RACHEL Thompson is only 25 and yet not only is she a published novelist, having begun her first book while still at school, but is well on her way to producing a second and has also been nominated for a national award.
So how did she do it, and what makes her so sure she will have a second success in such a fragile market? Rachel says it’s all down to perseverance and self-belief.
She smiles: “I was about 15 when I started the book but I was always dabbling in writing, whether it was short stories or just creating characters.
“I particularly love creating strong female characters who have a lot to deal with in their lives, and initially that’s all I was thinking when I created the book’s central character, Maria Vasquez.
“I feel characters such as Maria often get forgotten about in genres that are sometimes seen as very ‘male’, such as science fiction and crime.”
Three years after conjuring her protagonist, Rachel completed her action-packed science fiction novel Beneath The Surface.
It was snapped up by Pegasus Elliot MacKenzie Publishers Ltd, a Cambridge-based company that says it was drawn to Rachel’s original storyline and descriptive style of writing.
She laughs: “It certainly didn’t happen overnight and to be honest I didn’t quite believe it until I saw the printed book, complete with its cover and price tag.
“But in all seriousness getting it published was very hard, and I was rejected a lot. But when you don't really expect anything to come of it you don't tend to get too upset by it.”
Rachel says her bible was The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which is published annually by A & C Black Ltd.
She says: “I simply never thought that my story would get made into a book so when Pegasus finally wrote back showing some interest it was a complete shock. The key is perseverance. I was fully prepared to go through every publisher and agent listing in the yearbook.
“That book definitely helped to keep me on track and remain practical about what can sometimes be a fairly emotional and potentially soul-destroying process. It allowed me to pitch my manuscript to the correct publishers.”
Rachel managed to do all this while studying for a degree in history and archaeology at Liverpool University and working part time. The graduate, of Kenton, Newcastle, who attended Ponteland High School, said: “I did try to get an agent at first, but when I got nowhere I thought I would just see how I fared on my own.”
The gamble paid off, and Rachel was nominated for this year’s Betty Trask award for first time authors under 35, organised by the Society of Authors.
She says: “I would love to get the book noticed and hopefully get a few more sales but not because I'm looking for fame and fortune.
“Ideally, like most writers I’d like to make enough money to be able to write full time, and sales figures really help to get that second and third book noticed.
“If someone feels they have a good piece of work then they have to be prepared for a struggle, but once they see their book in print it’s worth it. In fact, I must confess I nip into Waterstone’s occasionally just to see it on the shelves and it gives me an incredible buzz.”
Rachel, who currently works at Segedunum, the Roman museum at Wallsend, while also studying for a Masters degree in Museum Studies at Newcastle University, was lucky to maintain a high level of control over the finished work.
She said: “It’s very easy to get intimidated by the idea of being published and I think you have to be careful not to relinquish all control. After all it is a work you believe in and you should be a part of the decisions that help to create the final bound novel.
“Of course, compromise is important, and you must be open to suggestions and alterations, but you shouldn’t be afraid to speak your mind either.” Rachel rejected two suggested cover designs for her book before selecting the one that was used for the final print.
She adds: “If you’ve struggled to get your work published, which everybody has, then you should stick with it to make sure the final product is going to be something you are as proud of as you can be.”
Rachel says : “I wrote the first two parts of Beneath The Surface quite a while before the third part, when it really expanded and took on a life of its own. It was at that point that I went back and added quite a lot to the initial draft, but it all came from an idea, a seed which grew.
“I obviously carried out research into small town USA, in which the book is set, and then how the FBI works, for example.
“Then I suppose I began with just a skeleton, based on the main characters and their relationships with one another at its core.
“However, throughout the journey major changes were made because I found I just wasn’t satisfied by the first two parts of the book. It started off small and just seemed to become something bigger.”
Rachel, who lives with long term partner Barnaby Baron, 24, says: “I wouldn’t show anyone the story for such a long time. I don’t think I even let Barnaby or my parents read it until the publication process had already begun.
“But Barnaby, my parents and the rest of my family and friends have been incredibly supportive and I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Rachel’s new manuscript is still in it’s earliest stage of conception but she is confident that having made it through the door of publishing, she can carry on.
She says: “This book is totally different to Beneath The Surface.
“I’m certainly not taking it for granted that Pegasus, or any other publisher, will be biting my hand off to get a look at it, and I fully expect another struggle this time around.”
Beneath The Surface is on sale at £9.99.