I’d love to look at the full manuscript . . .

Uh?

Part of an email from a literary agent – one I had approached a couple of months back along with a few others with regard to my novel, Hoxton. I had idly clicked on the mail anticipating a ‘nice, but no thanks’ and there it was, positivity reaching out to me. After a hasty response of: ‘would you like: word doc? printed – loose pages, spiral bound, hardback, ink-pen original? all of the above’? she requested ‘just a word doc, thanks’; I sent it off and tried to remain very calm.

I did a good job of being calm. I waited patiently, knowing all agents are VERY busy, and expected nothing back for a couple of months. A few days later – ‘I’m loving this, can we meet in London next week?’ I said . . . ‘well, let me see, bit busy’ . . . (not really), booked trains, rearranged stuff and went about feeling all warm and worthy until an email the afternoon before my trip. She had read to the end and somewhere around halfway the narrative had obviously taken a massive weird trip somewhere she hadn’t been expecting. A page of notes was attached, and the invitation to duck out if I didn’t feel as if a massive re-write could be possible. As I love re-writes (see 2 posts ago) and was 100% reluctant give up on this possible chance, I wrote back saying: ‘not a problem – see you tomorrow’.

My initial feeling was one of desolation at the prospect of ripping the book up again – as it had already been thoroughly through an major edit with Cornerstones – but then all sorts of other more positive thoughts started converging in my head – sitting down, making cups of tea and settling themselves in for a really BIG conversation. Was I happy with the story? Really? Were there a few doubtful plot lines there? Could it do with an overhaul? Yes, yes and yes. I suppose I’d covered it all up – the doubt. Hoxton was written fairly plotlesslessly (is this a word?) and developed over time – I find it very difficult to plan anything beyond a few pages. Readers seemed to like it – or perhaps they enjoyed more my writing itself . . . I had good reviews – onto the next thing, send out a few submissions and see what happens.

The meeting  happened and it was great: incredibly useful and she homed in on all the content I had been less than sure about. I left with a million ideas, a positive mind and a lot of work to do.

So, here I am in my office (corner of the sitting room next to the wood-burner) fighting with the plot, and it is coming together – patching in the sections I want to keep, and the new stuff to be written. I’ve got the outline now – finished this morning, and a walk must now be done. It seems to be the best way for me: plan, wrestle with words then get out and let it all mill about in my mind until certain useful threads appear; run back and scribble it all down before the thoughts disappear.

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Train journeys

Visual and audible writing-fodder. What could be better than to be nestled with your notebooks, laptop and paper mug of tea listening to everyone else’s conversations, and a continuously changing land/cityscape to look out upon.

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A day or two back, after a very elongated journey from France to the UK, I got on the train from Alton to Poole (usually takes about hour and a half) and became trapped in a time-displacement zone of some sort – five hours, including a freezing stop in Guildford while the display board’s info for my connecting train’s arrival time and platform number flickered indecisively in the gloom.

Lots of character studies, however . . .

On the Guildford to Poole train: to my right, a couple who might have been said to be stereotypes if I’d included them in a novel: he, groomed, neat stubble, latest iPhone, reading ‘Top Gear’ and Mm-ing occasionally in response to his immaculately made-up and jewelled wife/partner’s comments as she scanned ‘Closer’ magazine.

In front of them: two cheery older ladies dressed in acrylic, shortish, slightly curly white hair, carefully prepared sandwiches, Daily Mail, discussing grandchildren, a new conservatory and trips to Poole shopping centre.

My fellow passenger: young woman with head of perfect ice-blonde hair and very long manicured red nails, texted and face booked throughout the whole journey.

Two seats on front: a pack of young men on their way to Southampton for a football match: back-to-front baseball caps (still de-rigeur in Southern UK . . .) waving phones about, guffawing, comparing past football highlights and the merits of present girlfriends, much beer already drunk and being drunk.

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Outside the train window: equally inspiring for any writer who appreciates the melancholic atmosphere of a British January day: drizzle, dank gardens, mossy semi-detached houses, breakers yards, derelict buildings, bare-branched grizzled trees and dark rivers.

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Rewrites

I Love them. Really, I do. Especially really long ones.

My main project at the moment is a follow up book to my novel, The Hundred and Fifty-Eighth Book, and I’ve nothing much else to edit at the moment as the afore-mentioned 158th is finished (sort of) and I’ve started the agent-ensnaring process. So, I was thinking of another project I can dip in and out of, time allowing, during the day.

