It’s that time again where we welcome another guest blogger to our alumni blog. This week, Carla Burgess tells us more about her career since graduating in 1997. Carla studied at the University’s Parkgate campus, graduating with a BA (Hons) in English Literature with Psychology.
“I loved the Parkgate Road campus as soon as I saw it. As a seventeen-year old leaving home for the first time, I’d felt intimidated by some the larger universities I’d visited, but Chester’s green, leafy campus felt small and friendly. Plus, the chance to study a combined degree course sounded really fresh and interesting. I chose English Literature and Psychology, which seemed ideal for my intended career in writing and publishing.
“I was delighted when I was accepted by Chester. However, the one thing that threw me was discovering I had to share a room in halls of residence. I’d never considered this would be a possibility when I went off to university and was terrified by the thought of having to live and sleep in such close proximity to a complete stranger. What if we hated each other? What if she was smelly? It was a relief when I met her and found she was lovely. We were even on the same course and twenty years on we’re still close friends. We lived in Old College, which was a bit creepy, so sharing a room was actually a relief in the end.
Caption: Carla Burgess (front right) with friends from her university days on a girly weekend away last year.
“Everyone did a work based learning placement in the second year, and I was lucky enough to be placed at Advanstar Communications, a publisher of trade magazines based in Chester. I shadowed an assistant editor working across two magazines and loved every minute of it. Then, in the summer holidays, I was offered temporary employment working as an editorial assistant, proof reading the articles across all the magazines. It was a brilliant opportunity and cemented my desire to work in the publishing industry.
“It was also around this time that I met my future husband. He was a local boy and became the reason I stayed in Chester after I graduated. I applied for jobs at publishing houses around the North West, and was lucky enough to be offered a job back at Advanstar as assistant editor on Medical Device Technology magazine. This might have been a bit different from my initial dreams of working in fiction, but it was a really interesting job and taught me a lot about editing and writing.
“My own writing had taken a back seat over this period. Life was busy. I learned to drive, bought a house, got married and started a family. I worked part time after having my first child. Writing a book was always in the back of my mind but it was an ‘I’ll do it one day’ thing. I’d still amuse myself by making up stories in my head, but never actually wrote them down. Then, in 2004, my sister was diagnosed with cancer and died aged 32. I’d never really experienced grief before. Sure, I’d lost grandparents and that had been sad, but it made sense. There was a natural order. This was so shocking and painful and unfair, and there was no escape from the grief. I had two small children who needed me to be strong and cheerful, so I began to channel my feelings into writing a story. I hated everything I wrote at first and wouldn’t let anybody read it, but ultimately it was therapeutic. I remember going on holiday and reading a book by the pool and deciding my efforts were terrible, then going home and discarding everything I’d written. I rewrote it several times over the next few years, in different styles, from different perspectives, with different characters. I just wrote and rewrote, discarding pages and pages without a second thought. At last, when I could read it back without hating every word on the page, I joined an online writing community and put a few chapters up for people to critique. This was really worthwhile because it got me used to other people reading my work, and the feedback was helpful, especially from the women’s fiction critique group that I joined.
“The traditional route to getting work published is to find an agent who will then submit your manuscript to publishing houses. I sent out a few submissions to agents and got rejected, so I went back to the drawing board. I signed up for NaNoWriMo, which is a personal challenge to write 50,000 words in a month, and did an Open University creative writing course. Then one day I was on Twitter and happened to see a post from a publisher requesting submissions of books that start with a proposal. I had an idea, so I wrote a synopsis and the first chapter and sent it in, never expecting to hear anything back. But the following week they rang to say they wanted me to write it. I couldn’t believe it at first. But based on that first chapter and synopsis, HQ Digital (a digital imprint of Harper Collins) offered me a book deal. My first book, Marry Me Tomorrow, came out in October 2016, and my second, Stuck With You, was released in early April. Both books are romantic comedies and are set in Chester. They’re not available in paperback, but at the moment it’s enough that people are enjoying my words in digital format. It’s very much a dream come true and just goes to show that you should never give up on your dreams. I’m so glad I chose to study at Chester College of Higher Education (as it was known back then), otherwise my life could have gone in a very different direction.”
Carla’s books are available in digital format here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Carla-Burgess/e/B01MAUXPTZ