Wednesday, May 1, 2013

45 years ago today

Today is the 45th anniversary of the publication of my first novel. I know without having to count the years, because the book was scheduled to 'come out' the same day as my second daughter. She was due on May 1st, 1968, and that was the date given for the publication of my novel. In fact, my daughter appeared ten days early and, coincidentally, it was ten days after May 1st when I received my author copies of my first novel – hardback, no less!

Here’s my friend with my older daughter, then aged two, and my book. The new baby is sleeping at the side. That new baby was 45 years old ten days ago!

I’d written stories for myself and my friends all through my teens but never even thought at that time about being published. Then, when my first daughter was a baby, I started writing again. After a day of baby talk, bottles, nappies, and the endless washing of baby clothes, it was good to escape into my imaginary world, and so I revamped and expanded one of the stories I’d written in my teens. It probably took me about a year of writing and re-writing (longhand – no computers then!), but eventually I decided to submit it to a publisher. I’d been reading a lot of romances and thought mine was as good as (if not better than!) some I read.

We didn’t have a lot of money, and I had to scrape together enough to buy a very old, second-hand (or maybe tenth-hand) typewriter – one of those heavy upright ones. I typed the whole thing out, over 200 pages – and that was a trial in itself, because every time you made a typo that couldn’t be changed using white correction paper (no white-out liquid then), you ripped the sheet out of the typewriter and started the page again. Add to that carbon paper copies, and changing the ribbon on the typewriter when you usually ended up with inked fingers, and you’ll realise why I love computers! Oh, and you also had to do a manual count of every word, of course.

In September 1967 I sent the whole thing off to the only publisher I knew that published romance novels Рthe original Mills and Boon here in the UK who produced hardback novels mainly for libraries. No blurb, no synopsis, no first three chapters. The whole manuscript. That shows the extent of my naivet̩ at the time!

I fully expected it to be returned, but six weeks later – I remember it was a Saturday morning in mid-October – an envelope arrived with the M&B name and strapline on the front – Pleasant Books by Mills and Boon (doesn’t that sound so old-fashioned now? It was later changed to Books That Please).

Inside was a two-page typed letter, signed by Alan Boon himself. He made some suggestions about minor changes to the story-line but said he liked my writing and the story, and they would consider it for publication if I was willing to make the changes. Of course I was willing! By mid-November, I’d revised the parts he wasn’t happy with, and then re-typed the whole thing and sent it off again. I received the contract for this novel, and for two more, on December 6th, 1967.

The next stage was the galleys—and at that time you had to use the standard galley corrections on the print copy of your book. I had to invest in a small booklet to find out all about proof reader’s marks. There were specific symbols that had to be used for things like deleting spaces, adding spaces, beginning new paragraphs etc. That was a whole new learning curve.

And so my first book was published on May 1st, 1968, If I ever look at it now, I cringe! I’m so glad it is out of print. But – first novel accepted by the first publisher I sent it to. How lucky was that?

I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I’d continued writing for Mills and Boon once they’d published my three contracted novels between 1968 and 1970.. But real life got in the way, and when M&B were taken over by Harlequin in the 70s, they started to publish their ‘formula’ novels with the rich, arrogant, domineering, alpha males (sheikhs, Greek billionaires, and Italian counts). Not my scene at all! I always preferred real-life people. Besides which, I had two demanding toddlers, and then my return to full-time teaching.

By a complete coincidence, I shall be meeting today with an old school friend I haven’t seen for over 40 years. We lost touch until very recently, so it will be interesting to meet her again. She was my best friend at one time, and was always the first one to read my teenage stories. It seems kind of appropriate that we are meeting up again today.


  1. Wow, it's amazing to see how things have changed! I think you should bring a new book or two for your friend and see how she likes your writing--maybe she'll see how your writing has changed as well.

  2. Makes me wonder how we ever managed to write books in those days, Jen!
    My friend has already read 3 of my books, and today I took her the two latest ones.
    And by the way, I now have jaw ache, as we talked non-stop for about 4 hours this afternoon, catching up on 44 years, and indulging in some nostalgia too!

  3. A lovely story! How wonderful to catch up with your friend, too, Paula.

  4. Thanks, Glynis! It's certainly been a good day, and Round 2 of the catch-up will take place at the end of this month!

  5. What a fun anniversary, Paula! Congrats! I love, love, love the picture.

    I'm amazed you remember all of those dates so well.

    I know I for one am so glad you resumed your writing career and I happened to 'run into you' on a TWRP loop!

  6. Love your post, Paula. You were meant to be a writer!

  7. Thanks, Debra. I can hardly believe it's the only photo I have of my first book!
    Not sure how I remember those dates either :-)
    And yes, it's a few years now since we first 'met up' but I must admit I'd forgotten where we first met!

  8. Thanks, Carol. Looking back now, I can see I was always a writer!

  9. I love the story of your life, Paula. Dare I ask what your husband thought of your being published?

  10. My ex-husband took no interest at all in my writing, Ana! Never read any of my books, he kind of took it for granted. In hindsight, he had no understanding of my need to write.

  11. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Paula. I don't often think of all the "handicaps" we endured to write our manuscripts in the day. This makes my frustration with my computer seem like nothing at all compared to the frustrations of back then. And I do feel grateful beyond words for all the research material at our fingertips online now. I enjoyed this very much today.

  12. You're so right about the ease of research today compared with pre-google days, Linda!

  13. What a wonderful post, Paula - fascinating insight into publishing at that time. And kudos to you that you're writing even more great stories now!

  14. Oh yes, how I recall those manual typewriters (the electrics were too expensive), and how one "threw the carriage" when the margin bell rang out that you must decide now - do you type that syllable, or start a new line?

    And no, no correction tape or liquid - sometimes a typing erasure, but the mess it made! Yes, all had to be perfect on the page, and remember how you backspaced "once for two" to center the title?

    But those hardback books, Paula! Oh, how glorious that had to be. I'm not one for eBooks and would dearly love to see my works in hardback. You have kept copies, haven't you???

    This was a delightful post, and "happy anniversary" on your publishing date. :)

  15. Thanks, Rosemary - and yes, I finally came back to it after a long gap, and found a very different kind of publishing world!

  16. That brought back memories, Miss Mae! Especially the ping at the end of the line - ignore it at your peril!
    I still have my old books in hardback - and a copy of one in Italian too!
    Many thanks for visiting :-)

  17. Happy anniversary Paula,

    Thank you for such a lovely look into your rise to being another great author. I love the picture also. Here's wishing you another 45 years of writing.

    Teresa K.

  18. Many thanks, Teresa. Not sure I'll manage another 45 years though ;-)

  19. Impressive, Paula, 45 years of publication. Congratulations. I remember writing on a manual typewriter back in the day. My fingers would get numb from banging the keys and corrections required White-Out. Also there were those bothersome carbon copies. Sometimes they slipped and you'd get those angled pages.
    I wish you continued success and Happy Anniversay!