Friday, 13 January 2012

Bouncing back from rock bottom - guest blog

Author Elizabeth Kyne remembers her lowest moment
and how she came back from it

It was December 2008. I’d just finished writing a novel after taking the mad and inadvisable step of going part time at my day job. I took the first three chapters and an outline to my writing group and hoped to receive some notes which would help me polish the manuscript before sending it to publishers. The notes all pretty much said the same thing – they hated it.
When I say ‘they hated it’, I’m probably being  a bit melodramatic. What they actually said was more along the lines of they didn’t like the story or the characters. I distinctly remember one person (once described as “the Simon Cowell of the group”) declare that the novel “clearly hadn’t been thought through” and tossed the manuscript across the table with a dismissive flick of the wrist.
I was a little bruised. Not because I thought I’d written a multi-prize-winning masterpiece that had been damned by a bunch of ignoramuses, but because I didn’t know what to do next. I had thought I would emerge with a clear idea of how I could improve what I had written. Instead, I had no idea at all. I was stuck; and I was despondent.
A week later, I turned forty. The week after that I got ill. I had one of those ghastly winter viruses that knocks you for six and keeps coming back to knock you down again. Just as I started to feel better, I got worse. It lasted for weeks.
So, there I was. I’d given up my full time job, I’d rented out my house and moved back in with my parents – all to write a novel. And what did I have to show for it? A manuscript that didn’t work. This was my lowest moment.
One of the things I decided to do was to treat that manuscript as a practice run. There was – to use a cliché – no use crying over spilt milk (although, in truth, I may have moped about for a few weeks feeling sorry for myself) and I simply had to keep at it. A lot of people told me how harsh my writing group had been and said things like “people can be so cruel”. Well, no, they’d actually done what I’d asked them to do and given me an honest opinion. What I needed to do was to take that feedback and make use of it. Not to endlessly re-write my current manuscript (which can be terribly soul destroying), but to do something new with the lessons I’d learnt.
I should, perhaps, rewind a little here. Although it was probably naive of me to think that I could just set aside some time and write a novel at the drop of a hat, I’d actually had some writing success before taking on the day job, with six non-fiction books published, a seven-year run of writing for magazines and an awful lot of fiction writing in my spare time. What I hadn’t counted on was my skills being a bit rusty. I had to re-learn my craft. My writing group had been extremely helpful in that and, despite getting an overly-blunt critique from ‘Simon Cowell’, I remain extremely grateful.
The other thing I did was get out the credit card and book myself a couple of writers’ courses. A writer should never stop learning or trying to improve her craft and, although some beginners courses can be a bit basic for the experienced writer, the Arvon Foundation course I went on was an incredible boost. I had brilliant tutors in Malorie Blackman and Melvin Burgess and people genuinely liked the things I was writing. They weren’t just being kind to protect my writer ego, either; it was a genuine response to the improvements I had made in those months since receiving a critique from my writers’ group.
The second course I went was a two week intensive writing-fest in Oregon. I must have been a bit bonkers at the time because my credit card really took a hit for that one, as it meant flying from the UK to America and having faith that the Masterclass taught by Dean Wesley-Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch would be valuable. It turned out to be so very much worth it. I learnt a bunch of stuff about writing skills and so much more. At the end of it, I sat down with Kris and talked about my work and she told me “you’ll be very successful” and made me write it down in my notes. It’s something I try to remember, especially when I’m feeling low and suffering a lack of confidence.
Another thing I tried out during those two weeks was dipping my toes into other genres. We were asked to write a lot of pitches for novels and I took it as an opportunity to try something different. I wrote a pitch for a novel called If Wishes Were Husbands which ignited the class with enthusiasm. When I got home, after I finished the project I was on at the time, I sat down to write it – and it’s this book which is finally bringing me some success. I don’t have the funds to move back into my own house yet, but I’m getting there.
There are many things I have learnt since that dismal Christmas and New Year where I was ill, despondent and floundering. The first is that a good writer is always learning and should strive to constantly improve her craft. Secondly, I learnt that it’s important to take risks in life if you want to succeed and one failure doesn’t meant that the risk wasn’t worthwhile, it just gives you more experience and more knowledge to put into practice when you try again. Which leads me to the third lesson, which turns out to be that old cliché: “If, at first, you don’t succeed, try try again”. Because I so easily could have fallen into depression and never wrote anything again (and, to be honest, for a while that’s what I did), but I decided to make an effort to turn things round, to learn by my mistakes and to keep going. Now, I have one book out and am writing another book. If that demonstrates anything it’s that there is only one way to go when you’re at rock bottom, and that is to make the effort to climb back up.

Rachel re-invents herself when she moves back to her home town of Aylesbury; with a new job, a new house and a new haircut. But people’s eyes glaze over when she tells them about her life as a forty-something singleton who works in accounts. So why not spice things up a bit? Why not tell her new hairdresser and her new friends about her fantastic husband? Everyone wants to hear about Darren, the man who cooks her amazing meals, cleans the house and takes her to bed for orgasmic sex three times a night! What a shame he doesn't exist…

…Until she comes home one night and finds Darren sitting in her lounge. And everything she said becomes true: from his sensuous food to his skill in bed. So real, that she believes it.

Not as if living with a perfect is man is… well, perfect…

She can’t find anything because every time she puts something down, he tidies it away. Then there’s the shock of the credit card bill from buying all that gourmet food. Not to mention the sex! Three times a night is great at first, but sometimes all she wants at the end of the day is a sandwich and some sleep.

Then Rachel decides that Darren has to go - and that’s when her troubles really begin.

Elizabeth Kyne takes the absurdities of the modern woman's quest for love and turns them into an enjoyable romp. She finds the comic in everyday situations, from buying a dress to experimenting with hair dye at home. While, underneath, she comments on the pressure to find the perfect husband and how that quest is doomed for us all.



Elizabeth Kyne trained to be a radio journalist and spent her early working years reading news bulletins and writing for magazines. Later, after learning the meaning of “mortgage” and “gas bill”, she decided to do the sensible thing and drop the freelance lifestyle to get a proper job. The job, however, all went horribly wrong and she returned to her first love of writing, and worked on several novels before finding success with “If Wishes Were Husbands”.

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