Over the last six years I’ve written three novels – of which two are commercial women’s fiction and one is contemporary romance. It’s at times been a hard, lonely or frustrating business, where the words ‘she believed she could so she did’ were ones that carried me through darker moments of self doubt.
I’ve had quite a few ‘almost’ moments with literary agents, but with most currently receiving between 100 and 600 queries a week (a post-lockdown ‘boom’) it’s virtually impossible to get your voice heard.
About a month ago I realised I’d soon be visiting some of the places my protagonist visits (Schiehallion, Isle of Skye, Aberfeldy). I’ve never visited any of them, and did all my research using Google and Google Earth. My investigations revealed some fascinating tourist attractions (including taking high tea and learning about corncrakes, and organising a wedding atop Schiehallion: the Fairy Hill of the Scottish Caledonians) – both of which made their way into my novel. I also used an inn I found for one of my locations, plus Castle Menzies for another. All of which I’ll be fascinated to visit IRL.
When I realised I could do a little ‘Tour of the Book’ I decided it would be fun to actually ‘make a book’, which I’ve now done. I’d always known that it was going to be problematic, having three books of two very different genres, so I decided on a new pen name (much to my father’s confusion), finally arriving on Bella Cassidy.
It’s been a steep learning curve, made much easier by the wonderful Joanna Penn, whose book, Successful Self-Publishing I followed, chapter by chapter, page by page. She recommends Vellum – which is the most magical piece of software: turning a word document into a beautifully typeset novel with one click. (Be sure to buy the full version). Getting the cover right was also hard – and I’m still going to tweak it as I’ve realised the current vogue is for faces to be pretty featureless, and my feisty woman is too passive. And if you’re reading this because you want to ‘make a book’ yourself, then I would highly recommend DKB Creative.
I know that self publishing has moved on from its original vanity days, and many authors now make a brilliant living from it. For me, it was a tough decision – and I’ve had to work hard to avoid feeling that my book, whilst a brilliant thing, is also a small sort of failure. I held a launch party on Friday night (with fairy lights, braziers and a wonderfully realistic little moon). Reading to a group of 50 people; knowing that the word ‘spellbound’ wasn’t an exaggeration when describing the atmosphere, it was both a vindication of my efforts, and frustrating – thinking of all my rejections.
On Sunday, sitting on a swing seat for two, watching the river flow through the tranquil Sculpture by the Lakes, I asked my beautiful friend of thirty years if she could ‘do me an angel card’ (as I always do whenever I see her’). ‘Yes! I’ve got an App,’ she said, pulling her phone out of her bag. I clicked on a card, and… it was extraordinary: mirroring the thoughts I’d been having just minutes before.
I have worked so very hard with my writing for the last two years – and yes, I realise I’ve had some real successes. But I’m tired now, from not managing to achieve the one thing I want. Another friend said later that afternoon that I’d invited a host of strong, wonderful women to my launch (many from my village), and they will now support me, and help boost my dreams. And I found that a truly comforting thought.
Women: wonderful women – particularly those in their forties and fifties. The biggest readers of fiction. The backbone of so many things. So I’ll take both my friends’ advice, take a break to concentrate on living in the moment with my husband, and trust that the magic will happen.
They believed she could, so she did.