The Crime Readers' Association

Diary of a Debut Author: Helen Phifer (Part Two)

22nd January 2014 by in


Hello if you’re reading this for the first time and if not welcome back. This is where I’m going to share with you the ups and downs of trying to get published. A quick update on my novel for anyone who is interested, if not you can skip this bit. It seems that people are really enjoying The Ghost House; I have had a big, strapping policeman tell me it was too scary and he had to stop reading. This made me giggle; behind my hand of course I’m not that rude. I’ve had readers of all ages messaging me on Facebook telling me how much they have enjoyed the story and when will my next one be out which is all I ever hoped for. I want my readers to enjoy my story as much as I did whilst writing it – okay the editing had me tearing my hair out but that’s for another day. The high point since its release has to be The Ghost House reaching #2 on the Amazon UK Contemporary Horror Chart. For a day I was nestled between Stephen King who was number #1, #3 and #4. What a feeling, it was absoloutley amazing and such an honour; I don’t think it could get any better.

Last month I finished by pushing my manuscript into the back of a drawer which was never to be opened, ever again. Or at least until I knew what I was going to do with it, but it never left my mind. It niggled away at me like a hole in a tooth; it was there and I was too afraid to do anything about it. I read through the pile of writing magazines I’d been keeping and came across an article about a writing group. Of course – that could be the answer to my prayers. I searched the internet to find out if there was a local group; the nearest one was eight miles away. It isn’t that far but I work full time shifts so it would have been difficult making the commitment to attend every month. I searched the Library website to see if there was anything and found an advert which was three months out of date for a creative writing taster session. I dithered and then phoned the library to ask if there were any more classes. A very nice librarian told me she didn’t think so, but took my details and said she would get back in touch if there was. About two weeks later I got a call from her to tell me the tutor would meet me at the library one afternoon to discuss exactly what I was after. I was ecstatic; finally I might be able to meet someone who could give me some advice about where I had gone wrong.

The day arrived and I was so nervous I almost never walked into the library but thankfully I did. I was introduced to the tutor and for the next two hours we talked about nothing but writing and it was heaven. Up until now I’d never had anyone I could talk to about my writing because no-one I knew was interested. We arranged the date of our next meeting and from that day on Roose Writers was formed.  From then on it has steadily grown until the group is currently closed and there is a waiting list to join. I went home and pulled out my manuscript, nervous because I had never shown anyone my work before but excited because now I would hopefully be able to fix whatever it was that had been lacking.

The next session I turned up with the manuscript in a blue folder, hands shaking I handed it over to the tutor. I couldn’t wait to hear back from her so I could get working on it again, this was to be my first critique. The writing group meets once a month so I turned up for next month’s session excited to hear what the tutor thought. That excitement lasted for approximately thirty seconds; she took one look at me and then proceeded to literally rip it to bits. She handed back my file and told me that she couldn’t read more than a couple of chapters because it was all over the place. The punctuation was appalling and until I had gone through it with a fine tooth comb she wouldn’t be reading any more. I was gutted, but I also realised that this was the problem and how had I not realised this. I took the somewhat harsh critique on the chin, kept my head high even though I wanted to throw myself onto the library floor and wail. I made myself stay until the end of the session and when I left I took a copy of ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynne Truss. I also left with a glint of determination that I would read the book tucked under my arm and then work my way through my story and make it as good as I knew it could be. I wanted to prove that I had it in me, I wasn’t about to give in.

The moral of this story is to make sure your work is the very best it can be before approaching agents or publishers. Otherwise you are not giving it a fair chance.

Helen Phifer - The Ghost House

Helen Phifer on CRA Find An Author

Next month professional critiques.

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