This is a long post, so grab a coffee or a glass of wine, settle down and relax.
You know, I can remember the exact moment I said those words. I was ten and an avid Enid Blyton fan. Who remembers The Famous Five? I read them all, again and again and again… well, you get the picture. At eleven I found Elinor M. Brent-Dyer. Who remembers The Chalet School books? Read them, too, until they were in tatters.
Then I went to High School and over the years was force-fed Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, Albert Canus, Donald Rawley and of course Mr. Shakespeare. Many authors are much loved but my favourite author of all time, the one who really sparked my imagination, the one whose characters made me laugh and cry and read her books again and again was the fantabulous Georgette Heyer. One of her best has to be The Grand Sophy – still makes me laugh out loud.
During this time I wrote a descriptive essay that made my English teacher, Mr. Henderson, cry, in a good way. He read it to the class (I was so embarrassed my face was radioactive) and the story made two of my mortal enemies cry, too. (I defy any fifteen year old girl not to have the odd nemesis in her life.) And Mr. Henderson said I should seriously think of becoming a writer. My parents immediately vetoed that brilliant idea, nipping it brutally in the bud, by stating that, ‘Writers make no money, honey, and we cannot afford to keep you. Become a shorthand/typist and live in the real world.’ So I did, which is why I can touch-type at over 100wpm. (Ha!) Karma, as they say, is a beetch.
And so, I scribbled stories, lots of stories. Mainly about love (I’d hit puberty and had strict parents who banned boys) so I wrote about my ‘perfect man’ (Ha!) and listened to David Bowie and Bryan Ferry (loved Bryan). As for books, I found romances, lots of romances and paranormal/fantasy, lots of those, too. Then I fell into international banking (trade finance) and met H, got married and had three children, dabbled in many things. Travelled the world. But right at the back of my mind I kept thinking, ‘One day, I want to write a book.’
By this time I was reading thrillers and fantasy like Eric Van Lustbader and devouring every single thing he wrote.
Then we were back home in the UK, H had retired early (due to overseas service) and I joined a multi-national construction company. Wrote a ‘How-to’ book for sales staff that the staff, strangely enough, enjoyed because it was ‘chatty’ and ‘funny’ and ‘relevant.’ And all the while I was thinking, ‘One day, I want to write a book.’ The construction company was sold, the recession was knocking at the door, I was implementing change in the company, stressed and overworked.
So H sat me down and said, ‘What do you want to do?’ and, you guessed it, I said, ‘One day, I want to write a book.’ He looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘Then do it. You’ll be good at it.’
How’s that for confidence?
So, then the decision became, ‘What will I write?’ And more importantly, ‘What sort of reader will I write it for?’
My first ever serious attempt was a fantasy about mages and witches and alternate realities. It didn’t have a title. But it did have a ten year old hero and dark and gothic castles, blood feuds, demons – blah, blah, blah. Then I wrote a short ghost story about a banshee, which was so bloody and gothic and horror-filled I actually scared myself. But I was so gripped and excited and tormented by the thing that I knew right then writing a story was what I wanted to do. But I wanted to do it well. And so began the intensive journey of applying myself to learn my craft, including how to edit. This was 2009.
After many pitiful attempts at fantasy and a complex futuristic vampyre paranormal (the first chapter and pivotal moment finaled in The Romance Junkies competition in the USA) I decided to write a romance. After all, I thought, how hard could it be?
It didn’t take long to discover that there’s a hell of a lot more to this romance business than meets the eye. A lot more. So I joined an online writer’s group. And we set ourselves goals and tasks and scenes and swapped stories about our characters. The girls were ruthlessly honest but great fun. Through those wonderful and generous women, I joined Harlequin’s on-line forums where the editors run tons of wannabe author competitions where thousands (yes, thousands) of readers can vote and comment honestly. Competitions like ‘The first 1,000 words of a contemporary/sweet romance’ and ‘A 3,000 word pivotal moment of romantic suspense.’ But, best of all, were the online workshops run by their bestselling romance authors – most of whom were USA Today and New York Times Bestselling romance authors – and these girls knew the romance genre inside out. They shared techniques. They answered seriously dumb questions and gave honest feedback with a generosity of spirit that I came to realise is prevalent in the romance industry. As for the fans, well, all I can say is that they are THE most voracious readers and utterly loyal when they find a writer they like.
And so we come to ‘So You Think You Can Write?’ competitions and ‘New Voices.’ Of course, I entered those (under the name Scottygirl) and had lovely feedback. And I found amazing friends that I still have today, among them finalists. Meanwhile, I was writing scenes. Scenes that had to grab the reader. I experimented with manipulating reader emotions, making the reader laugh (came second). Then I wrote a heart-wrenching scene about a young widow of two years who has a one night stand with a hot Spaniard (came joint first. I won author Tessa Radley and she spoke to me all the way from New Zealand to give me writing advice – I’ll never forget it. It’s still a highlight of my life. She said she’d buy everything I wrote. Gulp.) Then I finaled in two more competitions, one where I made readers cry. I felt I was finally getting somewhere. Time to submit the first three chapters of my book I was polishing to such a shine it could be seen from outer space. It took six long months to receive a reply. A rejection. But it was a good rejection because it was two pages long and told me exactly what to improve and to please re-submit. So I knuckled down to re-write it and…. got breast cancer.
