Guest Blogger: How to Be An Author By Candy Gourlay

So three whole years after Book Number One, Book Number Two is finally out. Bow.

Shine by Candy Gourlay
Gratuitous image of Book Number Two

When Shine came out last month, I posted this on my blog:

Candy Gourlay: Today I am no longer a debut author

It's kind of funny to think of how long it took for me to finally get beyond 'debut author' to just plain 'author'. The other day, a librarian told me that she thought I'd been around a long time and had written a lot of books!

I wish.

Getting from Tall Story to Shine was an education - I learned how to be an author ... and on the way, I learned something about myself as well.

Here's what I thought I knew:

  • I thought making a living as an author was about selling books.
  • I thought marketing was all about social media, having bookmarks to give away, and having a book trailer.  
  • I thought promoting my book meant getting readers to read it.
  • I thought I could write.

Here's what it turned out to be:

  • Book sales - in the short term - do not a living make. Unless you are a bestselling author, the living is made by day jobs, paid school visits and, of course, spouses and partners with real jobs. 
  • Promoting to the reader is as effective as trying to sell stuff from door to door.  
  • I can write. But slowly. 

There are plenty of exceptions of course. Many jobbing authors make a living by diversifying or by managing to write many, many books in a year. I have learned that I am not that sort of author (yet).


I often quote Neil Gaiman - "You never learn to write a novel - you only learn to write the novel you're on.'  Tis so true (as I wrote in this post back in 2012 when I thought I'd finished my novel only for another year of rewriting to pass).

Anyway, thinking about why it took me a long time to learn how to write Shine, I think I can sum it up in one word: Fear.

Some of you will probably be amazed and disgusted that I would dare to claim fear. After all, my debut book Tall Story has done well enough to use the word 'acclaimed' in its publicity. And, as a good friend reminded me when I was whinging the other day, my dream has come true, unlike some.

But let me explain.

Unlike other shorter forms of fiction, a novel is a slow unfolding of story. And it was as Shine unfolded in my laptop that my life changed irrevocably from unpublished author to published author.

And when that happened, I discovered that - whether I liked it or not - the measure of who I was had changed.

Suddenly it wasn't just me doing my own thing. It felt like there was a world out there passing judgement. Reviewers, bloggers, editors, publishers, readers, teachers, librarians ... it felt like there was a great weight pressing down.

Suddenly writing became excruciating. Every word I produced had the possibility of failure. I typed and deleted. Typed and deleted.

All my attempts felt weighted with responsibility. It was a lot like that scene in Tall Story when my hero Bernardo suddenly discovers that the world is sitting on his shoulders ...

"Too heavy, too heavy ... it slipped down my shoulder and I could have cried out as the mountain peaks jabbed hard against my skin. My muscles ached as i tried not to buckle under the weight, my hands scrabbling to hold on to it, the dirt grinding under my fingernails ... Mustn't drop it. Mustn't drop the Earth." Excerpt from Tall Story

How did I get over it? I had to get over ME.


When I was a young reporter on a political magazine, my editor used to warn us writers: 'Remember, it's not about YOU, it's about the STORY.'

Easier said than done.

I tried turning off the noise by abandoning Facebook, refusing invitations to lunch, avoiding distraction.

But surprise, surprise! in the ensuing vacuum, creativity withered and died. I couldn't write at all. I learned something about myself.

I learned that I needed the noise. I needed life to go on. Because writing needs the oxygen of living to happen. I couldn't write when I couldn't breathe.

What I really needed to do was not cut off the outside world but inhabit the world that I was writing about. I needed to surrender to the story and that could only happen by not allowing the pressures that I had conjured in my head to get the best of me.

I got back on Facebook. But I also made more of an effort to see my friends in real space, have real engagements, really pay attention to my relationships so that the ones I was constructing on the page would go beyond a creative writing exercise to something honest and true.

It's about the STORY. Not as obvious as you think.


The Printz winning author Libba Bray once wrote that writing a book is like falling in love. Here's a screenshot of a PDF I found online  - read the whole thing here, download it and pin it up on the wall in case it gets taken down, it's hilarious and it's all too true!

Click on screenshot to view full size. Or read the whole piece here

I don't even mind if you go off and read it then come back to finish reading this. It's that good.

