I am delighted to welcome to the spotlight one of my lovely clients who I have worked with for some time. She knows how tough it is to get your work recognised and break into the women’s commercial market. So without further ado please welcome Diana Moss to my blog this morning…
Introduce yourself: Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book/story published.
Hi everyone. I have been happily married to James since 1975. We are committed Christians and have two adult children, both of whom have left home with families of their own. We are servants to two cats. I wrote my first illustrated short story book at the tender age of six years, even sewing the pages together with help from my mother. It was never published of course, but received great acclaim from my family. Having always enjoyed both reading and writing, other hobbies are sewing and craft work. My first publishing success was coming second in our local newspaper’s Christmas Story competition during the 1990s. This spurred me on to seeing my second story published in The Cat, (the magazine produced by Cats’ Protection). Around that time I had several articles published in the Woman’s Weekly magazine under the heading of A Lighter Look at Life. Unfortunately that column was scrapped when a new editor took over the magazine. At that time our church (The Community Church in Southampton) purchased Central Hall here in the city. It was a large building in a sad state of repair, but we raised the money to buy it and renovate it. Having been put in touch with an elderly lady who was the daughter of the first minister there in the 1920s and who had the original vision for how the church would serve the community, I wrote an article for The Hampshire Magazine, comparing the first minister’s ideas being on a par with our own. Following this I had several articles published in Your Cat magazine. I then started to work on a novel.
Did that journey involve an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?
No – I just sent a manuscript off and hoped for the best!
Do or did you ever belong to a writing group? Crit group? Did you ever have someone professionally critique your work before first submitting? Or do you have friends or anyone else who sees it before you send it off? Has that changed since you became a ‘successful author’?
Yes. I had only been working part-time as an administrator for some years, but when my health deteriorated I took early retirement. It was then when I discovered a Creative Writing group near me and became a member of it for some years. Then the lady tutor retired and the group came to an end. I confess I was relieved as I felt we had been covering the same ground several times. I then did an email course with The Writers’ Bureau. With that complete I was still keen for more, so I did a novel writing course tutored by Margaret James, then a short story course tutored by Sue Moorcroft, followed by a second novel writing course, again tutored by Sue Moorcroft. (I sometimes used my husband to proofread my work but he used to take simply ages! I only asked friends’ opinions a couple of times because they always thought my work was wonderful and never gave any proper criticism.) Having regularly taken The Writers’ Forum magazine for some years I had more-or-less completed my second novel entitled After the Summer and was struggling with its ‘soggy middle’. In desperation I contacted Debz Hobbs-Wyatt and was relieved by her friendly response plus some fairly obvious solutions that she offered. She also helped me to be brave and cut out irrelevant waffle. It was difficult to do, but leaving it in would probably bore my reader.
Who did you first tell when you heard your first book had been accepted?
I have always been self-published. Despite being told at Winchester Writers’ Conference (in 2008) by several agents that ‘they are looking for new authors like me’, especially as I had pressed ahead and self-published two books at that time, I never heard back even when I applied officially, offering manuscripts.
What happened next?
I first self-published my mother’s biography with Bound Biographies, Bicester, Oxon. My mother told me a lot about herself when she was very ill in hospital towards the end of her life. I was amazed by some of the awful things she had been through as a nursing sister in West Africa during the second world war. I wrote it all down, typed it out and gave her the manuscript for her 85th birthday. She was thrilled with it and begged me to get it published. It needed a lot of editing, but after her death ten years later in 2003 I did this using my second-hand lap-top. Having lived in Nigeria myself for 18 months as a child I recalled my own first impressions as well as amassing other factual information from books my parents owned on the area at that time.
Tell us something about your writing day, routine.
Being officially retired and enjoying anything creative, my writing is more of a hobby, as is my sewing, so I always have both to hand. Generally though as I live just with my husband now, I work in the lounge while he uses the computer in the dining room. I always carry a small notepad with me for recording something that amuses me, describing a particular scene, an overheard conversation, etc. Once lost, that moment never returns.
What or who inspires you most? Any particular people, authors, books?
