Friday, September 08, 2006

Old Beginnings; New Beginnings - Or The Little Girl Who Could . .

Sorting out my office has been interesting in more ways than one. I’ve unearthed a lot of things I didn’t know I had, and reminded myself of a lot of things that had slipped my mind. One thing I turned up was an interesting sort of coincidence.

I was sorting through a file of letters from HMB (or just Mills & Boon as it was then) and I found a letter from my first ever editor. It was intriguing to find that 31st August 1982 was the date on which the revised manuscript of The Chalk Line, the novel that turned out to be my very first published book, was received in the London offices (M&B weren’t out at Richmond then). And now, here I was, almost exactly 24 years later, with my 50th novel published and about to start on the journey towards the next milestone.
(I hope it won’t take me as long. It wasn’t, as it looks, that I wrote about 2 books a year – for over two years after that first acceptance, I was very ill and couldn’t write. My first book was published in 1984, the next 1986.)

So, having already thought about the New Year type of feeling I get at this time of year, I also started looking back over the 20+ years of my second career. – My first was the almost four years I spent as a Children’s Librarian, before I left to have my son.

20+ years, 50 titles, sales amounting to millions of books, several awards, two ‘How To Write Romance’ Guides, not a bad record for someone that was always being told that she should stop dreaming, grow up, find a ‘sensible job’- and put aside all hopes and dreams of being a published author. Hmm!
Anyone who has visited my web site or read the biography on either or eHarlequin, will know that I was almost born telling stories. I was recounting the tale of Drippy, Droppy and Droopy, the Three Little Raindrops, to my two younger sisters at the age of 3 or 4. I wrote my first ‘book’ at the age of eleven. But no one ever seemed to believe that I could do this professionally – and earn a very good living by it.

Perhaps they thought they were giving me good advice, the life of a freelance writer is a precarious and uncertain one. You can try and try and try for publication, submitting manuscript after manuscript and never getting anywhere. And even if you do get accepted and published, there is no guarantee at all that you’ll earn a great deal – quite the opposite, in fact. (I think there was a survey that said that many authors earn no more than £5,000 a year from their writing.)

Well, if the idea was to put me off, it didn’t work. Perhaps they should have remembered one of my favourite stories as a child. There was a book called The Little Engine that Could.
Basically, the story of this was

A little railroad engine was employed about a station yard for such work as it was built for, pulling a few cars on and off the switches. One morning it was waiting for the next call when a long train of freight-cars asked a large engine in the roundhouse to take it over the hill "I can't; that is too much a pull for me," said the great engine built for hard work. Then the train asked another engine, and another, only to hear excuses and be refused. At last in desperation the train asked the little switch engine to draw it up the grade and down on the other side. "I think I can," puffed the little locomotive, and put itself in front of the great heavy train. As it went on the little engine kept bravely puffing faster and faster, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can."

Then as it near the top of the grade, that had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly, but still kept saying, "I--think--I--can, I--think--I--can." It reached the top by dint of brave effort and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself, "I thought I could, I thought I could."

I remember my Mother telling me this story with the sound of the little engine getting slower and heavier as it struggled up the hill – ‘I think I can – I think – I can – I – think – I – can’. And then getting faster and faster, and more gleeful as it went down the other side. "I thought - I could, I thought I could. IthoughtIcould. .. ‘

Seems to me that I absorbed a lesson from that story – and when I was supposed to give in and decide that my dreams were too hard to achieve that I would never make it, instead, I told myself I think I can – and kept on. And on. Until I reached the top of that hill – and had my very first book published.

Of course, it’s not all been rushing happily and easily down the hill ever since – there was that illness, and books that didn’t work. Even now there are times – lots of them – when writing a story that isn’t taking off in the way I wanted, makes me feel like that little engine pulling a heavy engine and a line of freight cars up a steep, steep hill. But there’s always that refrain – I think I can – I think I can. And gritting my teeth and not giving in gets me to the top in the end.

And it all started 24 years ago this month.So what’s that saying from the song by Paul Simon– Hang on to your hopes my friend. . . I did. I didn’t let those people who told me I’d never do it convince me that they were right. Instead – like the little engine – ‘I think I can, I think I can.’ And here I am, having proved that I could.

And tomorrow – or the day after, depending how long it takes to find it in this new office where nothing is in the same place as it was, I’ll let you into a secret from my past – the very first ‘book’ written by Kate Walker – and that was a lot more that 24 years ago!

PS I just checked on Amazon and The Little Engine That Could is still in print! Blogger is not cooperating so that I can upload a cover - but you can see one here


Unknown said...

The Little Engine that Could is my boys fave book right now. At the end of the month we're taking them on a 'Little Engine' train ride.

I'm gald to know I'm not the only one who had books that just didn't work.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I know that book!! Today we call this goal setting, and you have to set out the means of achieving you goals, but it's the same thing!! What a great story of determination and success!!!Huzzah!!

Kate Walker said...

Hi Jenna
How great to think that little Engine is still going strong.
I would think that 99% of authors have books that don't work - this time. But if you put them away and don't look at them - then bring them out again 6month/a year later - you may then be distanced enough from them to see for yourself just why they didn't work and put it right. I did that with - for example - His Miracle Baby - and it turned into a very popular book

Hi Cindy. So the Little Engine is in Tasmania as well. It's not just the goals - it's that determination to keep going even when the going is tough. If at first you don't succeed . . .
I'm so happy I didn;t give up - there were times I thought about it.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read any little boys books for many years (my only son is 28) but as I have an 'almost grandson' due in October, I'm sure it won't be too long before The Little Engine That Could is added to my bookshelf :-)

I'm also a believer in persuing your dream. Life's too short to waste doing things you don't want to do and even if an author only earns £5,000 a year and has to top up the income elsewhere, money isn't everything. I'm so glad you never gave up. Too many people listen to their elders (those who supposedly know better than us) and end up living a life that simply isn't suitable for them. Good on you for sticking to your guns and believing in yourself.


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