Using short stories to spring-board writing your novel – Rachael Featherstone

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By Rachael Featherstone

Everyone has their own story of how they began writing. Some people have been writing stories since they were little, each story gradually getting longer until writing a full-length novel becomes a natural progression. Others spend years wanting to write but it takes a big life change to make them actually sit down and start. For some people, their novel idea comes quickly and the first draft gets knocked out in the space of a few months. For others, a story has been brewing for years and it can take a decade before they reach the elusive ‘The end’.

Whatever journey we find ourselves on, I think many writers would agree that you get to a point when you’re writing a novel when you suddenly think… What the hell am I doing? This is rubbish. I’ll never finish. Will this ever get published? Am I any good? It’s the wobble stage. Typically, it happens when you reach the half-way point.

When I decided to write a novel, back in 2012, I read. Firstly, because good writers are good readers (I read that somewhere) and secondly, because it delayed actually starting to write and I am a prolific procrastinator. I read a lot of blogs by writers about the writing journey and learnt all about the dreaded wobble phase. I also researched literary agents and soon discovered how tough it was to break through.

I had a short window of opportunity to try writing. My mum was ill and I’d taken six months off work to spend time with her. I’d never shown my writing to anyone and it seemed to me like I was already in the wobble phrase and I had barely begun. So, I came up with a plan to make the whole process a bit less daunting. I decided to first try my hand at short stories and I’m so pleased I did. Writing a short story seemed wasn’t quite such a big investment of time and getting one published gave me confidence that I was writing at a publishable standard. It also helped my cover letter stand out to agents.

There are so many short story outlets, I started by visiting my local WHSmith and buying a variety of magazines: Women’s Weekly, Mslexia, Writer’s Forum, Writing Magazine and I also found out about Scribble magazine on a writer’s blog. I read a few editions and studied the various submission guidelines. I decided to start with Writer’s Forum. They run a monthly competition for stories on any theme. Not only are the top three stories published each month with decent prizes, but you can also pay a little extra to receive a critique on your story from the judges which was a huge incentive for me. So, after a couple of weeks writing a story, I bit the bullet and sent in my first story and – impatiently – waited for the critique to arrive. It was really helpful and I sent in another, and another. One of my stories received great feedback. The judge said with a few tweaks it could make the shortlist so I worked on the revisions and sent it in again. My story, The Flying Cow, came second in the competition and was published in 2013. I was a published writer!

This experience gave me the confidence to finish my novel, Puzzle Girl, and the courage to approach agents at writing festivals in one-to-ones. It was at the 2014 Winchester Writers Festival that I met my agent, David Headley, and after securing a publishing deal in 2016, this month I can finally say I have fulfilled my dream of becoming a published author.


Rachael Featherstone lives in Hampshire with her husband Tim. Having studied Maths at university most of her friends thought she had lost her marbles when she quit her city job to write a book. Undeterred she gave herself six months to write the first draft of a novel and have a short story published. She did it! Five years on her debut novel Puzzle Girl – whose very rough first draft was completed in five and half months and bears little resemblance to the novel’s form today – is published on 16 March 2017. Her short stories have been published in Writers’ Forum, Scribble and Writing Magazine.

www.writerachael.com

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