The small and leaky boat of indecision

I seem to have climbed into it this morning and shoved myself off from the mooring without oars.

That’s what happens – to me anyway, if I don’t write for a few days.

It’s been a long and enjoyable summer with our son being at home from art college; days concerned with running our small bed and breakfast, socialising with family and friends, but always writing, every day. First thing.

I’ve just taken the lad back to college, including a road trip of a few days so the laptop and notebooks got rather abandoned. Now back at home, the other half is back at work and suddenly everything feels very large, empty and a little worrying, with winter jobs looming – stacking wood, organising chimney sweeps, fixing broken guttering, etc etc. I know what I have to do. Start writing again and immerse myself in the next project. Hoxton is with my agent and I have a choice of which way to go next – a follow up? It’s written but as Hoxton has gone through so many changes, the back half is now not relevant. I’ve started re-jigging it but . . .possibly best to wait and see what happens with the first one . . . A follow-up to my other book, The Hundred and Fifty-Eighth book? It’s half-written but until the first instalment gets any sort of OK, it’s possibly not worth pursuing.

On a long hike yesterday, Mark (afore-mentioned other half) suggested I should start something new. I think he’s probably right. There is a story that’s been hovering around my mind for some months, based on a short I wrote called, The Panto-horse End. Like all my tales it will have links to the other books so I’ll feel safe in this new world ready to be created.

Just have to jump into the sea and tow the boat back to land. Starting this afternoon.

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Nothing to do with oarless, leaky boats but I just had to post this beautiful image

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16th August 2018

A memorable day for me as I signed and sent off a contract agreeing to be represented by Sandra Sawicka at Marjacq Scripts in London.

Wheeeeeeeeeee!

After a silence and an occasional tentative email prod from me over the last few months, Sandra wrote to me a few days ago saying she would love to take me on and work with me on HOXTON. There’s still quite a way to go with editing, discussing and finally tidying before the book can be sent out to prospective publishers, but this feels like a massive step forwards.

I was struck by Sandra’s enthusiasm for my work when she first asked me to send her the whole MS, compared to the other replies I received back regarding initial chapters. I had a feeling that she would be the right champion for it, even though at that stage there were many changes to work on for her to truly consider the book.

So, what have I learnt from the process of trying to find someone to take me on, and what could I relay to anyone else involved in this often spirit-crushing task?

Number one – you have to be able to bin large chunks of script that you may have felt perfectly happy with, and feel able to take a lot of constructive criticism from someone who knows a lot more than you do about how the industry works. Of, course this may not be the same for everyone but I feel I am continually learning by taking on big edits and re-writes, and cannot imagine the process ever being very different.

Number two – Hone and hone and hone the letters and synopsis, synopsises? synopi? to be sent out. I cringe now when I look at my early attempts. – far too much waffle about my past, typos, badly-summed up plots, etc , etc . . . it’s worth taking the time and it can become enjoyable (!). A few posts back when I was attempting to approach agents with an earlier Hoxton version I turned the whole process into a sort of art-performance piece, complete with dropping off hand-inked, tea-dipped letters off to my chosen ‘prey’ before sending the chapters out. It was an interesting exercise but failed utterly – one response being ‘I don’t know why you authors go to all this trouble and expense. We don’tappreciate it’.

Number three. Never give up – if you feel writing defines who you are and what you want to be.

So, his morning, I will slip my agent-contacting book away on a shelf, clear up my writing corner and start editing with a feeling that my efforts have been validated – officially. Feels . . . great.

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Book recycling

Having received my latest edit copy of HOXTON through the post yesterday, I decided to landmark it by creating a hardback cover for the floppy thing with its present nasty shiny encapsulation. Two agents are thinking about the tale at the moment so no point getting any further with a cover, until anyone says yea or nah.

So, down to the local up-cycling place, found an old red-covered book almost the exact dimensions, sliced out the old narrative and stuck Hoxton in its place. Black and gold paint added, various bits of old map and text added inside and it looks the part. The part being my idea that the reader is holding an ‘old’ book made in 2072 on the Sureditch Press that has somehow made its way back in time. If/when, this project ever gets to a publishing house, that’ll be an interesting discussion point.

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Three months on . . .

 

Following last post. I haven’t done much other than write, eat, sleep, be slightly sociable and deal with all the usual life-stuff that we all deal with. Half way through this re-write, I’d emailed the (potential) agent to say: ‘I’ll be sending the new draft through, end of April,’ and I will. A deadline, even if self-imposed is a good way to stop, reflect, and hope what you’ve been hunched over for many weeks is at least better than the last draft.

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 Fifth read through of this draft number . . . lost count

I’ve read through five times and three folks are reading at the moment; and I’m about to scoot through it again. There are still mistakes and my made-up language to improve on but . . . time to stop – for the moment – work on some of the illustrations whether they’d be ever used by a publisher or not. I feel the book needs a few of the visual elements camped out in my head, so, I’ll put the laptop away for a few days and concentrate on ink and paper.

 

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     A rough sketch of Bert the Swagger’s stilt house on the banks of Lady Thames.

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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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