My writing career, like many things in life, has been a series of steps, with me growing in confidence and ability along the way. My first step towards publication was fourteen years ago, when I had a short story accepted by a women’s magazine here in England. The thrill of seeing my story in print—and actually getting paid to do what I loved—was incomparable. And having that first story accepted gave me the confidence to write and submit others, and within a few years I’d had over a hundred short stories published in various women’s magazines around the world.
Writing a short story of usually no more than ten pages was perfect for that time in my life, when I had babies and small children, and little time or sleep. But after a few years I knew I wanted to try something bigger, and so I wrote and submitted my first serial to the same magazine that accepted my first story. A serial is the length of a short novel, written in short chapters that are published weekly in a magazine. Writing that first serial felt like climbing a mountain. I’d never written something so long or involved, and I can remember rocking my baby in the middle of the night (she was not a good sleeper!) as I brainstormed plot ideas and wondered how to make it all work.
Eight serials later I had the confidence to try something new. My stories had become longer, the plots more complex, and so I decided to try writing a series romance for Harlequin. I don’t think I could have managed it before then; in the past writing a ‘real’ book had felt too overwhelming. All those short stories and serials had been great preparation for tackling a series-length book, and my first attempt, to my amazement, was accepted. In the following years I wrote twenty-five more romances for Harlequin.
Then once again I felt the need to push and challenge myself. The secondary characters and plots were starting to take over my romances, and I loved grappling with different issues and ideas that generally don’t take center stage in a straight romance. My editor once told me that she thought I had ‘a bigger book’ in me, and in 2009 I decided to try to let it out. Of all the steps I’ve taken, this one was the hardest. A book twice the length of a series romance with far more characters, emotions, conflicts, and issues was incredibly challenging. I loved it, but it was tough! And that book, along with the one after it, were both rejected by various agents and publishers—and rightly so! After encountering so much success in writing, it was discouraging to have rejections and to essentially feel that I was starting over. I had to give myself a few pep talks along the way, reminding myself how I’d succeeded before, even when it seemed hard.
Then last year, when I should have been writing a romance, I procrastinated by writing something else—an idea that had literally just popped into my head. It was a women’s fiction story, and I wrote a hundred pages in two days, which was a record for me. I sent those pages to my editor, and she offered me a contract with Carina UK, Harlequin’s digital-first imprint.
At the same time I’d finished another magazine serial, and a different publisher was interested in it if I lengthened and developed it into a proper novel. So in the space of a few weeks, I suddenly had two women’s fiction projects on the go! And now they have both been released into the wide world: This Fragile Life written under my pseudonym Kate Hewitt, and The Vicar’s Wife, written under my real name Katharine Swartz.
They are very different stories but both ones I have loved writing. This Fragile Life is in the vein of Anna Quindlen or Jodi Picoult; it is about two friends, one successful, driven, and infertile; the other aimless, carefree, and unexpectedly pregnant. When they arrange a private adoption between them neither of them expect the tensions and conflicts that arise to challenge their friendship—or what happens when a sudden development literally changes everything.
The Vicar’s Wife is a gentler story with two plot threads. The first concerns Jane, a woman in present day who makes the unlikely move from Manhattan to rural Cumbria, England. Her British husband decides he wants to move back home and they buy a former vicarage and attempt to settle into village life, with varying degrees of success. When Jane finds a shopping list written by a vicar’s wife in the 1930s, she becomes fascinated with this unknown woman and starts to research her life. The second plot thread concerns this vicar’s wife, Alice James, and her adjustment to marriage and village life. The more Jane learns about Alice, the more she questions her own choices, and learns to grow and change.
I am continuing to write both romance and women’s fiction, with follow-up books for both my my women’s fiction publishers planned for next year. Moving from series romance to books that are more complex and developed definitely has been a challenge—it has proved to be a whole new way of thinking about character and emotional conflict, and the story arc is far more sweeping than that of a romance. I enjoy having the space to develop different ideas and characters, but the scope and depth of such a book has been and continues to be rather daunting!
I don’t know what the next step on my journey as a writer will be; I feel very blessed to have taken as many as I have, and I am excited about the books I have planned. I hope you check out This Fragile Life and The Vicar’s Wife. Thank you for having me here!
This Fragile Life: (which is on sale for $1.36 until December 9th!)
The Vicar’s Wife: