Reading can either be a learnt behaviour or an emotional journey. Don’t read one word after another. Instead infuse yourself between the cover with a girl that’ll have you hungrily breathing in the pages
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
Today is my daughter’s birthday. She’s in Brugge with her boyfriend. My other daughter’s at uni, first year. My novels and blogs are mechanisms that keep them in my heart.
I was horribly unwell when I first started writing. What little energy I had I spent chatting to my four children. Kitty and I would get so excited about the weekly episode of #vampirediaries. We’d try to find films with a baddie that when faced with a dilemma would do the right thing like Damon. There are two films that were flops, but I loved them, purely because the male protagonist is beautifully, sexily evil; The Guest and No One Lives. Kitty and I would come up with scenarios for boys/girls of this ilk. This led us to a scenario where an assassin steals an identity and comes into contact with a damaged teen girl. This premise got forgotten for a while, mainly because I was so unwell. After my second operation, feeling regenerated our concept reignited and my other daughter Gerty came up with a title ‘The Rebirth of Henry Whittle.”
The following morning I wrote all day. Then the next and the next and so on. It was addictive. I was quite weak and housebound so the characters became totally real to me. I loved them. The girls critiqued, proof read, laughed at me a lot! I updated. We came up with a pen name Gertrude T Kitty (my girls’ nicknames and T because it sounded good). Then off went the first three chapters to literary agents. I struggled with that. I’m too old and too unwell to be anyone but myself or to sell myself. Luckily there was a lot of interest in the premise and requests for the full manuscript. I had lots of ‘we liked it but didn’t love it’ or it’s not one for us but that’s subjective’. I also had two offers of representation and an American publishing house that were considering it. I went with an agent I immediately felt comfortable with. Sadly it did not work out. But I learnt so much, from her and from the response of editors at publishing houses. I took a break then decided to go it alone. No having to compromise.
Readers for me are incredibly important. An unread book means I’m not an author. Yes I had the joy of writing it and sharing it with my daughters but it’s about identity. I’ve a degenerative spine condition; there is so much I can’t do but I can write. I can Twitter. I can blog/vlog and endeavour to connect my book with readers. Readers are magic because they sprinkle fairly dust and they’re with your characters; turning each page, making them real.
My book is an invitation to connect with new people, of all ages, all around the world. I won’t feel awkward or have nothing to say because we’ll have Random Attachment in common. Yes, lots of folk will tell me how wrong I’ve got it, but honestly it won’t upset me. I’m a newbie, a wildcard; I am going to make mistakes. I’m a different generation to my readership so I’ll be out of touch; sometimes say the wrong thing. I’m actually my teenage self again, trying to find a place to fit in, unsure of myself, a bit fragile at times.
My female protagonists are not perfect. Nobody is. We are all flawed and talented in some way but that’s what makes us special and unique. I want girls to read my books then look in the mirror and know they are beautiful. There’s always those that will make you feel less than you are. You might be unable to cut them from your life because you live with them. I think that’s why teen years can be the hardest because you’re trapped; at home or at school. I imagine that’s how a lot of battered wives feel. Unless you’re wealthy you can’t just walk away from a marriage.
My male protagonists will never follow a stereotype. I’ve never met the perfect, 6ft, chiseled cheekboned, 6 packed man. My husband is small and roundish; during our marriage he’s been a villain and a hero.
Today I woke up fresh and I showered. That alone caused me to crumble. I’ve had to lay still til Tramadol kicked in. I’m moving poorly, my body is sluggish and unresponsive. I’m weeing every 15 minutes. What’s lovely though is I have purpose. I’m eager to check things out on Twitter. Then Amazon to see if I’ve any further reviews (only have 4). I check KDP to see if I’ve sold a book. Then I read some blogs.
Having any illness can be lonely, even when you’re surrounded by those you love. Especially neurological diseases and mental illness because the unseen disabilities often have the least support. I yearn to be an author because I need to live a fulfilling life; it’s self help for someone who spends long periods at home. Life doesn’t stop for others when you’re disabled; friends work and socialise, your kids move out and rightly have lives of their own; so it’s up to me to make things work.
So when you read my book not only are you bringing my characters to life, you’re bringing me to life. Thank you for that. X