Friday 1 January 2010


Happy New Year! May 2010 not bring all you wish for. Otherwise, what would there be left to wish for in 2011? May it also not bring all you deserve. Then all that would be left would be what you don't deserve, and that would never do.

My wishes for you as writers in 2010 are that:
  1. you make significant steps towards your dreams, with some well-deserved achievements
  2. your writing becomes ever more beautiful, clear and effective and that you learn to see it as your readers do
To start the year, blog-reader Catherine suggested that I should blog about how I felt when I got my first publishing deal. And how that first deal happened. Recently, I was asked to guest-blog about my journey through grim failure to publication; that blog post hasn't gone out yet and I don't want to pre-empt that, so I'll omit the story of horrible struggle and take you straight to when I realised I was going to be published as a novelist. Having said that, if you want to know something of the 21 years of awful failure, and its reasons, I've blogged about it here. [Edited to add: as you'll see in the comments, lovely Jane Smith of How Publishing Really works is going to post the full story, which I've never written about anywhere else, next week.]

So. I got news of my first novel contract in August 2001. I need to tell you a little about how it happened - though the first bit overlaps with part of the story on Jane's blog. Anyway, earlier that year, I'd been excited by my new WIP - Mondays are Red. I'd only written about a third of it but I felt I'd cracked it with this book. So, I became impatient and broke a cardinal rule: I sent it to an agent and two publishers. The rule being: NEVER submit a novel before you've finished. The agent and one publisher wanted to see the rest. [Bugger - should've seen that coming. After all, wasn't that what I wanted???] I explained to the agent that I hadn’t finished it yet, and to the publisher that I had interest from an agent and would be in touch "soon". I then wrote like a madwoman and sent the completed draft to the agent. She said a) she loved it but b) she was ill and had decided to stop taking new clients. GAH! I told the publisher that and sent them the rest of the book. Meanwhile, the second publisher, Hodder, rejected it. [Hold that thought.]

The first publisher was very excited but wanted a few changes. She also said I should get an agent. Yes, well, I'd been trying... I contacted two agents that day, one by letter because I couldn't find an email address and one by email. I included some glowing quotes from the excited publisher.

The agent whom I’d contacted by snail mail phoned as soon as she received it, and said she was very interested and wanted to see the rest, with a view to representing me. Yay!

When I next opened my emails, I found a reply from the agent I’d emailed, apologising for not contacting me immediately. She was interested. Yikes!

I contacted the first agent, explained the situation and said I needed to know if we were definitely going to be working together. Yes, she said. So, I said No to the other agent. I will repeat that rather extraordinary remark: I said no to an agent! Very politely, of course.

My new agent and I worked on Mondays are Red, and got it how she wanted it; but the publisher wanted one change too many and my agent advised that we go elsewhere, as she knew others who would love it. She was right, thank goodness.

Which publisher took Mondays are Red? Hodder, the publisher who had turned it down when I’d sent it on my own… Useful things, agents, in case any of you were wondering why you'd want one.

But now comes the bit I've never blogged about, the bit where I actually heard I'd got a contract. Or rather, that several publishers were interested and my agent was negotiating between them to decide which would be best. That sounds like a fabulous situation to be in, doesn't it? You'd think I'd be starry-eyed with excitement? Skipping around the place drinking sparkly stuff?

Sadly, no. The news came in stages, during several phonecalls over a few days, mostly as I stood in the car-park of Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, while my mother-in-law, Alison, was dying of cancer. Apart from my husband, Alison was the person who supported me most vehemently. She railed against every rejection, bemoaned the blindness of publishers who couldn't see my talent [in her opinion!], and constantly praised my resilience. She was genuinely and enormously interested and more than anything she wanted to see a novel in print with my name on the cover. If she'd lived, I would never have needed a publicity department; the sales reps would have had their very own unpaid sales force in Scotland; every acquaintance of hers, and there were very many, would have been firmly instructed to buy copies for every teenager they knew.

Alison died about a day after we finally heard that Mondays are Red was sold. Although she was unconscious all that time, I like to think she'd heard, too. A day or so before, my father-in-law and I were talking at her bedside, with her having shown no signs of awareness for a while, and I said something to him along the lines of, "You know, I think this book is really going to be published." And she said, with her eyes still shut but with a definite smile, "And about time, too." It was the last thing I remember her saying.

So, despite ending my 21 years of grim failure, news of publication for me was not marked by happiness. I was standing there in a hospital carpark, with my lovely new agent talking about possible film deals and definite publication dates and that it had been taken as a "key title", and how everyone had huge hopes for it, and I had to go back in out of the August sunshine and sit in a neurosurgical ward and watch Alison lose her battle for life.

The dedication in Mondays are Red reads, "In memory of Alison, whose belief in me was everlasting."
Funny, no-one's ever asked me who Alison was. Family and close friends know, of course. And now you do too.

I hope you all have an Alison to keep you going. She'd never read any of my attempted novels, because I didn't show them to anyone - but she believed in me anyway, because I believed in myself. In her opinion, anyone who kept trying as hard as I did deserved to succeed. She was wrong, of course - trying hard and long is not enough: we have to be good enough as writers. But she couldn't judge me on whether I was good enough, only on whether I worked hard enough. And for her continued belief in that I am most enormously grateful. I wish so much that she'd been around to see the end of the story.

There's something else she'd have done if she was alive: remind me how lucky I am to have come so far. Sometimes we need to do that, I think. You will all have had successes and improvements last year, made new contacts and potential readers, had feedback that has inspired or re-directed you, written something better than the last piece, grown as writers and people. So, I'll ask you to start the year by reminding yourself how far you have come, how your writing has improved in the last year, and setting yourself a higher target this year, a target which will only be possible because of what you have already achieved.

