the first step in turning myself around as a writer.
What were the advantages of online learning for you?
As I don’t live in London being able to take part remotely and in my own time was ideal. I had a baby and a toddler at the time so being able to work around them was paramount. There aren’t many, if any, writing courses on the south coast so to be able to take part on a regular basis meant online was pretty much my only option. But on top of that I had the enjoyment of working alongside people from all around the world. My classmates lived in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand among many other places and being able to enrich your own learning with their experiences was fantastic.
There have been a number success stories from your cohort, including Catherine Bennetto and more recently Dawn Goodwin – do you still keep in touch with your group?
I do. There are nine of us who are regularly in touch with each other by email and meet up for drinks whenever we can. Over the last four years we have been there for each other through the highs and lows offering encouragement and feedback and it is so wonderful to have such a support group of friends who know exactly what you are going through because they are going through the same thing. When I have had set backs they are the group I turn to for support and similarly when there is exciting news to share they are so thrilled for me as I am for them. I feel very lucky to have met such a great group of talented writers who have since become good friends.
Could you tell us a bit about what happened once you completed the course?
After the course I focused on completing the novel I was working on, Beneath The Surface. I eventually made the decision to self publish and while I started the process of finding the right publishers I also began writing my next book: Trust In Me. For a good six months I juggled the publication process, marketing Beneath The Surface and writing a new book and learnt an incredible amount about the whole industry.
My decision to self publish didn’t come lightly and I was keen to find the right company and importantly one who wanted to work with me. Red Door perfectly fitted the bill and the process gave me the right balance of help and advice but also gave me the ability to retain control. With a background in marketing I was keen to get involved in promoting the book and I loved it, though it did take up a lot of time. I personally wrote to over 50 bloggers, contacted numerous magazines, which resulted in a wonderful review in Heat, and held a launch party. I’m very proud of its success as I put a lot into it, though at the same time I also knew I wanted to go down the more traditional route with my next book.
How did your agent help you here?
I feel very lucky to have a wonderful agent, Nelle Andrew, at Peters, Fraser and Dunlop who picked my book off the slush pile and immediately wanted to read more. When she called me up to her office she told me she would like to work with me but that I had a lot of work to do.
Together we must have gone through about five rounds of edits. Each time I sent it back I thought, surely this must be it. But then she’d make more suggestions and I’d quickly realise that she was right and there was still more work to do. Every step brought me closer and closer to the manuscript we were both finally happy to send out on submission in August. It was definitely worth the hard work.
As soon as she sent it I was nervous and excited but I honestly didn’t expect to be accepting a preempt from Century after only two days, and then another form Simon and Schuster in the US the week after. The last month has been a whirlwind of excitement and it doesn’t seem real yet!
You’ve shown real perseverance to get to the stage you’re at now with your writing – do you have one piece of advice you wish you’d heard when you were starting out?
I have had knock backs and rejections along the way, as I’m sure most writers have. The important thing is being able to keep picking yourself back up again and carry on. I remember one particular time when I started thinking I should do something else but in my heart I knew there was nothing I would rather be doing. Writing makes me happy and even though at the time I couldn’t imagine starting a new book, I realised that I had no choice. If I wanted to write, I had to accept the rejections, learn from the feedback and do it again but this time do it better.
I don’t know if there is one piece of advice, there are certainly many that have been invaluable along the way. But every author’s journey is different and I think the best thing to do is not compare yourself to anyone else. Listen to the advice you are given from the people who count – those who know what they are talking about and whose opinions you value. And finally believe in yourself – if you want it bad enough and are prepared to work hard it will come.
As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our three- and six-month novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.