How did I get to publication day?

Cover image of The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell by Gail Aldwin

This post coincides with the release of my psychological suspense mystery The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell. Friends at Pens Around the World who acted as beta readers have a mention in the acknowledgements. It occurs to me that many people have had a hand in helping to bring this novel to publication. Here are some of the ways in which others have supported me:

Initial idea

Discussion with a group of trusted writing friends helped the initial idea to germinate. I was keen to experiment with using a dual timeline and proposed the mechanism of a podcast to dig deep into a cold case from the 1970s. They encouraged me to experiment. 

First draft

Sharing excerpts from a first draft with all its flaws can be excruciating. Fortunately, I’m a member of several writing groups (including our Pens Around the World shared text sessions) where constructive feedback helped me find improved ways to tell the story. 

Beta Readers

Following many drafts and considerable editing, I reached a point where I needed feedback on the novel as a whole. My beta readers gave considerable help with structure and voice.

Manuscript Review

I used a gift of Christmas money to pay for a review from author Joanna Barnard (£300). She encouraged me to incorporate more jeopardy into the novel. 

Query package

At the stage of submitting the novel (but having received many rejections) I entered an auction where the services of bookish people were offered. I won a lot with Amy Durant, co-founder and editor at Sapere Books. She provided feedback on how to reorganise the synopsis, she edited the first three chapters and gave pointers on the covering letter. 

Mentoring Hour

As part of an Unbound pledge (where I committed money to secure funding for the release of a collection of short fiction), I secured support from author Louise Jenson. She read and gave feedback on the opening pages and also read and commented on the redrafted version. 

Working with Bloodhound Books

Abbie Rutherford was appointed by the publisher to help bring the novel up to the next level through copyediting. The novel was also proofread twice. 

First reader of the finished novel

I don’t allow my husband to see my work until it’s almost finished. He read the formatted version and found one typo, one error and one occasion when the viewpoint slipped. 

Reviewers and Book Bloggers

Early readers are a huge support particularly when levels of confidence in myself and the work are erratic. They’ve posted reviews on Goodreads

As you can see, I’ve drawn upon the support of many to reach publication day, including members of this group. I’ll take this opportunity to say a big thank you to one and all. Now, there’s only one thing left to do. Here’s the blurb and a purchase link:

A true-crime podcaster investigates a decades-old suspected abduction, in this powerful psychological suspense novel.

1979 Sixteen-year-old Carolyn Russell grows increasingly infatuated with her school mathematics teacher who is also giving her private lessons. Then she disappears.

2014 Struggling journalist Stephanie Brett creates a true-crime podcast focused on the disappearance of Carolyn Russell. By digging deep into this mysterious cold case, her confidence and flagging career are boosted. But after she confronts the suspects—and talks to a potential witness—the leads dry up. However, Stephanie refuses to let the story rest . . .

Can a small-time journalist with a shoestring podcast really hope to reconstruct the ultimate fate of Carolyn Russell after all these years, or are some secrets best left buried? 

‘Takes hold of the head and the heart and simply does not let go’ Jacquelyn Mitchard, No.1 New York Times bestselling author of The Good Son

‘Captures the zeitgeist for each period with telling accuracy’ Suzanne Goldring, bestselling author of My Name is Eva

‘A rare and thrilling book that manages to be thoughtful and intelligent’ Joanna Barnard, author of Hush Little Baby

Purchase link: 📷


  1. Fantastic Gail! Many congratulations on the publication.

    Your breakdown of the process and account of the help you’ve had along the way is a useful guide. Also a reminder that, while the actual writing can be a very solitary occupation, it takes a lot of input from others, and co-operation, to move a typescript on to publication.

    My copy of The Secret Life … is now at the top of my to-be-read pile!

    • I realise I’ve missed out Writers’ Hour which I attend each weekday morning at 8am.

  2. I echo John’s response – I can see that Acknowledgements will need a long chapter! Congratulations, great cover too.

    • Oh yes, I started to keep a list of people to thank when I began my latest novel which I hope will find a home someday.

  3. Many congrats from me as well, Gail! What a long process from idea to publication. Kudos!

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