About seven years ago, I started a book called ‘Going Out in the Midday Sun’ which grew into a trilogy, was edited many, many, many times and was then self-published – (by myself.) I picked up a copy of Number One a few days ago, read a few paragraphs and mentally stepped back in surprise. I wrote this? Of course I did, but everything about it seemed so alien – the way people moved about, the dialogue, the jumping scenes. That, I suppose is what happens if you write something, don’t look at it for several years and in the meantime have written several other book-worths of words, phrases and paragraphs. A good thing. It must be. If it all felt as familiar and comfortable as morning tea in bed then something would be wrong. No advancement made.

So. Rewrite. Yes please! I’m on about chapter seven of the first book and it’s a wonderful and addictive exercise. I love the very different challenge of my main morning writing too but that’s not at all the same thing – for me anyway. No framework; rowing out into a vast sea of possibilities. The rewrite has that nice wide playing field with the fence all around – chapters already laid down, characters in place, story charging away in front of me and I just have to lasso it, reel it in for a while, give it a good checking over and let it free again.

The trilogy: ‘Going Out in the Midday Sun’ is currently on Amazon as paperback and kindle. Second edition coming up . . .

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‘Why hasn’t your agent…

… got you a film deal for this book’?

‘I haven’t got an agent’.

‘Well, get one, then’.

An exchange I’ve had several times with regard to my novels. It’s great to receive positive feedback, and great to realise that people think the work would transfer well to a screen, but they generally have no idea how difficult it is to even find an agent and get a book published, let alone entice anyone to make a film out of it.

‘Don’t worry, think of J.K Rowling, Stephen King, William Golding, James Joyce, Le Carré, etc. They were all rejected many, many times . . .’

I know. I know. I’ll keep trying. I have done it before after all – about 17 years ago. I was approaching children’s book agents for ‘Alfi Beasti, Don’t Eat That’, and was about to give up when one of my hand-made little concertina ‘Beasti’ leaflets caught the eye of an agent. ‘That would never get published’ she said, ‘but you’ve got something. Come and see me’. And I did, and the book, after much work, was published by Puffin. So based on my eventual luck with that idea, I thought I’d apply it to adult literature agents.

My ‘hunting’ session was pretty elaborate – hand-tea-dipped ‘letters’ from my future, post-apocalyptic characters, which I took round personally to each agent I had singled out – before I sent in the actual submission. It took me hours as they were spread out all over London, one in some eerie, flyover-infested distant outpost of the city. In fact it was such a weird, empty-looking place, I suspect it was a decoy, and my little pen and ink envelope is probably still lying in a disused lobby next to double-glazing leaflets and unpaid bills from failed companies . . . sob. Anyway, nothing happened except rejections and one slightly pissed off-sounding email from an agent along the lines of -‘I don’t know why you authors go to all this trouble and expense of trying to engage us agents. These sort of tricks don’t work. Goodbye.’

OK. So, nothing fancy then, just follow the instructions. So, I am – researching each person and their preferences; writing a separate and detailed letter; no blanket submissions, no just changing the name on the email each time and hoping for the best.

I’ve found I rather enjoy it. Each submission has become a project in itself – they take time and now feel more ‘crafted’, every one a little different and tailored to the person I’m writing to. I’m probably still making mistakes and there’s much to learn about gauging each agents likes and dislikes when being approached. The rejections haven’t started coming in yet, but when they do – I shall write this out in quill pen script and stick it on the wall of my writing den.

Each rejection is a chance to improve the next submission, and, like buying a scratch card – you never know, that could be the one . . .

 

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‘Stuff’ from my failed ‘hunting’ session: map of where my chosen agents’ offices are, tea-dipped letter of introduction to Londonia 2070, and letter ‘seals’ featuring the East-End church where, Hoxton, the heroine of the story lives.

Now agent-hunting for two novels: Hoxton, and The Hundred and Fifty-Eighth Book

 

Word, and other distractions

Finally, after about two hours, several you-tube tutorials and much swearing, I managed to create a try-out for the cover of my newly edited, ‘Hundred and Fifty-Eighth Book’.

Now, to attempt the even more complex (for me anyway) Lulu Publishing Cover program.

Then to attempt the almost impossible task of ensnaring an Agent . . .

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Website

Working on it . . . My dear brother came to stay and spent about 80% of his break making me a site. Now I have to work through the very long list he’s left me, and that’s fine. It’s making me step back and look at all the stuff, not just the books but the paintings and photographs that are part of what makes up my fairly visual way of writing.

I would never have thought of including the art but he just went ahead and put it up there and I’m now very glad he did. It’s part of who I am, how I record the everyday and the unusual – sketches, snaps, thoughts scribbled down.

So, website to appear in the near future featuring my books, my scribbles, paintings and photographs. Back to the things to do . . .

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Corner of my writing room (bedroom) and a painting from my ‘Train Window’ series

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