In 2015, I read Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier. The tale of the heroine trapped in a hostile place appealed to me and I was inspired to put my own naïve character in a harsh landscape from which there would be no escape. The novel begins with Alice Tibbs, vicar’s daughter and teacher, on the train to Dungeness. No sooner has the poor young woman arrived, than she trips over a body. And so, begins the mystery of the woman on the shingle, as well as the story of Alice’s growing maturity while she learns to cope in the remote settlement.
Not long after starting this novel, I found myself running Marsh Ink – the writers’ group I had joined about three years before. “I must be a good example,” I thought to myself. So I diligently wrote every day. Unlike ‘Hope’ I began at the beginning and finished at the end – no skipping about.
The novel was unplanned. In fact, no more than: young teacher – trips over body – dead or alive? – trapped – can’t trust anyone. I started writing and came up with ideas as I progressed. It’s a method which a lot of authors use but must horrify those who plan everything!
As before, I had no intention of selling Secrets of the Shingle, but did share it with a good friend from the writers’ group. She wanted to buy some copies and suggested I print a few. I asked some people with good English skills to read through the book, and in 2016 tentatively printed a few through Lulu (more about Lulu in my last blog). By chance I visited our local Kent Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre and saw the lovely displays of gifts. I asked the manager if she would be interested in stocking the book – she said YES! I also approached a local magazine and asked if they were interested in writing an article. Then the RH&DR allowed some copies to go in their shops. I had printed 50 copies and never expected to sell more than that. In fact to sell 50 would be marvellous and beyond my wildest dreams.
Incredibly, the books sold and I got some great feedback! I ordered more… and then a few more. I also learned how to put the book on kindle. In 2017, Secrets of the Shingle had a good edit and I moved away from Lulu to a traditional printer. By 2018, I had three other novels but ‘Shingle’ was the favourite for most readers. Rather than continue with stand-alone stories, I wrote a sequel… then another, and in 2020 I wrote a prequel! These Dungeness novels have gained the most attention and with Secrets of the Shingle being the first in the series (until 2020) it became my bestseller.
In 2020, I decided that the whole series should have covers by local artist, Zoe Beardsley. I worried that ‘Shingle’ was shorter than the other books and decided to rewrite it, adding in extra scenes. As I did this, Michael Golding from Dungeness, read the new version. His remit was to check Dungeness details, but he turned out to be an amazing editor. The new version was available in the summer of 2020.
I’ve learned a huge amount since first publishing Secrets of the Shingle. The most important thing has been to learn different editing techniques and to use professional proof reading. It is important to keep learning, and with every novel I am coming up with new ways to improve the editing process. I would like to thank all my wonderful readers who have supported me through this journey with such enthusiasm for my writing.
The book covers shown here are the second cover (homemade and really difficult to work with the shades in the stones), the second cover by a graphic designer and the 2020 cover with local art. I don’t have an original Lulu book.
Next time I will tell you about my third novel (and one of my favourites) – What the Monk Didn’t See.