An Accidental Vocation
Most writers say they’ve always wanted to write – not me. Though I was a constant oral storyteller (horror stories to my neighbour Dianne, and Bay City Roller stories to my best friend Gail) I wanted to be a nurse from age 6. I fell into writing when my husband came home with an article about writing and said, “You’ve got a good imagination – you could do that while you’re at home with the kids.” I was hooked within days…but it took 6 years to sell my first short story, and 9 years to sell my first book.
After selling 2 romantic suspense stories to Harlequin under the pseudonym Melissa James, I found a new kind of story I had to write: the tale of a woman hidden beneath the stark retelling in a famous Bible story. But my first dive into historical fiction was too ambitious for a first attempt. Years later I rewrote it, and though it almost sold to a major publishing house (sadly, during the week of the GFC, so they couldn’t take a risk on an unknown), I learned another valuable lesson. Don’t rush your story.
Then playing tour guide in Sydney for visiting American friends, I found a book about espionage in Europe during Napoleon’s years. In it, I found another hidden history I had to tell. The Tide Watchers was born: the first in a series of “hidden history” espionage/steampunk fiction during Napoleon’s Consular years. I was obsessed. I did years of research. I wrote the book. And rewrote it. I visited the places where the story took place, sat for hours in a model of the tiny, hand-cranked submarine that’s utterly central to the book. After quite a lot of rejections, leaving one agency and signing with another (the incomparable Eleanor Jackson) and selling 20 novels, novellas and online reads for Harlequin, I quit romance. I had to concentrate on learning to write historical fiction. I did courses – most notably Fiona McIntosh’s Popular Fiction Master Class – went home, rewrote the book yet again, and a few weeks later “The Tide Watchers” found its home at William Morrow/HarperCollins.
I love writing Napoleonic hidden history. Soon to be released is the free novella “Incomparable Shadows”, an introduction to the real-life Scarlet Pimpernel, who is in my next “Blind Fall”. Yet, I couldn’t leave the “hidden women” in the Bible alone – and it’s one woman’s story among many. Coming soon to my website will be “A Queen’s Journal” with her thoughts on why she’s been veiled by history for so long. Oh, and Melissa James is making a bit of a comeback. Look for “Adam’s Bane”, an outback romantic suspense, coming to Amazon very soon!
Apart from writing, I’m an avid traveller. Living in Switzerland for four years gave me a feeling of home in Europe. I’m in serious love with anything historical that Neil Oliver and Tony Robinson presents (my husband calls Neil Oliver my boyfriend). I have an ongoing affair with most kinds of cheese, still addicted to anything Scottish after a childhood doing Highland Dancing, and love to read almost anything historical. My guilty pleasures are watching “My Kitchen Rules”, the Chinese dating show “If You Are The One” and reruns of “Letters and Numbers” – did I mention that I’m a hopeless nerd?
The one other thing I love to do is teach, and encourage other writers. I give regular workshops, mostly my “Triple Arc” and “Deep Point of View” workshops, blended into a full-day workshop. Look at the Events page for my next venue. Hopefully it will be near you!