Write what you want to read – Emma Robinson

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By Emma Robinson

Like most writers, I have been scribbling away in notebooks since I was small. My drawers and cupboards are littered with the fragments of ideas which seemed winners in the shower, but dribbled away when I tried to stretch them beyond a few chapters. It wasn’t until my fortieth birthday loomed, that I realised it was time to put up or shut up. And this time I had something I really wanted to write about.

Three years before, I’d given birth to my son and it had been a horror story. Four-day labour, general anaesthetic, week in hospital blah blah blah. I loved my son passionately, but I felt angry, cheated and downright exhausted. Stuck at home after a c-section, I developed a mild addiction to social media which fuelled these feelings. Everyone else seemed to have it together. Why was no-one feeling like me? I searched for a book which would make me feel better; a novel with characters who didn’t have it all together, mothers I could identify with, rant with and, most importantly, laugh with. When I couldn’t find it, I decided I would write it.

Once The Undercover Mother was written, I wanted to share it. The first agent I approached came back to me the next day, very enthusiastic about my first three chapters and asking to see the rest. “This is it!” I thought. But when she’d read the rest of the manuscript, it was a ‘no’. However, she was very generous in writing a detailed reply with the areas she thought I needed to focus on: keeping the humour going throughout, giving it page-turnability and looking at the structure of the whole thing. In retrospect, a novel written in flashback from the perspective of five different characters was possibly a tad ambitious.

After the initial devastation and three boxes of Tofifee, I realised that everything she had said was true. The only problem was, I didn’t know how to fix it. I had never taken a creative writing course or even read a book about how to write a novel. Naively, I’d assumed my years of reading every novel I could get my hands on would be enough. It wasn’t.

Before I started work on it again, I did two things which changed my novel for the better. Firstly, I took an online course with The Writer’s Workshop entitled “Self-Editing Your Novel.” It was the most I have ever learned about creative writing. Each week, myself and fourteen other students learned a new ‘tool’ to improve our writing, completed a task using our own novels, and then submitted it for feedback from our fellow students and our amazing course tutor, Debi Alper. Some of the students have since become friends and we’ve met to discuss all things writing. Four of them were beta readers for The Undercover Mother and my second novel Happy Never After due later this year. It was one of my fellow students on the course who recommended the second most important thing to change my novel. The book Into the Woods by John Yorke. Although it is a book based on scriptwriting, it has been a revelation to me in terms of plotting and structure – an area in which I struggled.

After the Writer’s Workshop course, I spent another nine months working on my manuscript, hauling it into shape. I went back to chronological rather than flashback. I focused on one character rather than multiple viewpoints. Plus – and this was pretty important – I tried to ensure that readers would want to keep turning the page.

Once it was ready, I started to research agents again and, by absolute chance, stumbled across the Bookouture website. I submitted my novel and was absolutely delighted to be contacted a couple of days later by an infectiously enthusiastic publisher called Isobel Akenhead. Having recently returned from maternity leave herself, she really ‘got’ my main character Jenny and has taken my book and helped me to make it the best it can be.

I have many hopes for The Undercover Mother. I hope it will make people laugh. I hope it will make people cry. But most of all, I hope there is a new mum at home somewhere who needs a book like this and that she will feel just a little bit better after reading it.

Emma Robinson thinks of herself as one of the ‘Bridget Jones generation’ – who are now grown up and having children – and writes novels for women who feel the same. She also has a blog, Motherhood for Slackers, which takes a humorous look at parenthood, and includes poems such as ‘Dear Teacher’ about her son starting school which has been shared around the world. Emma is an English teacher and lives in Essex with a patient husband and two children who are an endless source of material. Emma’s debut novel The Undercover Mother was published by Bookouture on 20th March 2018.


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