I guess we write for different reasons.
Me? I was desperate. I needed to escape from my bed, from my pain and immobility. My daughters said write a book, about an assassin and an orphan. A man who could dip in and out of right and wrong. A girl plagued by bullies with hair extensions and lip fillers.
There was no plan, no character analysis, no plot, only a focus to get up every day, shower, sit at the laptop and type. The word organic is so overused but that’s what it was. This natural ramble, through lives of people I would like to know, and others I hoped never to cross. There was nothing high brow or complex about my words. They were distractions from pain and a loneliness I never wanted to share with my family.
How did I come up with my protagonists names? When I turned my laptop on Phoenix would flash in the bottom, left corner and Whittle was the first pop-up in my brain.
Phoenix Whittle; it felt perfect. Henry, a name ones associated with a solid citizen not a special forces hitman.
Writing felt comfortable; pain easing. I’d spend three/four hours a day with Phoenix and Henry. They became as real to me as my family. I love them.
I had bad days. When my fingers wouldn’t work. When brain fog blocked all creativity. I remember as my third spine operation loomed I felt panicked that if something went wrong my novel would be lost. I finished it about two am before leaving at 5am for the hospital.
It was a month later that my daughters said send it off. Like it was the easiest thing to do. I’m not a researcher, I never will be. I leap, I don’t look. I’m inpatient. I spent about half an hour googling how to get published before getting overwhelmed. If I was to do this I had to make it easy on myself. I wrote a naff query letter. I’m not great at selling myself or pretending to be something I’m not. I have very limited energy. I have spinal cord damage and making a cup of tea is a challenge. Getting an agent seemed an insurmountable challenge. No one was more surprised than me when agents began requesting the full manuscript. I still got a lot of no’s…until one asked could she ring me to discuss representation. We chatted; hearing someone as excited as me about Henry and Phoenix had me ecstatic.
We met at a patisserie in Notting Hill Gate. I’ll never forget it. I had no clothes…really. I lived in pjs and lounge wear. I had to get a whole outfit, coat, shoes, the lot from NEXT. I hadn’t traveled unassisted in 5 years. My daughter came on the train with me and helped me up the station stairs. I told the literary agent I’d be in a pink coat and she said she’d have red lipstick. I was nearly combusting with excitement. I won’t lie; I saw Waterstones and nearly keeled over imagining my novel on display. I was so naive.
We ordered drinks; I desperately wanted a pastry, a sugar rush, but was too nervous to eat in public. She was lovely, not intimidating, but confident and cultured. Her enthusiasm matched my own and when she offered representation, I knew this was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ll always remember the fun I had saying ‘my agent’; it was mad.
What comes next I hold myself totally responsible for. We spent about seven months editing. There were times when my gut told me no, this isn’t what Henry and Phoenix are about. My silence led to a dilution of my characters. They lost that rawness. The completed novel was in many ways improved but sadly tame.
Editors at Penguin, Bloomsbury, all the biggies, were queried and read the manuscript with interest. The no’s came quick. The feedback was positive, but they felt Phoenix’s voice wasn’t strong enough or it wasn’t dark enough. I wasn’t too put out. I don’t think I ever expected the route to publication to be that easy. I thought we’d go forward and rebuild but a distance emerged. It might have been my imagination but I felt I’d been passed over for the next bright spark. We’d had a meeting and my agent spent more time talking about her latest discovery than Henry & Phoenix.
I decided to take a break. Which lasted about a week. I had the bug so I continued with a second project I’d begun in between editing Henry Whittle.
Random Attachment had me seriously questionning representation. It was quickly obvious my second novel was going down the dark route…borderline Young Adult/New Adult – not suitable for under 14’s. A route I new my agent wasn’t comfortable with. So I emailed her and called it off. What upset me was, not saying adios to getting published, but cutting myself off from the first person who believed in me as a writer. It was like I was ungrateful, but if all I have is my writing, then I can’t compromise. It has to be my words, my way.
I miss our emails, our patisserie meetings but I feel like I’m running through a field of barley, the sun on my back. My legs don’t drag when I write. My head doesn’t hurt from nerve damage when I’m with Mia, Flynn, Phoenix and Henry…my Henry.
Then there’s you: WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, the Writing Community. Just tonight I found another writer in my genre just starting her journey and I feel excited for her. I want her to write a brilliant query letter, to find a champion for her work. Yes get edited if it’s within your budget but don’t rely totally on others to make your dream reality. If you gut speaks…listen…talk up. Don’t make my mistake and put the responsibility of success on your agent’s shoulders.
And if you can’t afford editing before submitting your work don’t let that stop you. If your premise is original and your characters solid you have as good a chance as anyone else. Be daring. Share your writing with as many as you can. Feedback is like gold dust. Self publishing is rewarding and confidence building.
My main advice is this: enjoy writing; don’t chase the money or prestige. x