“I think when you say you want to be a writer, it’s a bit like saying you want to be a pop star. People never really believe you.”
Meet Mary Torjussen, MA Writing graduate and author of Gone Without a Trace and her soon to be released second novel, The Girl I Used to Be.
Mary, a former IT teacher and Philosophy and Politics graduate, returned to education part-time while she was teaching. “I had always written in my spare time,” she explains. “I wrote a novel before I joined the MA programme at LJMU but it didn’t get anywhere. What I really wanted was to spend time with people who shared my passion so, for two years, I came to the University every Wednesday evening and immersed myself in writing. We had lots of interesting workshops and some great guest speakers. I loved every minute.”
A few years later, having written another two novels which received some great reviews when self-published, Mary came to a crossroads in her life. “I had the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy, giving me a year’s salary to play with,” explains Mary. “I decided to seize the opportunity and give myself a year to write a book that would attract a publisher.”
Having taken the plunge, Mary spent a couple of months looking for the ‘hook’ for her book, Gone Without a Trace.
“One thing you realise when you try to get this kind of fiction published is that publishers are interested in your idea first and your writing second,” says Mary. “You can be the best writer in the world but if they don’t buy into your story, you won’t get anywhere.”
The idea for Mary’s first novel came, strangely enough, from a post on MumsNet. “A woman posted up that she had come home from work to find her boyfriend had gone and taken everything in the house,” explains Mary. “What struck me about her post was the lengths her boyfriend had gone to so that he could ‘disappear’. He’d even taken a half empty jar of lime pickle from the fridge! It was like he was deleting himself entirely from her life.” At long last Mary had her ‘hook’.
She spent a couple of months writing the first draft and then a further two months editing it. “I had the start and the end of the book but struggled at first to develop the middle section,” Mary admits. When she sent her novel to several literary agents, the interest was immediate and within no time she had signed with Kate Burke.
“Things progressed quickly from then,” said Mary. “I started working with Kate and we submitted the novel to commissioning editors in the next few months.”
The day after UK and Commonwealth rights for the book were snapped up by Headline, a five-part auction started in Germany, finally won by Random House. Penguin bought the US and Canadian rights and language rights were sold in France, Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Even more exciting, a production company has bought the television rights to Gone Without a Trace and hopes to sell to one of the major networks. Meanwhile, Mary continues to build on her initial success. Her second novel, The Girl I Used to Be, another psychological suspense, is due to be published in April 2018.
If you're inspired by Mary’s success, why not take a look at what you can gain by studying creative writing at LJMU?