Recently published daughter “What do you think of my book Dad?”
Dad “There’s a lot of mud in it.”
Recently published daughter “What do you think of my book Dad?”
Dad “There’s a lot of mud in it.”
You’ve been writing that book for just about ever and lo and behold, against all the odds, you have found yourself a publisher. Your book is going to be out there on the shelves and the launch has been planned like a military operation. The nerves are kicking in and if one more person tells you to, “just enjoy it.” you’re going to scream. Follow my ten point plan to make sure you survive your big night and make it one you remember for all the right reasons.
I know that at this moment I am meant to be acting all sober and professional and writer-like. But look, it’s my book, looking like a book and that is just hilarious and cracking and kinda amazing.
Why is it that whenever I take someone out to the North Kent Marshes to impress upon them the beauty and importance of the landscape it pours of rain? A few years ago I took my agent, Joanna Swainson and her partner out to show them this place I wanted to write about and the weather was dismal, the farm looked a mess and the meal in the local pub was so salty it was inedible. Despite this unpromising start she saw the potential and took me and my book on.
Today it happens again. I take out the guy who is going to be shooting the promotional video to accompany the publication of my book, ‘On The Marshes’ to the RSPB’s Northward Hill reserve. He has read my descriptions of a world apart, a landscape of value, a place which is special and should be protected and is inspired. Today, however, the reserve, is bleak and flat and grey, the farmyard, a muddy hole, the birds…out there…somewhere. Still, Luke, the filmmaker is keen. He can see it, that this place is different, it has a feeling all of its own that casts a spell even on a dreary early spring day.
We will, come back, when the sun is out, the skies, majestic and the birds singing. I want people to see the marshes as I see it. Not as a place to dump airports and car parks and ‘garden’ cities but as a rare gem which needs to be kept untouched as a place of sanctuary for us all.
Some people are ideas people and some of us are executers. This is the conclusion I am coming to. I have been struggling with work on my second book, loosely titled Behind the Wall, for weeks. I came to a halt last year when I sent off three chapters to my agent who didn’t fall in love with it and suggested I needed to go away, read more novels and think about it again.
I have followed her advice but I confess to finding many modern novels a giant yawn, somehow tired with life and the stories they are trying to tell before they even begin. Still it was good advice. I learnt things from my reading but the thought of starting the book again from a whole new direction was intimidating.
Then, today, my friend turns up for coffee. Our regular Friday ritual where we analyse the world and say the stuff we truthfully think but don’t shout out loud. He casually drops into the conversation that he’s been reading a new version of The Canterbury Tales and he’s had this idea for my book. In two sentences he comes up with the most amazing concept of how I can look at the whole story from a different angle.
I sit there open mouthed. How can it be that, after months of thinking of ways to begin, he just throws out the best idea like it is nothing?
My friend is an ideas man. He throws out a million genius ideas before breakfast and another twenty before tea. He is cursed with ideas. They come so thick and fast and are all so clever that he rarely follows them through.
I am an executor. He comes up with one idea, one lightbulb idea and I wish to sit down and begin to put it into action. I can turn his idea into something. I very much hope.
Unfortunately today, I must face reality. I cannot crack on with his idea as I have to re-edit my first book, On the Marshes. A book which came out of an idea, that now I think of it, may well have been his.
Things are beginning to get real now that we have hit 2017 and I begin to plan for the publication of my book, On the Marshes in April. Yesterday I met with Sue Sparks at St Mary’s Church, Lower Higham, where I am planning to hold the launch party.
The church is set on the marshes and the journey I took when writing the book began and ended from there so it seemed the ideal place to do the launch. However, planning an event in a church does feel decidedly close to planning a wedding.
We talked about candles, background music, refreshments, lighting. Seeing as partly the book is about the break up of my relationship then it feels a little ironic that I now appear to be wedding the book.
I am still a little dazed and maybe can’t quite get my head around that, yes, this book will be out there, published, properly published, like you can go into a book shop and buy it, published.
April will be on me before I know it though and my book and I will meet at the alter. I am quietly fizzing with excitement.
Ok, so what happens when you send your chapters to the agent and they don’t fall in love with them? If you’re like me you go through a whole range of emotions.
For one, you ignore all the positive comments and just focus on the negative ones. Yes, this is because the negative is easier to believe but also because the positive comments you don’t need to do anything about and the negative ones you do.