Monica Dickens’ writing I hugely enjoy, as she seemed to see the funny side of situations and her descriptions of places and people were very visual. I enjoy Erica James’ writing, also novels by Patricia Pearse and Maeve Binchy. Deric Longden was a brilliant author too. Despite his natural humour he obviously had a very sensitive side.
Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?
If I get an idea, I simply can’t help writing! Occasionally in real life I wonder … Supposing he or she had said this or done that … and my brain goes into overdrive! Sometimes I may shelve it and look at it another time. Other times I may feel that it could make a good story and it seems to develop itself. When I was being tutored by Sue Moorcroft I sent loads of short stories to loads of magazines that she thought were ready for publication, but always had them rejected. Sometimes a real-life situation will set me off and my thoughts go tumbling over one another as the characters write the book for me.
How much marketing have you had to do, even with a big publisher? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?
I don’t like telling the world how great my book will be if they buy a copy! I would never be any good at selling anything! Two of my books have now been re-written, self published again but by New Generation Publishing. At least doing it this way I get royalties from sales. They are automatically available from Amazon and any good bookshop. I advertise them on Facebook every so often. I have written to the local papers and to our local radio, (Radio Solent) but so far nothing has happened – no mention at all.
Tell us about the latest published book…
Both of these books are re-writes and happened to be published on the same day in July 2016. The first is my mother’s biography, The Mother I Never Knew which I see has a brilliant review on Amazon. The second is my novel Once Upon A Summer, also available from Amazon. Both books are also available in U S of A and Canada from Barnes & Noble. For Australian readers these books can be obtained from Dymocks.
My mother’s biography was first self-published in 2005 entitled Tales My Mother Told Me. Too bashful about promoting my work, I mainly gave copies away to families and friends. As the years passed, I discovered more facts, created more dialogue in order to make this book interesting to a wider audience. This has now been re-written and re-published under its new title of The Mother I Never Knew. I feel this is more of how my mother visualised it when she asked me to write her life story.
My second novel was originally written and self published in 2012 as After the Summer. That too suffered because of lack of marketing resources and I gave most of the copies away. This has also been re-written, severely edited and published as Once Upon A Summer.
Now that New Generation Publishers sell these through Amazon, I hope that my work will be known to a wider audience and at least to have some royalties from sales! (Up until now, my writing has been an expensive hobby.)
What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
I am currently re-writing my first novel When Tomorrow Becomes Yesterday. Published in 2010, it was due to my own bad marketing it never got off the ground. Now I have a different plan for it, so may change characters’ names etc. – then I will re-publish this with New Generation Publishers.
Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?
I have found it very difficult and suggest doing it via New Generation Publishing. Be warned though that they will print what you write, so it may be wise to employ a proof-reader.
Which of your characters would you most like to be friends with and why?
I like both Ruth and Kate in Once Upon a Summer. I can see something of myself in Ruth sometimes. I would like to think I had her friend Kate’s empathy once she is an adult.
Finally: can we post an extract of your latest published book?
This is an account of when my mother was torpedoed from her biography, The Mother I Never Knew
On the fourth day out Marjorie began to feel seasick due to the heavy swell. No sooner had she settled comfortably on deck to get some fresh air, there was a terrific bang and the ship shuddered as if trying to shake off the resultant shattered glass and debris falling all around.
The ship immediately listed way over on its starboard side apparently about to sink almost at once, so heavy was the impact from not just one torpedo, but two. Then the ship righted itself a little and the crew began lowering lifeboats although some of these had been destroyed by the impact of the torpedoes.
A voice came from the tannoy. “This is your captain speaking. All passengers and crew must put on your lifejackets and go to your appointed muster station immediately.”
“Man the lifeboats! Prepare to abandon ship!” roared another voice.
Marjorie donned her bulky lifejacket and staggered along to her emergency station. People were scurrying everywhere. She felt her stomach lurch.
Lifeboats were hastily lowered into the heaving grey sea below. As Marjorie looked, her stomach churned with nausea and in terror. Being unable to swim very well she hated water deeper than her bath.
