Natalie Chandler was educated at St Chad’s College, Durham and currently works in behavioural education, specialising in social, emotional and mental health issues. She is a Curtis Brown Creative alumna and was previously selected to be part of the WoMentoring scheme. Natalie’s debut psychological thriller Believe Me Not was written during lockdown and delves into the fractured mind of a woman sectioned in a psychiatric hospital, as she fights to prove the existence of her baby. She lives with her partner, dividing her time between London and rural Lancashire, and enjoys greeting every dog she meets.
Try, try and try again
People don’t like to talk about their failures. Writers are no different. We want the world to know about our agents, our book deals, our launch days, but we aren’t always so keen to discuss the setbacks, the rejections, the times when the dream felt unreachable. But those times did happen and, yes, they stung but ultimately they were the best form of education and without them, the dream would still be at arm’s length.
For me, the journey to publication is over a decade long. Over thirty years long if you count my very determined childhood declaration that I wanted to be an author. It was 2009 when I set out to find representation for my first literary fiction manuscript. Other full manuscripts languished, valiant attempts but efforts for my eyes only. This was the first work I dared think might make it. It got early interest; my hopes soared. I was young and clueless and found those venerable agents terrifying but I desperately wanted one of them to sign me. Probably fortuitously, full requests led nowhere and I retreated to lick my wounds.
I kept writing – short stories, poetry, even FictionPress and Wattpad. Five years later, I completed another full manuscript, found a mentor and a renewed determination. This round was harder than the first. Rejection after rejection – it doesn’t fit a particular genre, too difficult to market, but we love your writing style! It was time to focus on the real world for a while.
More years passed, still interspersed with feverish periods glued to my laptop keyboard, but nothing that felt good enough to throw into the ring. Then 2020 and lockdown arrived. For the first time, there were no other distractions. No one was imploring me to lunch or the pub; the world had ground to a halt and, somehow, it had freed me. I’d had an idea floating around for a while, a complete switch of genre to commercial psychological thrillers. I was writing practically full-time and it felt different. It flowed like never before. New opportunities arose that previously hadn’t been accessible – suddenly, there was a wealth of online learning opportunities that could be fitted around day jobs and dog walks.
I joined the Jericho Writers Summer Festival, completed Curtis Brown Creative’s psychological thriller course and attended every webinar I could find. I learnt editing tips, post-it plotting, character arcs. Learning had never been more rewarding and I could see the new manuscript growing. I took a more structured approach to submissions: agent 1:1s, carefully considering the best fits, honing my query letter and synopsis.
This third foray into the slush pile was such a different experience. All the agents were lovely, really encouraging, and after a few very nice rejections, I got that precious first full request. It seemed to open the floodgates and I received six other full requests in quick succession. One of them was Liza DeBlock at Mushens Entertainment.
Liza only took 48 hours to get in touch. One morning, I received a joyously enthusiastic voicemail telling me how much she loved the book and asking to discuss it further. It took a good few minutes to be calm enough to return her call; I was shaking, pacing the room, unable to stop smiling. The conversation is a bit of blur but Liza offered representation there and then. Even from that first excitable chat, I knew I’d found the right agent for me and I signed the following week.
We did a structural edit to develop one character further and to change some chapter orders, followed by a brief line edit. I love editing and working alongside a professional was a dream. Liza had such a deep understanding of the characters and their motivations and we found we were always on the same page when it came to changes. The book was so much stronger with her input.
We were ready to go on submission. Liza drew up a primary list of twenty editors and I crossed my fingers. It took about two weeks for feedback to start coming in. It was positive – editors loved the writing – and a week later the magic word ‘acquisitions’ was being whispered. Within days, we had a two-book offer from Headline Accent and, after much shrieking and popping of champagne corks, were ready to sign on the dotted line.
The biggest things I have learned on the journey so far? If this is what you really want, grow a tough skin, grab every learning opportunity and never give up believing it will happen. The odds are there to be beaten.
Thanks so much Natalie for sharing your journey.
Believe Me Not.
What if everyone you love is lying to you?
When Megan wakes up in a hospital bed, her first question is: where’s my baby?
But her husband, her sister and her doctor say he doesn’t exist.
Megan’s not in a maternity ward, she’s in a psychiatric unit.
Convinced that they’re lying to her, Megan is determined to find out the truth.
But how can you prove your baby exists when you can’t trust your own memories?
Believe Me Not will publish in March 2022 via Headline Accent and you can preorder here.