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Ericka Waller talks to Workingmums.co.uk about how she came to write her first novel.
When Ericka Waller wrote her first novel, Confessions of a mother inferior, she never realised that her life would come to mirror the plot of the book quite so closely.
Although the book is based on her blog, Ericka had built in a strong fictional plot about the main character Peta suspecting her husband is having an affair. Between the first draft and the last, Ericka’s husband did have an affair and she became a single mum.
It’s been a difficult year for her, but one which has ended in her book being published to great feedback from authors including Adele Parks. It will be officially launched later this month. The launch will be a chance to raise a glass to her best friend Sara who died suddenly of an aneurysm at work, right in front of Ericka, just as Peta’s friend did in the book.
Ericka, a mum of three daughters, came to write the novel through a circuitous route. She was made redundant from a job in marketing after returning from her first maternity leave. Her confidence was low, she felt her career in journalism was over and she was suffering from anxiety following the death of her best friend. She had always wanted to do journalism so her husband encouraged her to do a course at her local journalism college in Brighton.
She did the course, but was five months pregnant when she started. She finished a week before her second daughter was born and took six months off. Then she got pregnant again and freelanced. After her third daughter was born she worked for her journalism school teaching social media. She had started a blog when her eldest daughter was born, mainly to let her family know what was going on rather than sending emails. But the blog took off and people started sharing it. She won a competition and decided that, as her readership grew, she needed to be more anonymous so she set up another blog, Mum in the South.
Ericka, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, started her book when her youngest daughter was around nine months, inspired by Judith O’Reilly’s blog Wife in the North. O'Reilly had written a book when she was pregnant with two children which she said was a series of blogs about how she felt about moving away from London. “I thought I could do that,” says Ericka.
She put all her blogs into a word document and started editing, working on Saturdays when her husband took the children out. In 2013 her blog won a Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Award in 2013 and at the awards ceremony she met a literary agent. She mentioned her book idea and the agent told her to keep writing, but to fictionalise her account and give it a strong plotline. Ericka worked on the book, but the literary agent said it was a hard market for authors at the time. “I lost heart about getting representation, but she never said no,” she says.
Instead, the agent suggested she approach a literary consultancy which, for a price, would do an MOT on the book and make suggestions on how to improve it. Ericka paid the high fee on her husband’s credit card and when the feedback came back it was extensive. “I felt overwhelmed as it seemed so negative,” she says. Before she paid the fee she had been told by someone at the consultancy that they loved the book. Afterwards, she was told that people would not be able to relate to the main character.
Between the first draft and the final draft, Ericka’s husband left her for his secretary and she became a single mum of three with no money. “The fictional stuff I had written was now true,” she says.
A blogger friend persuaded her to go the 2014 Britmums conference. She was feeling fairly low, but she met someone from Britain’s Next Bestseller which publishes books after they have been proven to be popular with the public. Authors have to be their own editor and promote the book, but they get 50% of the profits, a much better deal than with traditional publishers.
She told Ericka to send the book to her. Erika wasn’t going to do anything about it, but the woman rang her up while she was on a stressful shopping trip with her brother and she agreed to send the manuscript in “just to get her off the phone”. She was told her book would be published if she could get 250 pre-orders for it in eight weeks. She did a promo video and set up a Facebook page where she put excerpts. She got Mumsnet, Britmums and the Baby Centre to promote it and she wrote about it on her blog.
It was just before Christmas and she felt guilty asking people to stump up the £8.99 for the book at that time, but the campaign gave her a focus in a difficult year and a clear target. It also brought her a lot of support from friends, family and acquaintances. “It kept me going and brought a turnaround in my sense of self confidence,” says Ericka. “So many people said they were rooting for me.”
Even so she still feels in part as if people are only reading the book because they are sorry for her because her confidence has been so dented. She says she thinks writing the book had an impact on her marriage – her husband says she didn't even look at him for a year – and she says he is very proud now of her achievement. The couple are "building bridges".
The first book launch will take place on 13th February in Berkhamsted Waterstones, where Ericka grew up. It will be an emotional event. Ericka will be wearing a dress which Sara picked out for her for a wedding years ago. She didn’t buy it at the time, but found it on e-Bay recently. “I will wear it in honour of her,” she says. A friend will also sing a song which was sung at Sara's funeral. “We will raise a glass to her. She would have been so proud.”
She adds that in part she wrote the book to keep her friend and her husband’s boss, who also died suddenly, alive and to give her children, now aged seven, four and three, an idea of what her and their lives were like when they were young. She also wanted to inspire her children and she seems to have done so. Her oldest daughter has started writing her own book. Ericka says: “I wanted to take my kids into a bookshop and say ‘I wrote that’. If I can do that, you can do anything.”
*Confessions of a Mother Inferior is published by Britain's Next Bestseller.