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Rachel Churcher

FdSc Architectural Technology, Class of 2013

Rachel Churcher-Author photo

Rachel Churcher

When I started my Foundation Degree in Architectural Technology at UCS, I was excited about retraining as an Architectural Technologist, and using my skills to help other people improve their homes. I had completed a major house renovation before I moved to Suffolk, and I wanted to be able to turn my hobby into a career.

I graduated in 2013, and went on to renovate three more properties. My training gave me the confidence to decide what to work on myself, and when to bring in specialists. It helped me stand up to builders and contractors, and to make sure everything was completed to a high standard.

So am I working as an Architectural Technologist in 2020? Not exactly.

Thinking back, my project on Zombie-Proof Housing might provide the clues to my current career. Most of the students on the FdSc course were studying on day release from jobs in the construction industry, and one of our assignments required us to give a presentation on a project we were involved with professionally. I wasn’t working in construction during my degree, so instead of writing about my completed home renovation, I asked permission to base my assignment on the design and construction of a zombie-proof house.

I conducted plenty of research to make sure my design ideas would be safe and effective against a zombie invasion. I read everything from World War Z to survivalist manuals and the construction details of real-world fortified buildings. I compiled a design brief and an outline plan for my house, and I gave my presentation. I was very happy to receive a Merit for the assignment.

So what am I working on today?

After getting my hands dirty demolishing walls, taking out kitchens and bathrooms, and painting and decorating the completed houses, I took a break to figure out where I wanted my career to go. And I realised that what I really wanted to do was write novels. The zombies had inspired me to channel my creativity into words, instead of diagrams, calculations, and paint brushes.

Following the 2016 Brexit referendum, I was inspired to write a near-future dystopia based in the UK. I’ve been a fan of science fiction and dystopian stories since I was at school, and the almost 50-50 split of the referendum vote made me think about politics, public opinion, and how easy it would be to slide into totalitarianism and isolationism.

I wrote a series of five novels, aimed at the 13-20 Young Adult age group, and then I started looking for an agent to represent me and my writing to potential publishers. Finding an agent is a long and frustrating process, and as a writer you get used to rejections. When I finally had the opportunity to speak to an agent in person, the news wasn’t good.

They told me that publishers aren’t buying Young Adult dystopias. The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner did really well, but now they are looking for the Next Big Thing, and YA dystopia is out of date. They told me that it would take two to three years for my books to make it onto the shelves, if they made it at all. With a Brexit deadline fast approaching, this would make my books obsolete long before publication. And they told me that publishers don’t want to buy a complete series – they want to buy Book One, and make changes. This would mean that Books Two to Five would be redundant, and I would need to throw them away and start again.

So I did some research. I read about publishing. I read about agents. I read about traditional publishing and indie publishing. I took courses. I talked to people in the industry. And I made a plan.

Today, all five books have been published, ahead of the Brexit deadline. I spent 2019 setting up an indie publishing house, Taller Books, and using it to publish my series. Book One, Battle Ground, was launched at the Young Adult Literature Convention in London in July 2019, and I published the rest of the series every six weeks, with Book Five going live on January 9th 2020. I use Amazon as my publishing platform, so my books are available for Kindle and Kindle Unlimited, and paperback copies are printed on demand when a reader places an order. This means that I don’t need to pay in advance for a print run of books, and no one has to store copies until they are sold. My eBooks are professionally produced for the Kindle, and my paperbacks are gorgeous!

I worked with a designer to produce the book covers, and with an IT specialist to set up my website. I recruited proof readers and beta readers, and incorporated their suggestions and corrections into the manuscripts. I have used a marketing specialist to promote each book as it is launched, and worked very long hours promoting and publicising the series. I’ve spoken on a panel at a literary festival, and sold books at one of the largest Christmas markets in the UK. The learning curve has been extremely steep, and from writing the first words of Battle Ground to making Book Five live on Amazon has taken two years, two months, and nine days.

As with the zombie presentation, I have found a way to complete the assignment without following the standard path. I have researched the industry, set up my own business, and used everything I can think of to achieve my goal.

And my readers love my books. I have five-star reviews for all the books on Amazon, GoodReads, and Library Thing, and on several book-blogging websites.

I learned a lot from my studies at UCS. I learned to research subjects I hadn’t encountered before. I learned to be creative in order to meet the requirements of an assignment. I learned to stand up for myself, and to apply the skills I already had in new ways. I learned when to take on renovation work myself, and when to call in a specialist with suitable training. Stepping out into publishing, I discovered that these lessons were surprisingly relevant to my new career.

I’m proud of the buildings I have transformed using the skills I learned at UCS, and I’m proud of my books. Not just the words, but also the covers, the marketing, the branding, and the publicity. And of course, I’m proud of the reviews, just as I was proud of my Merit for the Zombie-Proof Housing presentation.

Here’s more information on the Battle Ground series, and you’ll find a free prequel novella here. I can’t show you the houses I’ve worked on, but I can share my books with you. Happy reading, and I hope my dystopia remains as fictional as my zombies!