The Agent

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.

henry front coverHow 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.

IIMG_0314 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

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Jafaris myelopathy & me

It’s midweek and I’ve been yo-yoing between conquering social media and hiding under the quilt. Editing one book and trying to sell another. Wobbling about the coffee shop to whaling on the sofa. Oh and going to the loo like every fifteen minutes. Kids, Music, Marriage, Writing, Two Barking Dogs and Books are my life.  Here’s my latest vlog, that I’ve edited badly but life is one long lesson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXuDkpZeg84&t=91s

 

Merry Christmas

Christmas is a funny time for myelopathers.  Maybe some of us feel under pressure to produce the perfect Christmas day and are already stooped in pain and it’s only Christmas Eve. Maybe others isolate themselves because they lack the energy to get dressed and join in with family.  We say ours is a hidden disability but I think that is sometimes an excuse we make because our families lack empathy. When I move it’s all too obvious that something is amiss.  The pain of course invisibly attacks the nervous system but I think it’s evident in my grimace and the way my body caves inwards that I’m suffering.

I don’t personally know any of you…but I think about you…my friends united against this horrible degenerative disease.  I hope that your family and friends are kind to you, that they rally round you…that they understand your limitations.

I never imagined seven years ago when I was diagnosed that the battle would be this huge, this gruelling, this demoralising.  If you’d asked me then was I coping…I’d say there wasn’t anything I couldn’t conquer.  Right now I feel like I’m at war with myself. I’m a person I don’t recognise.  I’m jumpy, anxious, easily upset, unable to form coherent sentences, all weekend I’ve called Kitty’s boyfriend Jack when his name is Zac.  He’s such a dear, he worked out that becames my other daughter’s partner is James I was mixing the two together.  I can’t remember anything.  Historically it’s been my husband who upsets the apple cart, right now it’s me…which adds to my guilt.  Other than being in constant pain…I’m ticketty boo.

Regardless of everything I have just moaned about I couldn’t be happier.  On Saturday I sat enjoying a Christmas lunch with the five people I love most in the world.  I used to say to them I love you more than all the desserts in the world, all the seas and when I look at my husband, sons and daughters I know I am the luckiest person.  They totally get me, they know the ugly side of me and they do whatever they can to make me as comfortable and supported as anyone with a painful disability can be.

And I want that for you all this Christmas. I think right now if you feel unhappy or distressed you should stop doing what you are doing.  It’s better to have beans on toast and feel as well and as happy as you can be.  If your family are taking you for granted and letting you dig a hole for yourself tidying and cooking you owe it to yourself to say no this is to much, no I’m not coping.

I’ve had serious mental health issues this year.  I’ve never been so glad to see the back of of a year in my life.  I’ve nearly ruined Christmas; I just managed to pull myself together for the family meal. I know I need to keep communicating with my family, to admit when I’m in pain, to not physically push myself because I’m gaining weight which I hate.

Yes I’m disabled, yes my life is very limited, but I can’t expect others to know how bad I feel if I don’t tell them. It’s my responsibility to ask for help.  I owe it to my family to ask for help.

I’m taking control of my life back by escaping into writing, by blogging and now vlogging.  I am going to shout from the rooftops that I feel like I’ve been twisted inside out I’m in so much pain, that’s what cervical myelopathy does to you…But there is always hope and sunny days ahead.  Great things are ahead of us.  Be vocal. Cry. Sing. Argue…but don’t suffer silently.  You deserve better.

Happy Christmas myelopathers.  Thank you for being there for me through https://www.facebook.com/groups/myelopathy.support/ Thank youhttps://www.facebook.com/myelopathy.org/   I intend to raise money through Jen’s bookclub The BB’s, who are so brilliant with me, my book sales – if anyone needs a present for 14+ to adult ladies please buy Random Attachment, 10% of royalties go to Myelopathy.org and 10% to YMCA West London https://www.amazon.co.uk/RANDOM-ATTACHMENT-Gertrude-T-Kitty/dp/1790375347/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1544651916&sr=8-3&keywords=random+attachment

And lastly if anyone wants to get to know me better and my take on myelopathy please check out my youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCwao3_-p4ISUoWlVOhZYnsQ