So, hey! This is my first blog. Although I’ve written books and plays and other bits over the years, I’ve never actually tried to blog before. So you’ll have to excuse me, I’m sure I’ll gallop through all the faux pars with blind ignorance and more than likely upload at least one post (probably this one) with a glaring spelling or grammatical mistake. Although I flounce around under the façade of being a writer, I am terrible at spelling and grammar. And, unlike my book, my blog unfortunately does not have an exceptionally clever Editor waiting in the wings with their pencils finely sharpened and their mugs steaming with tea. So, please forgive me. I’ll try my best, but let’s face it, I’m relying quite heavily on word.
I thought for my first blog post I would write about how I got to where I am today. Which, now I’ve typed it, makes it sound like I’m making some elaborate Oscar acceptance speech and I’m going to start listing off every soul that ~ helped me along the way ~. I don’t mean that.
When I was writing and desperately trying to get signed by a Literary Agent, I would scour the internet for any clues or gaping big secrets that I was missing out of. I don’t come from a family of writers, before I got signed I actually didn’t know anyone who had written a book, let alone worked in publishing. So, basically, I just wanted to know how all of these clever writers bloody did it. What were they doing that I wasn’t? How could I get there? So, I’m writing this blog post in hope that it might help somebody along the way.
(If my Editor did have the power to scribble over this blog post before I posted it, I’m sure she would have questioned my sudden obsession with the word ‘so’. Am I trying to talk like a cool, urban school teacher? Or am I subconsciously writing as if this is a continuous whatsapp message to one of my friends? Will I upload my next blog as a droning, unsolicited voice note? Who knows?)
Anyway. Right. Back to what I’m meant to be writing about. My writing journey.
I know it’s cheesy and every writer will say this, but I have been writing all my life in one way or another. I always knew I loved it, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. Then, aged fifteen, I had my fateful careers meeting at school where I babbled on about my two favourite subjects: English and Drama. The careers advisor politely showed me some options, which heavily focused on being either an English Teacher, or a Drama Teacher. That was enough for me to shelf any idea of being an author, which I did for six years, while I went off and chased the idea of working in theatre. In hindsight, although I was pretending that I’d forgotten about being a writer, I spent my entire three year Drama degree making up stories with my friends and modelling them into plays, but it wasn’t until I wrote a play for my dissertation that I remembered how much I loved writing. I handed my play in on a Monday, and on the Tuesday, I opened my laptop and started to write.
The next day I got signed.
Lol. Kidding, obviously. At the time I was devastated that the first book I wrote wasn’t snapped up by a flurry of publishers the second I’d typed ‘the end’. Looking back, thank god nobody did. I kept hearing (and aggressively ignoring) the phrase ‘kill your darlings’. I should have butchered them in their sleep.
So! It took me eight months to write my first book, and after receiving my copy of The Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book I spent a year sending it out to Literary Agents. One of the many mistakes I made was not researching the Agents properly. I did click about on their websites, and check that they represented my genre, but I didn’t research who they represented and who they worked with. I was lucky that I found Sarah. Also, I should add, it took me a while to work out what my genre actually was. I always thought it fell into ‘commercial’, but I didn’t fully understand what that word meant.
I got some real words of encouragements, and a full MS request in the first three months of sending it out, but ultimately I got rejected. A lot. I’ve heard it said that if you receive twelve rejections then you should give up and write something else. I think I probably got about forty. I didn’t keep count for my sanity, but I spent a year sending it out and I was quite ruthless. So I’ll let you do the maths. Then, one year of solid rejection later, Sarah Manning (who is now Sarah Hornsley) replied and asked to read the full MS (manuscript, in case you didn’t know, it took me months to work out what the hell everyone meant by that). I sent it over, and one week later I got my first rejection from Sarah, but she told me to keep going and wanted to read what I wrote next. That was enough for me, and it was then that I realised that Sarah was going to be my Agent one day (cue musical number). I just had to follow her advice and write a better book. I opened another blank document, and started writing my second novel.
I made quite a big mistake shortly after writing ‘chapter one’. I was convinced that I needed to write this novel at the speed of light, or Sarah might forget about me. I also thought if I wrote it really quickly, she’d be super impressed and that would be a sure way for her to sign me. Neither of these points are true. What actually happens, is writing a book in six weeks (whilst working full time) just leaves you with a novel that isn’t that good. Or, it did for me anyway. I didn’t really edit it, or put it in a drawer to rest for me to come back to, I typed ‘the end’ and whooshed it back off to Sarah in blind determination that she’d reply instantly and I’d be signed. That didn’t happen. Sarah read my full MS again, and sent me back some more constructive and very kind feedback. This time, she also suggested I read a book called Save the Cat. I spent a week licking my wounds, and then ordered it online. Amongst all of this, I think I received about another thirty rejections. It took me a while to let that book go. I still think it will reappear at some point in my life, but I’ll spend longer than six weeks on it. Much longer.
Something else I should add that in this time, I also entered The Bath First Novel Award and didn’t get onto any long lists. The writers who get selected are so fantastic, but I thought I should mention that too as a heads up that if that happens to you, keep going. Write something else. Write something better.
I devoured Save the Cat and now shove it in the face of anyone who wants to talk about writing. It changed the way I write, and I now swear by it. But, something quite disconcerting happened after I’d given up on book two. I stopped writing. I’d gone from writing obsessively for two years, to suddenly not being able to write at all. I had no ideas, and suddenly no desire to write. This terrified me. I thought that was it, that my dream of being a writer wasn’t real. How could I so desperately want to be a writer when I couldn’t write anything? This weird dry spell lasted eight months. I didn’t really tell many people, as I didn’t want to come across as a flake. I’d banged on about my books for the past two years, it was the only think that mattered to me. How could I suddenly not care anymore?
The idea for The List That Changed My Life formed very slowly. It actually was the culmination of skits and snippets I had written down over a five year period (although, it took me forever to realise it). I won’t give too much away about the plot, but one day, I sat in front of my housemate Anna and had a small (ish) tantrum about how I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t write anything, I hated this idea I had for a book and what the hell was I even doing? She listened patiently, one eye on Dinner Date, and watched me stomp into the kitchen and make myself a pity tea. About six minutes later, the final piece of my plot fell into my brain. I ran back into the living room, jerked my laptop open, and started writing again.
I wrote this book obsessively, the ideas snowballed into my mind and I had such a clear idea of who Georgia was, she practically wrote herself. Once I had finished my first draft (which was about 70k, much, much smaller than my other books), I closed my laptop for a month and did not look at it once. Which is very hard when you’re self-employed, work from home and have the self-restraint of a starving toddler. I almost ate my own arm out of frustration. I then edited it to the best of my ability, drafted an army of my most intelligent friends to scan it and ensure I was using ‘their’ ‘there’ and ‘they’re’ correctly, and then, with all my muscles clenched, I sent it back to Sarah. Four days later, she signed me. One month later, after my book went into auction, I signed a two book deal with Headline Review, and The List That Changed My Life has since sold in Brazil, Germany, Poland, Portugal and France. Madness.
Since being signed, I have been very lucky to meet a variety of authors across genres, and what I have learnt is that there is no clear way to get a Literary Agent or a book deal. Every writer is different. Some writers spend twenty years crafting their novels, while others have stories fly out of their fingers like literary rockets. I wanted to share my journey to reassure anyone who is batting off rejections to keep going, and what I have learnt is that there is no right or wrong way to get signed. Every writer gets rejected, every writer hates writing a synopsis. Every writer just keeps on writing.