Today I’m welcoming Rhoda Baxter to Jera’s Jamboree.
Rhoda Baxter writes smart contemporary romantic comedy. She likes to write about people who make her laugh.
In real life, she’s a former scientist who now works in intellectual property. She writes when her kids are asleep. She likes to pretend that sleep is for wimps. She also hears people chatting in her head but that had nothing to do with sleep deprivation. No way.
She lives in East Yorkshire, where the tea and cake is excellent.
Rhoda is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and her first book, Patently in Love (Uncial Press) was shortlisted for the RNA new writing award in 2012, it also came in the top 10 of the P&E poll (romance) in 2012. Her second book, Having a Ball was also published by Uncial Press in March 2013.
Rhoda is sharing her writing journey with blog readers.
My mum taught me to read. By the time I went to school, I could already read and write. I was also precocious enough at the age of eight to march up to the school librarian and ask if I could borrow books from the ‘big school’ library because the ones in the primary library were really boring. She looked at me thoughtfully and said, “Come with me.” She made me read a paragraph out loud to check that I really could read, then allowed me to go and browse, under supervision, the books in the upper school library. She always checked the books for age appropriateness of the content (this was in Sri Lanka so racy stuff like, you know, kissing, was not allowed).
My mum also took me to the public library once a fortnight. This sounds like something trivial, but it’s really not. The central library in Sri Lanka was a half hour bus ride away from where we lived. It was a fairly big expedition to drag me and my brother through the hot and dusty traffic in Colombo to get there. She’s a formidable lady, my mother. I ended up with around three books a week. I had a friend (and we are still friends!) who read as fast as I did. We would read through our own books as fast as possible, then swap books and race to see who finished first. Suffice to say I read a LOT. So what has that got to do with writing, you ask. What is this woman wittering on about reading for? All writers read. You know that instinct that tells you when something ‘works’ (or not)? You get that feel for prose by reading lots and lots and lots.
One day (when I was about ten) I realised that Enid Blyton had actually died some years ago. I looked up at the rows and rows and rows of Enid Blyton books on my bookshelf and thought ‘she’s dead. But her books are still here. No one will ever forget her.’ And, at that moment, I knew I wanted that too. Not money, not even fame, but to leave behind something that will outlive me. And I wanted it to be novels.
I would have studied English at A-level, but my parents insisted I take science (it’s a Sri Lankan thing, okay). I love science, but it never bit me the way writing fiction did. As soon as I got a real job, I started writing again. I spent a year or so hanging out on the BBC Get Writing site, soaking up advice from the likes of Kate Long, John Ravenscroft (who writes wonderful short stories), Sally Quilford (ditto) and a whole load of other people who very generously mentored us newbies. When Get Writing shut down, I joined a creative writing class. Two things happened at this class. One, I realised I’d actually learned an awful lot on the Get Writing site. Two, I met my writing buddy Jen. Jen writes YA fiction, I write rom com. There is very little overlap in what we write (and we disagree strongly about Twilight), but we both have the same straightforward approach to criticism. We’ve learned a lot from each other over the years and we’ve become good friends as well (so long as we don’t talk about Twilight).
I joined the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) because I thought the new writer’s scheme was a cheap way to get someone to critique my first book. What I discovered was a whole new world. It was like leaving a dreamy country lane to go stand by the motorway. Wow. It’s more competitive to get into the NWS now, but I would urge any aspiring writer to try. It’s an amazing organisation.
I got my break through a post on the RNA message board. Uncial Press sent out a submissions call for romances to boost their contemporary offering. I’d sent Patently in Love to a number of agents, many of whom had written back to say ‘you can write, but we don’t think books with so many emails in would sell’. I subbed to Uncial Press and got an email back within a few weeks to say they liked it.
What followed was an amazing learning experience. I worked with an editor for the first time. My manuscript was so covered in red, it looked like a bloodbath. I made notes on my mistakes so that I could learn not to repeat them (this worked, because Having a Ball had so few edits I got them done in a day!).
It’s always a learning process. I can write, but I’m learning to write better. I haven’t a clue about marketing, so I’m trying to learn about that too. It’s a good job I’m not afraid to work hard. It helps that it gives me a good excuse to spend more time with the imaginary people who live in my head. Above all, it gives me an excuse to read novels and call it ‘research’.
Thank you for sharing with us today Rhoda. It is always interesting to read about an author’s writing journey. As a child, libraries were my ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ 🙂 now I guess it’s my home!
Stevie has always relied on her brother to bail her out of trouble. Now she needs to prove to him that she can be independent and mature. When she takes on a job organizing a charity ball for some slightly barmy retired academics, she’s not expecting to fall in love with the rambling old house, the even more rambling family that lives there and Tom, the boss’s son. If she can make the ball a success she could show the world, and herself, that she’s her own woman. She doesn’t need anyone else. Nope. Not anyone. Not at all.