Finished? Have you identified which stage you're currently experiencing with your work in progress? Yeah. Well, when I handed Shine in I was relieved and glad to see the back of it. But now that real people are reading it and responding to it and sending me kind messages - I feel good. I think I'm falling in love again.

Except of course I've started work on my next book. And I'm currently head over heels.

Ask me again in a few months time ...


So the other day, The Independent listed Shine in its 50 Best Winter Reads. I was happy and relieved, duly posting on Facebook as one must, but I revealed my soft underbelly in a comment: "Been feeling insecure about it. So nice to be on the list."

A friend replied: "... what hope for the rest of us!"

Me: "I know, I know! But this business is full of fear and rejection!"

To which another friend said: "And also love and acceptance."

I wanted to kick myself. There I was again, conjuring the bad over the good!

My husband tells me I'm in the habit of managing my own expectations. By talking myself down, I soften the blow of failure. Just in case.


Here's a favourite scene from one of my all-time-favourite movies:

In case it doesn't play, watch on YouTube

Feel their pain as they try to prove themselves, prove that they have enough talent, enough passion, proving they can endure, proving they will keep going despite everything.

But here's my takeaway:

Enough with dwelling on rejection and fear. Let us all get on with the business of being authors. Remember ...  it's about the story.

Candy GourlayToday, Words & Pictures' monthly guest post is by Candy Gourlay, whose new book SHINE recently made The Independent's 50 Best Winter Reads as well as BookTrust's Books We Like for October.


  1. What a brilliant, honest, motivating post! Thank you, Candy!

  2. Yes, that's lovely, Candy. So much to consider...I always fear letting down my characters. Not doing them justice in the writing or not finding them a published "home." But hey, who's ever a perfect mother?

    PS And "All that Jazz"...I don't think I've seen that film since 1979. Love this clip. Thanks!

    1. You so deserve to be discovered, Jane ... but that's a selfish comment because I can't wait to read another book by you!

  3. Good luck with your latest romance *ahem* work in progress, Candy.

  4. Fantastic post, Candy! Thank you so much for sharing. Very much what I need for my own writing right now - to leave the fear behind.

    1. This is why I have so much time for SCBWI where the culture is all around love and acceptance.

  5. Candy, I always love your posts. They are extremely well written and come from the heart. Thank you for this. There is a love/hate relationship with writing sometimes and perhaps we should just let go and jump on in there, with no feelings of guilt... very much like falling in love!

    I can imagine you still inspiring and posting your wonderful motivational comments long after your fiftieth book! Congratulations on Shine with all it's rewards. No doubt there are more to come!

    1. Ha ha - you're so kind to say that, Debra. In the midst of those three years searching for my story, I wondered how many books I had in me. If it took me three years to write this one, then that's just say, three books per decade ... but what if I got hit by a bus??? See, it really was a very deep slough of despond. In contrast, I'm enjoying myself so much now that I'm thinking, hmm, maybe this could be a trilogy! It's all in the mind!

    2. Hey, if you ever feel slow, compare your work rate with Donna Tartt. 3 novels in 21 years!!!

  6. Being human is the best kind of marketing - I absolutely agree with this statement, Candy. Thank you for such an honest post. And Shine is wonderful. No wonder it's in the top 50 winter reads. Congrats.

    1. Honoured you should say that, Maureen. Thank you.

  7. Oh the fear, the fear! I often get it and I haven't even been published yet! I fear I may have to be put in a medically-induced coma and write all my novels via some kind of mind-reading technology. Or maybe there's some way to trick myself into writing a novel without me knowing I'm doing it?

    1. If you ever figure out a way of tricking yourself into writing without fear, let me know!

    2. Just watched that film clip from All That Jazz again ... I think I will forever feel like the dorky guy who can't keep up with any of the steps.

    3. But the dorky guy SHOULD be the MC of the film - he stands out (haven't seen it:) - HE's the interesting character.

  8. This is a wonderful post, Candy, thank you.

    I think to some extent the story is about you. Which is why rejection is so painful. You said it yourself, when you quoted Bernardo, he was describing something you've felt. We pour ourselves into what we write or we should and that's what makes it so hard. Wonderful stories, like Shine and Tall Story are worth the wait.

    Harper Lee was satisfied by one.

    1. Or was she afraid of the pressure of trying to follow up her first book?

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