The right words, the right time.

Fourteen years ago, I wrote a story about a girl.

I was thirteen at the time, and writing stories was what I did. And not just about girls. Planets that spoke to each other, mice who lived in the Underground, magic meerkats and friendly boats. Writing was my thing; it was beyond a hobby and more than just something I enjoyed. It was how I understood the world. Words had all the magic and possibility anyone could ever need. Put them in the right order, and you could create a world of your own. And maybe, if you got them just right, that world would be a place that would mean something to other people.

I’d written countless stories by the time I was thirteen – the first at age 6, in which the acknowledgements page listed all our family pets by name, including the guinea pigs – of varying length and quality. Each abandoned and finished project was a step closer to Being A Writer; my ultimate goal. My dream. A book on a shelf with my name on it. A book that someone could hold. A book that had a sentence in it that made someone’s eyes go wide with “yes. this.”

There was something different about that story about a girl, not least because it was the first full-length novel I’d ever written. There was something about the story, something about the characters, that worked. I was thirteen, but I knew that. But I also knew something else – it wasn’t right. They weren’t the right words, and it wasn’t the right time.

I tried revisiting the story and the girl several times over the next few years, but it never came together. I got better at writing. I read yet more books. I went to university, where writing came with grades and books were to be approached critically. I learned the difference between writing for someone else and writing for yourself.

By the time I graduated, I had stopped writing stories. I went to work. I learned how to write professionally. How to fall asleep on a train in the morning and still get off at the right stop. The best time of the day to schedule tea breaks. The number of people who actually care about where to put apostrophes (depressingly few). How to write presentations. How to interview people.

And all the time, I thought about that story of a girl. The story I’d never quite been able to tell. I thought about what she would be doing three, five, ten years in her own future. How many other people there were in her story. How they all had stories too. Her world grew. New characters appeared, one with a voice that felt right.

A new protagonist. A new story of a girl. A feeling I’d never quite had before, of certainty.

I wrote in the work canteen at lunchtimes and on the train home. I wrote in the ten minutes before the light turned off, then carried on write-dreaming until I fell asleep. I nestled into Starbucks sofas on the weekends. Conversations became scenes. Scenes became chapters. Soon it was 50,000 words. And then 80,000. And then it was finished.

I’m going to skim over what happened next, because the getting-an-agent process and everything after is too much to fit into a single blog. I’ll save it for another time, but suffice it to say it involves a lot of waiting. A lot of refreshing my inbox. A lot of nail-biting. And then all that agony forgotten in that one, perfect sentence: “Are you around next week to come in to my office and have a chat about representation?” (YES. YES I AM.)

What follows: editing. Revising. A crash course in the world of publishing. More editing. A few tears. A few drafts. Submission. More agony.

And then: “I would like to make an offer…”

It’s a funny thing, getting something you’ve always wanted. Realising a dream. It’s joyous and exhilarating, but it’s also scary. Like happiness vertigo. These characters who existed only in my head for over a decade now come up in conversation with people who have job titles like Senior Commissioning Editor. People I’ve never met know them better than they know me. They now have lives in the imaginations of other people. It’s wonderful. It’s terrifying.

When I was thirteen, I wrote a story about a girl. And now that story is a book. A book that will have pages and a spine. A Goodreads page. Readers. Reviews. It took a long time to find the right words and the right time for them to come together, but now it has I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

And so, the words I once only dreamed of being able to say: My debut novel, Beautiful Broken Things, will be published by Macmillan in Spring, 2016. And I am ecstatic.


The Little Mistakes That Aren’t So Little – Advice For Jobseeking Graduates

I’ll start by saying I’ve been on both sides of this fence. I’ve worn the shoe on both feet, if you will. In 2010, I was a fresh graduate, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, throwing myself into job applications, just waiting for my first chance. I wrote about it, and everything: evidence.

Almost a year after graduating, I was given that first chance, albeit after several crushing months doing temporary and contract work. I started working as a Junior Content Writer at an international online healthcare company in London. Fast forward three years and a bit and I am now Content Manager for the company. In the interim years I’ve done my fair share of recruiting. Being that we’re a relatively small company, I take care of the entire process from start to finish. This means I write the ad, I read all the applications, I select and then interview the candidates and I, ultimately, make the final decision.

