Today on the blog as part of the Killing It blog tour, we have Asia Mackay talking about what it’s like to enter and be shortlisted for a big writing competition and how it played its role in her writing journey:
‘You’ve been shortlisted in the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition.’
‘Oh my God that’s amazing I… STOP IT. Get your lollipop off the back of the nice man’s head.’
A first-time writer with three young children I got the call as I was in an Uber returning from my eldest daughter’s birthday treat. My total elation was only slightly overshadowed by one of the kids assaulting the Uber driver with a lollipop the size of his hand and my concern over how it would affect my star rating.
I entered the Richard and Judy Search for Bestseller competition thinking I didn’t have a chance. I had always wanted to write, but had never thought to pursue it – until inspiration hit one night as I was crawling across the floor of our kids’ bedroom. I was trying to get out without waking the baby and thought how if only I’d had special ops training I might actually make it.
I imagined a secret agent, who was also a new Mum, juggling her latest high stakes mission with rushing home in time for bath time. I gave this secret agent a name; Lex Tyler. And I took her and a rough plot outline to a Faber Academy ‘Writing A Novel’ online course with the brilliant Tom Bromley. By the end of the seven months I had learnt so much and managed to complete a rough first draft. Having recently joined Twitter I started following people Tom suggested that I might find interesting. Joanna Cannon, bestselling author and fellow Faber Academy alumna, tweeted about the Richard and Judy competition and I immediately applied.
Getting shortlisted meant the world to me. It gave me hope that my writing had potential. I had six months to deliver a finished manuscript and I couldn’t wait to get started.
But then I started throwing up.
I was yet again suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum – the extreme morning sickness the Duchess of Cambridge made fashionable. The excitement of finding out I was pregnant with our fourth child was a little marred by being frequently hospitalized and so ill I could barely think, let alone write.
I didn’t open my laptop for four months. I felt I was potentially blowing my one big chance at publication. I imagined everyone else on the shortlist beavering away whilst I spent most of my days in bed lying staring at a wall holding a bucket to retch into.
Thankfully by the time I was well enough to work on it I realised having had so long away may have helped. With fresh eyes and a renewed vigour I was able to get to grips with improving my manuscript.
When I found out I hadn’t won but Bonnier Zaffre had requested a meeting I was cautiously hopeful. I contacted Alice Lutyens at Curtis Brown and was thrilled when this hotshot agent took me on. She made a few suggested improvements which I whole-heartedly agreed with and together, on International Women’s Day, we went to meet Bonnier Zaffre.
When I wrote ‘Killing It’ I was writing the book I wanted to write. I wasn’t thinking about genre or what box it would fit into. Nothing made this clearer than being sat in a publishing meeting with Katherine Armstrong, the Editorial Director for Crime and Eleanor Dryden, Publishing Director for Women’s Fiction. In what was a first for them, I would have both of them as editors as they felt ‘Killing It’ crossed two genres.
My two-book deal was confirmed the day before I gave birth to our daughter. The initial exhilaration at the twin joys of brand new book deal and brand new baby soon gave way to panic. I received Eleanor and Katherine’s combined edit notes when my baby was nine weeks old, and my three older children had broken up for the summer.
My saintly husband bore the brunt of childcare/ my hormones/ stress. And we got through it. All still speaking to each other (just).
Many of Eleanor and Katherine’s comments sparked new ideas and I ended up making quite a major plot change off the back of one of their suggestions. By the end of the editing process the book felt vastly improved because of their input.
Working with Alice, Eleanor and Katherine has been a total joy. Having them by my side and seeing their enthusiasm – as we’ve done all we can to make ‘Killing It’ the best it can be – has been both inspiring and reassuring. This group of women, Team Lex we called ourselves, banded together on International Women’s Day last year, spent this International Women’s Day handing out early proofs of ‘Killing It’. Lex Tyler, a gun-toting, lactating secret agent burst into the world on the 12th July and I couldn’t be prouder.
Thanks to Asia for this blog post and to the folks at Bonnier Zaffre for organising it all. Killing It is published by Zaffre and is available now.