W&H readers voted Debbie’s novel, ‘The Bones of You’, Best Crime Novel of 2016. Here, she tells us how she did it, and shares her tips for budding novelists… Debbie, now 52, lives in West Sussex and has two adult children.
“I’ve always loved to lose myself in a book. From time to time, over the years, I’d try to write, but when I showed my efforts to the people around me, they’d be pretty underwhelmed and burst my bubble. In the back of my mind, there was a dream of being a published author, but, realistically, I knew it was very unlikely.
Instead, I had a varied career, starting out as an air hostess, where I met my husband, a pilot. I then qualified as a pilot too and worked as a flying instructor at a small airfield, before having children and launching my own business as a wedding florist.
When I was 45, I had an incredible busy summer of work. I’d lost my mother the year before to a brain tumour and there was a lot of pent-up emotion inside needing to come out. A story formed in my head about a woman who finds a letter from her mother a year after she has died, so I’d get home from work, switch off from real life and sit in the garden pouring it into notebooks. It was intensely personal.
That novel was the start. I sent it to agents and got some standard rejections, but one said I was a ‘natural storyteller’. I’ve still got that letter. It gave me hope. And over the next few years, when my floristry business was quiet, I’d write.
Like a lot of unpublished writers, I decided to publish my novels on Amazon as eBooks. The first book I put up was ‘This Is Your Life’ – the one about losing a mother. To my amazement, complete strangers bought it and thanked me for writing it.
My books sold in the tens of thousands at 99p a book. I was shocked when I found I could make several hundred pounds a month – sometimes upwards of £1,000.
The year leading up to my 50th birthday was quiet for weddings and financially tough. I had to take on a part-time job and, although my dream of being an author seemed utterly out of reach, I couldn’t give up. I decided to try writing something darker. I had two threads in my mind. One was a growing awareness of an abusive relationship. The other was telling someone’s story as her life flashed before her. I finished ‘The Bones of You’ in about two months. It was intense. I sent off the first three chapters to agents who bought psychological thrillers. A couple came back asking to read the rest.
It was in December, a few weeks after my 50th, when an agent called, saying he loved the manuscript and wanted to meet me. In the end, four agents wanted ‘The Bones of You’. I chose Juliet Mushens of the Agency Group, who I got on well with. With her expert guidance, it sold to Pan Macmillan for a six figure deal.
Financially, it has been life changing. The money doesn’t come as a lump sum – it’s spread over months and years – but it removed the pressure. I bought a new car and took the family for a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime holiday in St Lucia.
‘The Bones of You’ was published last year and my second book, ‘The Beauty of the End’, came out in July. I’m now a full time writer, constantly looking for new ideas. My tip for other would-be writers would be – don’t give up. The writers who make it are the ones who keep going. It happened to me – and it can happen to you too!”