Beverley Oakley writes sensual historical romance laced with
intrigue, mystery and adventure set in Georgian and Regency England.
She also writes Colonial Africa-set romantic suspense featuring fearless aviators, and psychological romantic suspense as Beverley Eikli. Learn more about Beverley and her books at her website.
Success and Failure: When They’re the Same Thing and When They’re Not
Like so many little girls growing up in British Commonwealth countries in the early 1970s, I longed to be one of the intrepid children in Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven series. By the time I was seven, I wanted to be writing those adventure stories.
At seventeen, I realized my childhood ambition to complete a novel and in a fever of anticipation, posted off my 600-page sweeping historical saga to Zebra Books, who published many of my favourite romance authors at the time. The crushing rejection came two months later. Apparently, “Drowning [my] heroine on the last page [was] not in line with the expectation of romance readers”.
So I followed the School Careers Counselor’s advice and became a journalist.
For the next few years I wrote for magazines and newspapers. I was fulfilled in my work. My first novel wasn’t a failure for not achieving publication, but a success because I’d completed it.
When I met my true love—a Norwegian pilot—in Botswana, we explored the world doing back-to-back airborne survey contracts as the only husband/wife team in the business at that time, and I put my fiction-writing desires on the backburner. Childhood dreams weren’t so important when life was rich and full of other excitements.
After seven years of this itinerant, thrilling life, we started a family. And the definition of who I was changed—certainly in my eyes.
I adored our daughter but I found it hard to farewell my husband for two-month overseas stints and any prospect of excitement beyond changing nappies when I was the one staying behind in a new city.
For so much of our married lives we’d shared our adventures, but as a new mother, I felt lonely and lacking connections and direction. Maybe, I thought, it was time to get serious about that dream of becoming a published romance author. That would be how I’d define success, for me.
We were now based in Perth, Western Australia, and, just before the birth of our first child, I’d joined Romance Writers of Australia and entered the first three chapters of a romance in their Single Title competition.
The excitement I felt to see the self-addressed envelope that I knew contained my competition feedback sheets sticking out of the letter-box on the bustling inner-city pavement in front of our townhouse after a walk with my husband one day was a déjà vu moment. Suddenly I was seventeen again, experiencing the same churning excitement as when I was ripping open Zebra’s response. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I acted with no more maturity than I had when I was seventeen.
After a quick scan of the contents I started sobbing on my husband’s shoulder in the middle of the street. My ranking was second-to-last.
Despite the results, the feedback was immensely helpful. I rewrote my entry, submitted it to the same competition the following year, won, and received a request for the full from Avon acquiring editor, Erika Tsang. Although my rushed attempts to complete the book resulted in another rejection, I regarded the experience, overall, as a success. A year had passed since the woeful results had come in from my first competition attempt, I was enjoying motherhood, my husband was back home for a long stint, and my resubmitted entry had not only come first but had attracted a request for the full manuscript.
Three weeks before I was due to give birth to our second child my husband broke his back. He’d spent the previous five months flying in Antarctica while I looked after our toddler in a large house by the sea in Adelaide, South Australia’s capital. Once a week we would make phone contact on a crackling line so we both felt huge anticipation at the prospect of being reunited.
Our reunion was short-lived. A couple of weeks after his return, while renovating the house, he fell off a ladder and sheared off all his vertebrae on a pallet of slates.
With a newborn, a four-year-old and a husband in excruciating pain, I took the first job I could find while my husband recovered. Although he hadn’t severed his spinal cord, he was plagued with recurrences of the Golden Staff infection and a level of pain that barbiturates could not keep in check.
They were dark days with a great deal of upheaval. I was proud of my husband who never complained. Pain was his constant companion and the effort it cost him to push on was always apparent. He got work in Japan where we lived for a year before we moved to a country town north of Melbourne, and seven years later we’re still here.
A few weeks ago, I picked up my diary and read an entry from 2008. Our daughters at that time were aged two and six and I was frustrated by my inability to find work that fitted around my caring duties while living so far from the city. I’d been overseas for so long I’d lost contact with former friends and work colleagues. I was also deeply worried that what I perceived to be my husband’s unhappiness was my fault. I’d finished the entry, despairingly: “I just want him to be proud of me!”
It was the desperation of my words from this long-forgotten time that prompted me to write this blog about how we regard success and failure. At various stages of our lives, the same goals can seem more or less important. Often it’s everything else happening in our lives that can cause us to regard a particular event in either a positive or negative light. I regarded my unsuccessful publishing efforts when I was seventeen and when I was thirty-seven in a positive light because I was fulfilled in other ways. But a few years later, my vision was narrower without meaningful work, and I’d honed in on that elusive publishing contract as the only way to define success.
We can’t help what we feel, only what we do about it. Perhaps articulating my lack of self-worth, and questioning on paper how I might set it right, made me forge a more productive path.
I don’t know. I just remember that it was around this time I adopted a
laser focus toward my quest for publication – very unlike me – and made up a spreadsheet with the names of three editors and two agents I would query. Thereafter, each time I got a rejection on my first three chapters, synopsis and pitch letter, I’d refine and improve each, then send it to another agent or editor. The idea was that as long as I had five submissions on the go, I’d always have hope.
It paid off.
My first publishing contract arrived in the post a year later.
Since then, I’ve published fifteen historical romances under two names and, as of the past two months, am earning an income that’s enabled me to give up my day job. We’re in our twenty-second year of marriage and as happy as we were when we were adventuring around the world together, young and carefree. My husband adores his job flying long-haul, mostly from Melbourne to Los Angeles – though a bad motorbike accident has kept him out of the skies for fifteen months – and we have two happy, thriving children.
Would I have focused so hard on my goal of publication during those dark days ten years ago if I had felt the same overall carefree happiness I’d felt most of my life? Probably not.
I’m just glad my publishing dreams weren’t handed to me on a platter when I was a seventeen-year-old. Trying to surpass such a high benchmark for success achieved at such a young age might have set me up for a lifetime of disappointment and altered the way I differentiate between success and failure.
Instead, those twenty-six years between submitting my first novel and getting my first publishing contract were full of ample compensations when I didn’t quite reach the bar. They made me appreciate life more and define success through effort as much as results.
The Mysterious Governess
Two beautiful sisters – one illegitimate, the other nobly born – compete for love amidst the scandal and intrigue of a Regency London Season.
Lissa Hazlett lives life in the shadows. The beautiful, illegitimate daughter of Viscount Partington earns her living as an overworked governess while her vain and spoiled half sister, Araminta, enjoys London’s social whirl as its most feted debutante.
When Lissa’s rare talent as a portraitist brings her unexpectedly into the bosom of society – and into the midst of a scandal involving Araminta and suspected English traitor Lord Debenham – she finds an unlikely ally: charming and besotted Ralph Tunley, Lord Debenham’s underpaid, enterprising secretary. Ralph can’t afford to leave the employ of the villainous viscount much less keep a wife but he can help Lissa cleverly navigate a perilous web of lies that will ensure everyone gets what they deserve.