If Nicola May’s story were a novel, it would be about passion, perseverance and hard-earned triumph. It would feature love and heartbreak, setbacks and hope, a witty heroine and, of course, a cat. The ingredients may sound familiar to Nicola’s devoted readers: after all, many of her best-selling romantic comedies have been inspired by her own life experiences. Before becoming a full-time job, writing literature helped Nicola process and overcome some major tragic life events. “I have always found writing cathartic,” she says. “I believe the best writing comes from the heart.”

Nicola’s novels have won several awards, and her readership has been growing constantly over the years, fuelled by word-of-mouth and enthusiastic reviews.

The writing bug

Originally from Ascot, Nicola discovered a talent for writing as an adult. It all began in 1996, with a half-marathon to run and the diary that Nicola had started to keep track of her preparatory training – and which ended up including her observations on life, people and relationships. “I shared some pages with family and friends, who found my writing quite entertaining: it turned out I was good at romantic comedy. When the half-marathon was over, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. I got the bug!” she laughs.

She sent her first manuscript to 19 different agents, collecting 18 rejections. The last response was a positive one: “Just like that, I got an agent for my book. I couldn’t believe it,” she says. However, the breakthrough didn’t lead to a publishing deal: “In the following years, my agent tried to place my novel, unsuccessfully. Still, I continued writing in my spare time and completed four more books.”

Turning tragedy into comedy

Despite the setback on the literary front, Nicola felt that she was in a good place in her life. “It was 2010. I had a career, my writing, a loving relationship, and I had recently discovered I was expecting twins. Sadly, things changed abruptly. I lost the babies and, soon afterwards, my relationship ended. I discovered I couldn’t have any more children, which was devastating. I found myself wondering what I was going to do with my life. So I poured my heart and soul into my writing: my books became my babies.”

Nicola managed to weave deeply personal and sad life events into her stories, infusing them with humour and hope: “I tried to turn all the sadness into comedy, into books that make you laugh and swoon. I wrote about infertility, bereavement and heartbreak. I thought that, maybe, my words could help others going through similar experiences. There was a lot of crying involved at times, but writing helped me overcome the pain. It was therapeutic.”

The self-publishing route

When it came to putting her writing in front of readers, after trying the traditional publishing route, Nicola chose to take matters into her own hands and self-publish. “In 2011, I read about Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and decided to give it a try. I found that it was a simple, intuitive system that offered me all the tools I needed. I am not a technically-minded person: as a writer, the last thing you want to worry about is how an upload interface works,” she explains. Once her books were available on the Amazon store, Nicola focused on increasing their visibility by signing up for promotions: “Having a background in marketing definitely helped. And I am quite bold: I have no hesitation in picking up the phone and ringing up a radio programme to talk about my books! Literary competitions also helped: I participated in every contest I could find, including the Kindle Storyteller Award.”

Nicola’s novels have won several awards, and her readership has been growing constantly over the years, fuelled by word-of-mouth and enthusiastic reviews. Her success didn’t go unnoticed: in 2015, she managed to secure a seven-book deal with a traditional publisher. “That was it, I thought, I have made it. But just two years later, I went back to self-publishing. Being on KDP made all the difference between having a reasonable salary or having a very good one: it was a no brainer.”

Nicola May's cat Stan with her book The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay
Nicola May's cat Stan with her book: The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay
Photo by Dom Martin

Hitting number one

In January, Nicola’s ninth novel, The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay, went to number one in the Kindle Store chart on Amazon for several weeks. “It was a dream come true. That was the moment when I realised that yes, I had done it, I was a professional author. At that point, I could afford to turn my passion into a full-time job. It was liberating! Now I can write all day long, with a cup of tea in my hand and my cat Stan sitting on my lap. It’s taken me over 20 years to get here, but now I get to do what I love every day.”

What is the secret of Nicola’s success? She has no doubts: “There are a lot of real feelings in my stories, emotions that people can relate to. I pour a lot of myself into my novels. When you write from the heart, that’s when the magic happens.”