Today we welcome to the blog Mills & Boon New Voices Top Ten finalist Leah Ashton.
Hi Leah, first congratulations on making it through to the second round of the M&B New Voices contest with Secrets & Speed Dating. I love your first chapter and such a unique theme.
Q: What was your first reaction when you found out you had been selected as one of the Top Ten from 822 entries?
Total shock! When I saw the subject line I was too excited to even read the email, I just ran to my fiancé (who was having a shower) and then did lots of shrieking and jumping up and down on the spot. When I eventually opened the email, my hands were shaking.
A lot of my writing friends had entered New Voices, so I knew the competition I was up against. The quality of entries was unbelievably high, so it felt like such a gift to be chosen from amongst them all.
Q: Can you tell us how you came up with your story theme?
I read a few fantastic opinion pieces in the newspaper from women struggling to conceive. The emotional journey those women were on is just incredible, and had me in tears. I started to think about what it would be like to not even have the chance to take that journey. What if you knew from a very young age that you could never have children? How would you handle that?
My heroine, Sophie, grew from that idea. I made a decision early on that there would be no miracle babies in the book – I really wanted to challenge the idea that a happy ever after must include children.
It’s been a rollercoaster! Unfortunately all I had written was my opening chapter (literally written in the week before the closing date) so I bounced my ideas for my chapter two off Meg and Jessica. As it turned out, both my plot and internal conflicts (particularly for my hero) needed tightening.
Once I finished my draft Chapter Two, I had further feedback from the both, and again I had the opportunity to brainstorm with them my ideas for improvement. They have both been incredibly helpful and supportive, and I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to work with them.
Q: What have you learnt the last couple of weeks about your writing?
I am very tough on myself! I think after making the Top 10 I expected Chapter Two to come easily, and it certainly hasn’t.
The pressure to get this chapter right (given the prize at the end of this competition is publication) is huge, and I’m also very aware that my chapter will be up there for the world to see, and judge.
So I’m having to learn to be creative, and true to my own voice – all under intense pressure. As I write this, my chapter still isn’t quite finished, so I’m about to head out to a café, take a deep breath, and make my final revisions. And I’ll do my absolute best to forget all about the competition as I do.
Q: The second round starts today with your second chapter going up on the website. How are you feeling?
I hope that by the time this interview goes up I’ll be feeling nervous but satisfied that I’ve done the absolute best that I could.
And – I’ll be starting on my “pivotal moment” – which is what we need to write for the next round. I was so sure that I wouldn’t make it through to the Top 10 that I didn’t start on Chapter Two until I’d made it through, and while I feel a bit the same for the next round (as hard as I’m trying to think positive!) I’m not going to make the mistake of starting from scratch, again.
Anyway, I believe in this story enough that whatever I write won’t be wasted. Whatever happens, I’ll still submit!
Thanks Leah, you know all of RWAustralia is behind you and cheering you on to the next level.