What Competitions Can Teach You By Beverley Oakley

When I was eight months pregnant with my eldest daughter (now ten), I received the results for my first entry in a Romance Writers of Australia competition.

It’s a day I’ll never forget. On the pavement by our inner city Perth townhouse next to the mailbox, I wept tears of mortification on the shoulder of my sympathetic, long-suffering husband.

The thick packet of score sheets I’d just opened with such hope and trepidation announced that I had ranked second to last with a score of 47%, a percentage that would be forever tattooed onto my brain.

Fortunately, with bolstering from my husband and the fact that I had been bitten by the writing bug, my despair turned to determination. This was the first time I’d entered a competition, I reasoned. I was still learning.

After a couple of weeks I was able to look more objectively at the feedback and to my surprise found that the main issue was one shared by all three judges. They couldn’t sympathise with my heroine.

What? I thought. How could anyone not like Fanny Brightwell? OK, so she was bold, brassy and ambitious but wouldn’t anyone in her perilous social and financial situation take the risks she took?

By the time I’d created Fanny for this first competition all those years ago Fanny and I had become best friends. The fact that the judges could see so  so few redeeming qualities was as much my fault as hers, I realised.

Fanny and I had work to do and I couldn’t let her down.

After some serious coaching on how to help Fanny make a better first impression, how to tone down the ‘rough diamond’ side of her personality and how to make the judges weep with empathetic understanding of her difficulties, I re-entered her into the same RWA Single Title & Loving it! competition the following year.

And won.

Avon editor, Erika Tsang, was the final judge and she requested the manuscript which became a rambling tale written far too hastily and which was, not surprisingly, rejected. (At that stage in my writing career it always took me a few goes to get it right.)

Shortly afterwards I sold two books with better mannered heroines and Fanny Brightwell was relegated to the sidelines. Not a place a girl like her is prepared to wait for too long.

After working really hard to get my third book in I came up for air and there was Fanny, demanding attention.

Glad to be released from the bottom drawer, Fanny Brightwell told me she was ready to be further re-moulded. Together we brushed up her deportment lessons, ironed out a few rough patches and rewrote her story.

The result is Rake’s Honour, a short novel with a long history. So far Fanny has had a very good reception. Like me, she’s learned the hard way but she has staying power.

A necessary attribute in any business, especially writing.


London’s most daring debutante, Miss Fanny Brightwell is about to embark upon the biggest gamble of her life.

Victory means marriage to Viscount Fenton, the man of her dreams, and a life of pleasure. Failure means she’ll be forever beholden to the odious dilettante, Lord Slyther.

However both men have underestimated the woman they desire.






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Beverley Oakley wrote her first romance novel when she was seventeen. However, drowning the heroine on the last page (p550!) was, she discovered, not in the spirit of the genre so her romance-writing career ground to a halt and she became a journalist.

Throwing in her secure job on a metropolitan daily to manage a luxury safari lodge in the Okavango Delta, in Botswana, led her into a new world of romance and adventure: living in a thatched cottage in the middle of a mopane forest with the handsome bush pilot she met around a camp fire.

Seventeen years later, after exploring the world in the back of Cessna 404s and CASA 212s during low-level survey sorties over the French Guyanese jungle and Greenland’s ice cap, Beverley is back in Australia living a more conventional life with her husband and two daughters in a pretty country town an hour north of Melbourne. She writes traditional Regency Romance as Beverley Eikli and sensual historical romance as Beverley Oakley.


She’d love you to visit her at her siteblog, like her on FB, or follow her on Twitter.

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