Ronali Collings has spent decades living vicariously through books. Here at the Women’s Prize she is in good company, and we were fascinated to hear from Ronali about her journey to publication, her passion for writing and the women who helped her along the way.

My debut novel, Love & Other Dramas has just been published. I’m 51 years old and am still pinching myself that my dream has come true.

I have always been an avid reader and dabbled in writing, but making a career out of it never seemed a realistic prospect for me. I am also an only child, a wife and a mother and in my thirties the obligations that came with all three roles began to consume me. There was never time to write or even think about writing until about three years after I lost my job, when I tried to claw back some semblance of a life for myself. Just like my character Tania who pursues her dreams in her forties, I applied for a Master’s in Creative Writing at Brunel University aged 42. For me, this was a great way to rediscover my creativity and ultimately, myself.

I was incredibly fortunate to be taught by Professor Bernardine Evaristo who supervised both my master’s dissertation and my eighteen-month foray into a PhD. Ever since, she has reminded me to have more confidence in my work and exhorted me to keep going. As she did. She was 60 years old when Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker Prize in 2019.

But sometimes life gets in the way, and after I left my PhD there was a period when I stopped writing altogether. I decided that it just wasn’t meant to be and that I would be a reader instead. But as I watched my colleagues win prizes and mentorships and even be published, I was privately lamenting that it would never be me. Which of course it wouldn’t be if I didn’t start writing again.

So, I persisted.

It was Bernardine’s words and the support of my closest writing friend that got me back to my laptop with a new story and fully formed characters in my head; older women who were trying to find their place in the world, just as I was.

Love & Other Dramas

by Ronali Collings

Find out more

And then a tweet from the Madeleine Milburn TV & Literary Agency changed my life. They announced a mentorship scheme for six writers, including representation by an agent. My crippling lack of self-confidence usually held me back from entering this type of thing, but I had nothing to lose and so much to gain. Out of 1,500 entries, I was stunned to be chosen as one of the six mentees.

Not only did the incredibly talented Hayley Steed become my agent, mentor and friend, but I also gained the friendship and support of the five other extraordinarily talented women who were chosen along with me. I cannot stress enough the importance of a group of people like this to get you through the lonely, emotional wasteland of writing a novel, and beyond into the bewildering world of publication. And it’s a virtual group!

Hayley sold my manuscript to editor Jane Snelgrove at Embla Books, the digital-first imprint of Bonnier Books. Both Jane and Hayley have made me see that this is absolutely a viable career for someone like me, with the stories I want to tell.

The main messages in Love & Other Dramas are that it’s never too late to follow your dreams and to find your true self, and at its heart the book honours the importance of female relationships. I’m so fortunate that all these wonderful women from Brunel to the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency, to Embla, to all the book bloggers and reviewers and social media friends who’ve taken the time to read my book, have helped me to change my life. It really does take a village (or perhaps a small town).

If, like me, you want to write but are unsure how to get started, here are three tips:

  • Read. Learn from other writers. Use your highlighter pens and mark up those books. And then read some more.
  • Write. An obvious one, but with other commitments, this can be tricky. Even a few sentences a day can make a difference. And don’t worry about the quality – that’s why we edit.
  • Find a group of writers to help you to keep going. This can be a very solitary career; you need a trusted group to get you through.

And an extra one: persist!

A big thank you to Ronali Collings for sharing her tips for writers. There really is no limit to where your imagination can take you if you set it free.

If you’d like to write head on over to our Writer’s Toolkit for tips and advice from published authors and agents.