Over Christmas a relative asked me the road to publication question, followed by the ‘what’s it about’ one. I realised how little practised I am in both, and thought I need to get some practice in. To the second I managed to bumble it’s about a woman who discovers that she’s not who she thinks she is when her son is diagnosed with a hereditary condition. To save his life she must unearth family history and secrets. I finished with a regrettable; it’s a kind of identity quest story. I think it’s better summed up thus: A former foreign correspondent must uncover the truth about her origins. Her son’s life depends on it. The first question was much easier to answer, if considerably more long-winded, and the answer is, I think, a great example of how life can take the most unexpected turns.
It's almost two years ago to the day that I printed out the first draft of my novel, BloodMining. It took twelve months to write; snatched hours in between working full- time and looking after my two little lads, GingerOne and GingerTwo. Although it was ropey I felt I'd achieved something. Like so many people I’d harboured an ambition to write a novel for years. I wasn't sure I could do it. I'd written non-fiction for much of my adult life, but fiction is SO much harder. But after penning a handful of short stories with minor success (they seemed manageable with a new born baby - GingerTwo – JK Rowling I'm not) I thought the time had come.
The first draft took twelve months, but it was a complete novel. I spent a further eight months redrafting and editing until it was in a state that I was, if not exactly proud of, not desperately ashamed of. I joined a writers' group and showed chapters to 'proper' authors: people who had masters’ degrees in creative writing and even had books of their own published. They were encouraging, and so I entered a debut novel competition. To my surprise I was long-listed. I wrote another draft and sent the first 10,000 words and synopsis to Roz Hart at Real Writers. Her comments blew my socks off. Once I’d finished basking in her praise (thank you, Roz, it meant the world to me, still does) I addressed the concerns she’d raised, those that resonated. When I set off on the journey I did not write with publication in mind, but I started to think maybe, just maybe...
So I wrote to half a dozen agents. Most said no immediately, but two were encouraging and asked to see the entire Ms. Whey-hey! In the end they both declined to represent me, but offered enough kind words to make me think it’d be worth battling on. In the meanwhile I entered two other competitions and this time I was short-listed in both. I wrote to another three agents and a handful of independent publishers. Although the odds are stacked against (independents publish, on average, just six novels a year) independents are more likely to take on unusual or first time novelists. Again, two came back asking to see the entire Ms. And again, both said that although they admired the book they didn’t love it enough to spend a not-inconsiderable sum of money and months of hard labour on it. I heard back from one competition: I had not won.
Pessimism set in. I re-read the book and was dismayed to find all sorts of things I hated about it. Some easily fixable, others more difficult to nail. It’s flawed, complete rubbish, I said. And by now I had almost completed the first draft of novel #2 and was having a whale of a time with it. Putting BloodMining in a virtual back cupboard, and consoling myself with the knowledge that few writers get their first book published, and how much I learnt along the way, I forgot all about it (almost).
Then one morning in October I received a call from the lovely Debz Hobbs-Wyatt at Bridge House. I’d won their debut novel competition! They wanted to publish the book! I was at work, in the staff-room, I had to sit down. For days I wandered round in a state of shock. I told few people; I didn’t believe it was real; I expected the ‘Gosh, I’m so, so sorry - we misread the winner’s name, it was Laura Wilson that won, not you,’ call. It never came and slowly, I came round to the idea that it was really going to happen.
Contracts have been exchanged, a designer has been appointed, marketing strategies are in discussion, I’m due to meet my editor, Gill James, this week, and I still can’t believe my good fortune. Thank you Bridge House for taking a chance on me.
If there’s a lesson here I guess it’s to take the work (as opposed to yourself) seriously, be critical, take criticism from those in the know, learn from it, be persistent and, possibly most importantly, keep writing.
I’m looking forward to another draft of BloodMining, and once that’s done doing the same for novel #2 and getting started on novel #3. I have lots of ideas, lots of background reading to do, and I’m excited about writing it. What more could I ask for?