How to cope with criticism.


Carol has a moment of self doubt. photo: Radical Honey

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.

A new beginning


And so it begins again. As I start to talk about publicity for my first book, On the Marshes,  which is due to be published in April, then I go back to the nerve wracking beginning of the whole thing and send a synopsis and three chapters of my new book to my agent. Asking that thing that I think, I hope, all writers ask. Is it any good?

Does any writer know if what they’re writing is any good before someone else tells them so? I know if the writing is going well, if it’s flowing, if I’m locked into it and enjoying it, if I want to keep writing it but, is it any good? That I find hard to judge alone.

So I send it out to friends and they tell me they really like it but still I don’t know if that’s enough. I kind of need that outside thumbs up from someone who I don’t feel is obliged to say it. I need someone in the writing world who reads a lot of this stuff to tell me.

External validation? probably. Deep seated insecurity? most likely but even the fact that I send it out at all says something. So many writers hide their writing away. Thinking they’re not good enough, unable to stand up under the eye of criticism. Never try and you never fail.

So sending it out at all also says something about me, something at the core of me, some deep seated self belief that writing is what I’m meant to do and it is what I would do even if I were alone in the world and no one ever told me if I was any good.

Estuary Life – The Next Step

I have signed with an agent but where next?

I have signed with an agent but where next?

I am pleased to tell you that I have just signed with literary agency Hardman and Swainson who will be hard at work hopefully finding Estuary Life a publishing deal in the near future, but will it still be called Estuary Life? Probably not, we are currently toying with various titles, something I will be the first to say I have never been good at, but hopefully we will come up with something which appeals soon.

Joanna Swainson was an early advocate for the idea behind this book and gave me faith that I was onto something when all I had was one chapter and some rough plans. She came to visit the marshes on a terribly wet winters day and subsequently her and partner, Nick Russell-Pavier joined me on a outing to Elmley Marshes. I am really looking forward to working with Joanna over the next few months.

Having wrestled this book into existence I am most certainly into my writing groove and already beginning to think about ideas for my next book. If you would like advice on nature writing and publishing then why not come along to one of the two nature writing courses I am running in the next couple of weeks for the Up on the Downs Festival. See the events page for more details.


Estuary Life – The next step

Estuary Life notebook and scallop shell

Estuary Life notebook and scallop shell

For the last year I have been walking the estuary from Lower Higham in Gravesham to Whitstable. Along the way I have met houseboat owners, chalet dwellers, plotland holders and friends of hermits. All winter I have dwelt in my cellar writing up their stories along with my own tale of living in, and finally being evicted from, a caravan on the marshes.

At the end of the month I will take the last part of this journey, heading back to the Hoo Peninsula where I used to live and the little church on the marshes where I started my trip. It has been a journey both physically and metaphorically. I have learnt things about myself and re-evaluated my past as much as I have found out the stories of others. Now the end is in site.

Last week, on a wet Wednesday afternoon, I sent the first 13 chapters, 70,000 words off to the literary agents whose interest in the idea and my writing was the spur I needed to leave my job, go freelance and begin this journey. The next day one of them got back to me, telling me they loved what I had written and wanted to take me on as a client.

This is brilliant news. These days getting an agent is almost as hard as getting a publisher. No agent will take you on unless they think they can get you published. It is the first step on the road to seeing that book on the shelf at Waterstones. It has been a long time coming. I wrote my first ‘book’ at 12, sent my first full length novel to a publisher at 14 ( clearly a precocious and unrealistic child). I should have been leaping for joy at this positive feedback.

Weirdly, I stalled. Can someone tell me why? Looking down the barrel of success, I was scared. Partly it’s because this book is such a personal account of my life in the caravan. Fine for strangers to read it but I am freaked out at the thought of people I know reading stuff I would never actually say. I guess also it’s the thought that success could, on the one hand change everything and, on the other hand, be a damp squib.

Still, I have sucked it up and am meeting agents next week to talk about the next step. It is exciting, scary exciting, but that’s a good thing….I think.