Now, to most people breast cancer is pretty devastating news. Don’t get me wrong – it was more than devastating to me and my family. I had a long road ahead. BUT, overnight I lost the fear of failure. I don’t think I’ve ever written so much so fast before or since. Everything that was buried deep in my subconscious spilled onto the page. Everything. Meanwhile, I underwent half a dozen operations and began treatments. When I couldn’t type, I wrote in journals in bed. H used to find me switching on the light in the middle of the night and scribbling like a demon because an ‘idea’ or ‘a plot twist’ had entered my mind and I just had to ‘get it down’ because believe me, when we wake in the morning our mind is empty.
It was during this time that the Italian Nico Ferranti sprang to life in my head as a three dimensional character as did Bronte Ludlow and her pal Rosie (about whom, the editor of the publisher I’d submitted the work to who read the first three chapters said to ‘tone Rosie right down’.) So I worked on Nico’s back-story, what or who had made him the man he was today? What age was he when the worst thing that could happen to a child happened? What are his strengths? Weaknesses? Goals? And I did the same with Bronte. Poor Bronte, God love her, I killed her parents; her fiancé betrayed her; she lost her family home; she discovered her father was not her father; she had endometriosis, which meant maybe no children. She was beautiful, but couldn’t see it. She hated her breasts, etc., etc. BUT I made her resilient, she set up her own business with her pal Rosie and they triumphed; she wasn’t looking for love; she fell out with her (half) brother because she wanted to reach out to her real father; she stood up to Nico who wanted to buy the home left to her by her mother; she was her own woman and she rocked!
And so the time came to send the entire re-written book to the publisher. However, there’s a twist to the tale. During the time of my return to health and re-writing the story, in the United States of America, a movement had been born. Independent authors. I’d been following a couple of bloggers who were talking about it, especially J.A. Konrath & Co. Interesting, I thought. At the same time the publishing industry was going through (still is) a seismic change. Did I, I wondered, have the time to wait, maybe six to twelve months for a publisher to get back to me? And after I spoke to some Big Name independent romance authors who were ‘breaking through’ and took their advice, I decided I didn’t have the time to waste. H and I talked and talked and talked for weeks, did our due diligence and H said he’d format and deal with the technical side of submitting digital books to the distributors, accounting and the tax authorities. In the meantime two romance editors I’d met on-line offered to edit and proof my book. So, on the 12th April 2012 we published Reckless Nights In Rome. To say we were petrified would be putting it mildly. I didn’t worry about the book or what was happening to it, got my head down and wrote A Stormy Spring and then Run Rosie Run and they were both published by Christmas 2012. That Christmas Reckless was a perma-free and Stormy and Rosie were all in the top ten of iBooks in thirty countries and selling in Barnes and Noble and doing well in Amazon.com. And that’s when I found my readers. Readers who buy everything I write. Everything. Each story is written with them at the front and centre of everything I do.
Some of you who are reading this have followed the ups and downs of the journey. In 2014 I had a sudden bereavement and a couple of health challenges connected to cancer treatment. But all the while I’ve never stopped writing, even if I had almost a year of not publishing new stories. My readers have been patient and loving and understanding and I want to thank each and every one.
It’s also true to say that as authors we don’t work in a bubble of one. My covers are done by Frauke and Gabrielle Prendergast who also designed the CC MACKENZIE brand. Formatting, distribution, sales accounting, invoicing and Chief Operating Officer of More Press is H. Author Engine, particularly Jennifer Lewis Oliver and Greg Carrico are awesome.
CC MACKENZIE now has ten books published in the Ludlow Hall franchise. This year there are the first books of a new Ludlow Nights series, books that are fun and fast pace with laugh out loud moments. The first of which, His Rules, is under the New Adult romance genre, will be available free and exclusive to my mailing list for a short time, with more to come. Four, yes four, vampyre books, the first and second out together on 28th March with book three on pre-order coming at the end of April and book four on pre-order coming at the end of May with more to follow. Plus A Daddy For Daisy – date to be advised. More short novels, but they’re a surprise. I love surprising readers.
I’ve truly been blessed by the support of generous authors who write in a variety of genres (not only romance) – Diane Capri, Jillian Dodd, Steena Holmes, Ruth Cardello, Marie Force, Lindsay J. Pryor, Natalie G. Owens, Dana Delamar, Kristine Cayne, Stacey Joy Netzel, L.C. Giroux, Liz Matis and Katherine Bone.
More recently I was part of a group of authors who wrote a continuity series based in the Island of Eden a world written and created by Lauren Hawkeye. This month we published an Eden boxed set with contributions by Lauren, me, Avery Aster, Opal Carew, Steena Holmes, Mari Carr, Cathryn Fox, Eliza Gayle, Adriana Hunter, Roni Loren, Sharon Page, Daire St. Denis and Elena Aitken.
On the night of Wednesday 18th April 2015 something amazing happened, we made the USA Today Bestsellers list. So now I can say I’m a USA Today Bestselling author. The reason I’m sharing this is not to toot my own horn, but to encourage those who don’t believe they can follow their dreams to – Go For It!
So tell me, what are your innermost dreams and what are you doing to make them come true?