Then you get depressed. You think, you can’t do this thing, write, after all. The first book was a fluke. Maybe it’s just a terrible idea and you should give it up and do something else.
Then, over the next few days you remember why you wanted to write this book in the first place. That you love this story, that you have things you want to say to the world through it. That you have been enjoying writing the whole thing so, so much, until now.
Then your story becomes like a child that you’ve invested in and, even though it’s gone off the rails, you still believe in it and want to do your best by it. So you take a deep breath, sit down with it and begin to look at what needs to be done to improve things.
It’s a lot of work. You will need to start again, right at the beginning. Slow down, stop the headlong dash to get to the end and set out on a new course. And so you begin…again.
Through all this I still know what a privilege it is for a professional to take the time to read and really think about my work and offer truthful and helpful advice. This is where I take heart that I have wriggled my way onto the next rung of the ladder.
I’ve been in the other place. The one where you send your chapters off and get no feedback. I have been in that place many times and now I’m in this other place. The place of the soon to be published author where you can call your agent and they sound happy to hear from you and take the time to really go over what you’ve written.
Only time and hard work has got me there and that determination is what is needed now.
Heard from Little Toller today that my book, On the Marshes, will be published on 5th April. Exciting but scary stuff.
It’s been a bit of a journey from being one of the many thousands of hopefuls submitting their manuscript to getting published and I guess I am still only half way there. I learn something new every day.
It started with an idea, that grew into one prospective chapter of a book. One chapter and a synopsis of how the rest might pan out. One chapter which I submitted to three agents, all of whom came back enthusiastically and said great, where’s the rest? There was no rest. That was it, one chapter. I felt then I’d blown it, shown myself as an amateur before I’d even begun but I also knew from previous attempts at submitting work to agents and publishing houses that three agents, keen and interested and saying flattering things about my writing wasn’t nothing. It was far from nothing. It was something which made me so excited I wanted to run round my office whooping if only I hadn’t been sitting next to the miserable bosses, boss.
Better still, one of the agents, Joanna Swainson of Hardman and Swainson Literary Agency wanted to meet. I took her out to the location of my planned book. The Hoo Peninsula in Kent on a day when the rain poured down. I took her to a pub where the meal was terribly salty. I talked ten to the dozen, but still she was keen.
‘30,000 words,’ she said. ‘Show me that and I will see if I can get an advance.’ I went off and started my journey across the marshes and wrote and wrote. 6000 words a day at times. Crazy wordage, much of which didn’t survive but still I was writing. When I had my 30,000 words I went back to her and fearfully asked what she thought. She responded with huge enthusiasm, she asked me if I wanted her to submit it to publishers. Amazingly I replied that I wasn’t ready. I wanted no other voices and opinions in my head until I had completed the book.
So I went away and completed my journey and wrote and submitted my manuscript to trusted readers, who made comments. I edited, long and sometimes tedious days getting the manuscript to a standard I was happy to show to the world.
And then came the tough part. Months of submissions to editors, comments that glowed with praise, that made me want to weep with joy from editors who really supported the book and really understood what I was trying to say and still they all came back and said no. That is tough. Seven rejections in one day with the kind of comments that make your spirits rise and fall with equal measure. It is tough, it is frustrating. It gave me real insight into how hard it is to get published. How, nowadays it is not just one editors huge enthusiasm but a whole team of editors and marketing people who have to agree to take a book on.
It was a black time. Joanna told me not to give up hope. I began writing something new, just to remember the joy of writing once again. Then suddenly it all changed we got not one yes but two in as many days.
I had to choose. One publisher just seemed to understand the book better than the other. Said they wanted to develop me as a writer and seemed to be in it for the long term. I went with Little Toller Books.
Today the journey took a new turn as I begin on the official second draft (although the reality is it is probably the 20th draft) I am working from the comments of one of the editorial team. Her comments have made me think of some of the subjects and issues I raise in the book in new ways. I have been doing more research. I have been contacting people who knew me at that time and asking for their take on events. It is so exciting to think that professional people have taken such time with my writing. To have read it, thought about it deeply and are going to help me improve it.
The book is not due to be published until next year. It is still a long way off but it is half way on a journey I have for so long wished to take.
My agent Hardman and Swainson have added me to their author page. So I guess that makes it official.