Sue Moorcroft: “I had a dream that one day I’d earn my living writing fiction”

Bestselling author Sue Moorcroft discusses becoming writer – initially short stories, then novels – alongside her role as a stay-at-home mum. She took time out after tragically losing one of her sons, but then returned to novel-writing. Here’s her story…

As my British army family travelled, switching between civilian and army schools disrupted my early education. But once I got the hang of reading and writing I was hooked. Fiction was my world!

Being a novelist didn’t seem like a proper job and so after college I joined a bank. It wasn’t for another 15 years, when I was a mainly stay-home mum to Carl and Paul, that I found time to focus on writing for publication rather than for pleasure. Carl was settled at school and Paul began playgroup Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons. I worked two or three evenings a week, handing over the childcare to my husband Michael, so I felt justified in grabbing those few precious child-free hours. I had a dream that one day I’d earn my living writing fiction.

Author Sue Moorcroft

As our two sons grew, I scraped up the money for a word processor and rejigged the box room as my study. (It still is!) My first two novels did not impress publishers so I took a correspondence course and began writing short stories for magazines to gain an audience and prove I could write.

I sold my first story to The People’s Friend on 1 April 1996. I was cleaning my teeth as I read the letter and almost choked with excitement. I earned £65 and spent it on an office chair to replace my cronky old typist’s chair. (Unfortunately, the covering contained wool and gave me a rash.)

I began to sell to My Weekly as well and by the time I finished my last assignment, my earnings from short stories was three times the sum I’d paid for my course.

I wrote for magazines for several years, widening my reach until I’d sold stories to about fifteen different magazines in the UK and abroad. While the children were at school, I wrote. I gave up one of my evening jobs (I had three at one time) and things became easier. During school holidays and at the end of the school day I was the same stay-home mum the children had always known… except for the absent-minded moments when I was listening to the characters in my head.

I never stopped writing novels and in 2004 I finally got ‘the call’ from my then agent. I’d sold a novel! Uphill all the Way was partly set in Malta, where I lived as a child and consider a second home. I’d sold 87 short stories and a serial.

Along the way, I fell into teaching creative writing. I’ve never had a teaching qualification but all kinds of institutions asked me to pass on the knowledge I’d accumulated. The children were in their teens and with some help from my mum I was able to accept work at universities, libraries, writing groups, conferences or writers’ holidays around the country. I went on to teach residential courses in France and Italy and the kind of creative writing course (now called ‘distance learning’) on which I’d once been a student.

As the children raced through their teens I wrote when their activities allowed. I had a strategy of making their friends welcome to hang out at our house. As long as Metallica was crashing through the walls, or their own bands rehearsed in the room over the garage, I knew my boys were safe. I learned to write to the sound of heavy metal and a constant stream of teenagers grunting hello as they passed my study. My agent sold a second novel but it was a tiny hardback-only deal.

Bad times came to my family. Michael suffered a business problem and I had to become more fee-aware to contribute more to a dwindling family budget. Carl died suddenly. Selling novels ceased to matter. I left my agent, certain I’d never write novels again, and took on writing a ‘how to’ book and a couple of writing courses, continuing with short stories and serials.

Later, my work on the committee of the Romantic Novelists’ Association brought me into contact with a new independent publisher. We talked about books I’d written that had never been sold and suddenly there were contracts on the table. After three books I began to write new novels again. After seven novels with that publisher I got my present agent, Juliet, and moved to Avon Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.

The first Avon book, The Christmas Promise, went to number 1 in the Amazon chart. I’m officially a best-seller!

Paul’s 27 now and has his own home and career. To return to that long-ago dream, my new book Just for the Holidays is my tenth published novel. I’ve also sold well over 150 short stories, six serials, a novella, many columns, a ‘how to’ book and three writing courses.

I make my living writing fiction.

Sue Moorcroft releases her new novel, Just For The Holidays on 18 May