As social commentator Christopher Hitchens reputedly said, “Everyone has a book in them and, in most cases, that’s where it should stay.”

Prize-winning debut novelist Sarah Waights, whose first novel Never Marry A Politician has just been published, couldn’t agree more. “I was 30 and on maternity leave when the inspiration to write a novel first struck but - oh my goodness - my first efforts were abysmal,” she admits.

“Although I am a jobbing writer anyway, producing everything from website copy to feature articles, when it came to storytelling I was just having fun,” she says. “But, because I wasn’t being professional about it, I did everything wrong and - predictably enough - got absolutely nowhere.”

Sarah, who lives in a brick-and-flint cottage in Walberton, recalls contacting a literary agent who represented an author she particularly admired. “She wrote back, quite rightly turning me down flat, but mentioning that my writing was of a ‘publishable standard’. I had a suspicion I was being damned with faint praise but I decided to be encouraged and carried on.”

There then followed a long period when Sarah was routinely turned down by agents and publishers. “I was getting one line rejection slips. It was pretty demoralising,” she recalls. “But every now and then I’d get encouragement or advice to spur me on.”

Fortunately, she kept writing. “It was slow to dawn on me,” she admits, “but there is simply no substitute for learning your craft. I kept going, and started looking for good-quality critique. Joining the brilliant Romantic Novelists Association, which runs a scheme for unpublished writers, was really helpful. I eventually found what industry insiders call my ‘voice’, or - in other words - I found out what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it.”

Never Marry A Politician follows the story of Emily, who tries to be the model wife to Ralph, a fiercely ambitious politician. However, she has betrayed her heart and her principles: once she was a promising journalist but now reluctant domestic goddess is more her scene.

When unexpected events lead to Ralph becoming a candidate for Prime Minster, Emily finds maintaining the façade of picture-perfect family life an increasing struggle – especially when her romantic past comes back to haunt her in the form of tough-talking journalist Matt Morley.

For Sarah, things began to change in 2014: Never Marry A Politician was entered for the national Good Housekeeping Novel Writing Award and was shortlisted out of 3,500 entries, eventually winning joint second place. Weeks later, Sarah signed a publishing contract with the award-winning independent publisher Choc Lit and the paperback was published last month. The novel has already attracted good reviews and sold well as an e-book. Sarah has signed a second contract with Choc Lit to bring out another novel later this year.

What advice does Sarah have for other budding writers? “Getting enough rejection slips to paper your downstairs loo isn’t a failure so much as a badge of honour,” she says. “Do keep going.

“That said, if your rejection slips look like they might paper the living room, then it’s possible you are producing the right material at the wrong time,” she adds, diplomatically.

• Never Marry A Politician by Sarah Waights is available in all digital formats and paperback from UK book retailers.