I’m sympathetic to fresh graduates, because I remember what it was like. How frustrating it can be when you don’t have the experience the employer thinks they want, but know you have the potential, the skills and the enthusiasm to be just who they need. How exactly to put that across, how to strike the right balance between hopeful and desperate, enthusiastic and frightening, is damn hard. I know that.

So I like to think I read incoming CVs from such grads with good faith and a fair amount of generosity. I forgive the occasional ill-judged exclamation mark or oh-so-quirky turn of phrase. I get it. You’re trying to make yourself stand out. I even forgive teh occasional typo (see what I did there? LOLZ, etc), because hey, everyone makes mistakes.

But the harsh fact of the matter is I am just one person. A human person, with 200+ applications for a role I need to fill (yes, really. 200+). Sometimes I’ll be in a bad mood. Sometimes I’ll be in a GREAT mood. But whatever mood I’m in, the fact is I’m trying to get through your application as fast as possible.

Here is the truth: I read your covering letter and CV looking for the thing that will make me say NO. And then discard your application. (Or, in my case, move the email into what is essentially my rejects folder. Sorry.)

Harsh? Yes. But honest. It’s a total myth that employers look through CVs waiting for the EURKEA! moment. We’re not. I usually make it to three typos (in the entire application) before I reach my NO! point, for example. Alternatively, a brilliant cover letter which details the candidate’s suitability for an entirely different role will also get a resounding NO. Fact is, superstar, no one cares if you’re brilliant. Not really. They only care that you’ll be brilliant TO THEM. IN THEIR COMPANY. DOING THEIR JOB.

If I get through your application without a NO!, you’ll go into the Pile of Potentials, which I then revisit after a couple of days to choose my interviewees.

Job-hunting can be a stressful, thankless task. There’s nothing quite as crushing as applying for 75 jobs and hearing nothing back. It’s all too easy to become a little sloppy. To stop caring about tailoring your CVs and reading the job description thoroughly before crafting your cover letter. Mistakes crop in and go unnoticed. Just little mistakes, right? Well, not always.

Here are some examples of the kind of things that get a NO!

1)  I’m a brilliant editor. Just brilliant. I am proving it to you with this poorly edited covering letter that I clearly have not read over more than once. Please hire me. 

Yeah. Sorry, chaps. It’s one thing to not be great at editing – this is entirely forgivable, even in writing/creative roles. It’s a skill like any other, and one I’m more than willing to work on with new hires. But in this case, the mistake you’ve made is telling me you think you’re good at it while simultaneously proving that you’re not. A little self-awareness goes a long way. A lack of it is costly.

2) I’m quirky. Oh, so quirky. I’ll come and quirk up your office with my quirky ways. Maybe I’ll even play my mandolin for you in the sun. Please hire me, sensei.  

Quirky candidates are like nice guys. If you need to say you are one, you’re not. Trust that your personality will come through in your writing – that is what covering letters are for. Do not, for the love of God, put things like your favourite song on your CV. You’ll think, this will make me stand out because no one else will do it! And you’re right. But there is a REASON no one else does it.

3) I really want to work for your company. I’ve heard such great things about your company. Please read these 5 detailed paragraphs about why I’ll be such an asset to your company. Please hire me, hiring person.

Look. It doesn’t matter how long you spent perfecting the perfect cover letter if you are too lazy to even copy-paste the ACTUAL NAME of the company you are applying to into the letter. Always – ALWAYS – put the name of the company you’re applying to somewhere in the letter. The best thing is to say SPECIFICALLY WHY you want to work for that company. You will be AMAZED how many people don’t do this. THIS is the kind of thing that will make you stand out in a good way.

4) My experiance:

NO. Some mistakes are forgivable. Some are not.

5) I write mellifluous prose.

NO. (Really, no. Also, cool it with the adverbs. No one in the world is voraciously hungry for a career in marketing.)

I’m almost at 1,000 words so I’ll leave it at 5 for now. I’ll do a follow-up if anyone wants more. (Because, unfortunately, I have many more.)

If you’re a jobseeking grad and anything in this post made you nervous, feel free to hit me up for advice/tips/reassurance. And finally? GOOD LUCK. This will be your year.