The women were ordered to get into the lifeboats first. There was no time to collect any belongings. With pounding heart, Marjorie clambered awkwardly over the side of the badly damaged ship. The wind clawed at her clothing causing her to falter. Her heart beat wildly. Unable to swim she was terrified of missing her footing and falling into the sea. Then she felt the lifeboat sway beneath her as she literally fell into it. Once it was overfilled with people it was lowered jerkily over the side of the huge parent ship which by now was fast taking in water. All the passengers in the little boat clung on for dear life as it went down towards the moving murky waters below by means of ropes and pulleys, first the forward end pointing downwards, then the stern.
Suddenly one end hit the waves whilst the other remained suspended in mid air. Marjorie disappeared under the water as people fell on top of her in a kind of watery rugger-scrum. She resurfaced again a little farther away. Unable to breathe she panicked as she faced death head on.
Her life seemed to flash before her eyes. She recalled her father, Timothy, Jack Sullivan, her stepmother; what was the quality of her existence anyway? Then she recalled some of the wonderful things she had heard spoken about her own mother; Lottie, people had called her. People had always spoken well of her. Perhaps she would see her soon? But suppose her own mother disapproved of Marjorie’s life so far? Oh, she couldn’t bear that! She struggled violently in the freezing cold sea that threatened to engulf her. Her body disappeared beneath a huge wave and she swallowed what felt like a large proportion of it as it overwhelmed her. Fear set in as her mind pictured what sort of life was lurking in the ocean beneath her. With her arms flailing wildly, she desperately tried to keep afloat and thrashed around in the chill wintry sea until lifelines from the Accra were thrown. Eventually she managed to catch one that snaked near her.
“Hold on down there!” yelled a male voice as she found herself hoisted into the air, crashing painfully against the iron hull, now a welcome island in the midst of such an angry sea. Several other people were also hauled up and left dangling on ropes like strings of onions.
This next is an extract from Once Upon A Summer
Ruth took the Royal Blue coach home. Waiting in the dingy little coach station, she felt like the outer crust of a person, someone who’d let all her pain spill away with her life force. Tears were never far away. She was in the depths of grief for her baby she’d given up for adoption.
She noticed none of the New Forest or the pretty Dorset rolling countryside that she was passing through as she dwelled on her thoughts and tried not to sink in the midst of emotions she wasn’t yet ready to deal with. In her bag was a small baby’s vest and tiny matinée jacket that Andrew had outgrown and she’d omitted to put them in the baby box kept at Holmwood. Ruth would keep both.
Once home, she unbuttoned her coat, and inhaled the familiar smell of her family household. A sense of belonging washed over her. Her mother greeted her, “Oh, so the prodigal returns.”
Her father asked, “So did you-er, find yourself, or whatever it was you hoped to do?”
“Well at least you’re home in time for Christmas,” said her mother. Families should all be together then.”
Her brother Martin greeted her casually as if she’d never been away. “Hi Sis!”
Ruth went to bed that night in a haze of sadness that she couldn’t seem to detach herself from.
* * *
Shops were displaying coloured lights and decorations. Women struggled along with awkward shaped bags and baskets of shopping. Men strode about clothed in business suits, some clumsy with carrier bags along with their brief cases and umbrellas. School children dawdled home in groups, pausing occasionally to look into the bright shop windows. The town council had strung decorations and coloured lights from one side of the road to the other.
So much colour and sparkle, but Ruth felt empty.
A tall Christmas tree had been erected in the square, lit up with lots of coloured bulbs. A greengrocer’s shop had stalls outside on the pavement; with piles of tangerines, pineapples, nuts, apples and bananas. Further up the street two small children stood with their noses pressed up against the window of a toyshop, faces bright with excitement until their mothers pulled them away.
It didn’t seem so long ago that she’d been a child herself. Now she had given birth to one of her own. He was hers, or he should’ve been. Very soon it would be Andrew’s first Christmas.
She paused to gaze into a shop window. On one side was a brand new Silver Cross pram. On the other was a wooden cot with a blue lamb painted on it. Would her baby be sleeping in one like this tonight? She stared at the display of smocked baby clothes and rompers… no, she must walk on.
© Diana Moss 2016: can not be reproduced without permission from the author
Thank your Diana for sharing your journey and I hope it will inspire others. It’s a tough journey, but so worth it, right? I wish you all the success in the world 🙂 Thank you for also being part of my journey.
Have a great weekend everyone!