Good God, and I was supposed to start the year being crabbit. Someone please annoy me, for crying out loud. Proe, where are you when we need you???


DJ Kirkby said...

Well I've read lots of your posts before but this is my favourite of all. This post is just beautiful. It is also the first blog post I've read in 2010 and what a great way to start the year. Thank you and thanks for sharing Alison with us.

HelenMWalters said...

Now I have tears pouring down my face. Thanks for sharing that with us. It is so important to have someone who believes in you and it sounds like you had someone wonderful.

Jane Smith said...

I'll come clean and admit that I'm the person who asked Nicola to write about how she got published: she's provided me with TWO wonderful, moving and generally brilliant pieces, which I'll schedule for next week to complete this story.

And Nicola: I had tears in my eyes reading this. I'm so glad that you had Alison cheering you on, and that she knew you'd sold your book before she died; but what is clear to me is that your many publications are due entirely to your own shining talent and almost obsessive hard work.

I hope that 2010 brings you plenty more publication deals and lots of happiness, too. I love your blog because it's full of such good stuff: but also because through it, I met lovely you. Happy new year.

K M Kelly said...

That's a lovely story Nicola.

Catherine Hughes said...

Thanks for that fab post, Nicola.

I am lucky enough to have an Alison, too. My eldest daughter has unshakeable faith in my ability to write and to get published, and she is the leader of my team of teenage beta readers.

Last night, an old outstanding query was answered with a rejection. (It had been a very long time and I'd given up anyway, knowing that, if the agent had liked it, I would have found out fairly quickly.) It was a bit disappointing, but what really stung was that, when I replied, asking if they would like to see my latest WIP when complete, they responded with a flat-out 'no'.

I'm reasonably secure now about whether or not I can write, but it still hit hard. I know that this particular agent has but one YA writer on their books and no science fiction writers at all. I also know that, if my writing sucked, they would never have requested two full manuscripts from me. I know that, really, it's just got to be a good match and that there are many reasons why my stuff might not suit any given agent at any given time, only one of which is that my works absolutely sucks.

Still, it was a low note upon which to end the year. And my daughter was having none of it, as usual. Her faith in me is what really helps to keep me going - and my determination to justify that faith for her.

I'm beginning 2010 by starting a new WIP that hit me over Christmas, whilst also revising the NaNo project with the teen team. I have a plan, a timetable, and some irons in the fire, and I hope that your wishes and mine come true for us all!

Douglas Bruton said...

Great post. And so right to end by reminding us to look at how far we have come, even if it is against the crabbit old bat's philosophy to be so cheery at the start of a new year,

My dad passed away some years back, before he even knew that I was a writer. He creeps into my work sometimes - my Pushcart nominated piece this year is all about him! I wish he could have read it.

I am putting 2009 behind me now and all the good and the bad stuff that happened in that year. Many lessons learned and a better writer than I was. Ahead of me plans to do even better work.

Best wishes to all for 2010.

Harry Markov said...

I can't annoy you on this. This is too beautiful and can make one heck of a tearjerker episode in a medic drama TV series.

Simply stated, this is one touching and beautiful post and I think the best way to start 2010. Who's to say that you can't go crabbit the remaining 364 days. Eh, eh, eh?

Sally Zigmond said...

I have only one thing to say in response to this, Nicola.

Thank you.

Lauri said...

I know I've been fairly adept at annoying you a few times here but today I hold my hands up in surrender. I shall not. This was a lovely post in so many ways.

Yes, complacency has no place in a writer's life-always we must keep that big unfulfilled dream out there, and we all need an unwavering Alison, happy you had yours.

Now I must go for tissue.

Unknown said...

Thank you

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Wonderful story, Nicola, thank you for sharing. And thank you for giving of yourself and your expertise to become an "Alison" yourself for so many aspiring authors.

I am looking forward to following your blog in 2010, and in seeing how many of your followers get that first contract this year.

Marisa Birns said...

A beautiful, inspiring, heartfelt post for the start of the new year.

Many people would love an Alison in their lives, as a supporter or as a mother-in-law. I wondered about your father-in-law after the loss and hope he fared well.

Here's to reaching that higher target this year!

Marshall Buckley said...

So touching.

I'm sure many of us have lost family members who we would so dearly have loved to have read -or even just known about - our writing. At least Alison knew.

A beautiful blog to start the year. Thank-you.

Jemi Fraser said...

We all need a little Alison in our lives. She sounds like such a lovely lady.

Queenie said...

This is such a beautiful, poignant post. I'm so sorry for your loss - I know it was eight and a half years ago, but grief doesn't have a sell-by date, does it? Still, Alison left you one helluva legacy, and that's something to celebrate alongside every writing success. May you have many more of those in 2010.

Go away google said...

That is indeed a very affecting post. I tend to find that good news long wished-for often comes at a time when it's overshadowed by something bigger and darker, so it doesn't look as shiny as it did when it was still a dream.

emmadarwin said...

A lovely post, Nicola, thank you. And, yes, New Year is for looking back, as well as looking forward. It's too easy to be mired in the problems of the present and shaken by qualms for the future (just say 'e-book' to anyone in the trade...), and to forget to look back and be happy with the good things which have happened, even if someone who mattered can't know about them.

Administrator said...

Very moving post, Nicola. And inspiring.

Funny, i've always started the New Year thinking ahead, instead of looking back at what i have achieved, however small. I much prefer that as a way of doing things. Thanks for the advice.

Sarah said...

Oh, wow, Nicola. Thank you.

Marcie Steele said...

Lovely post Nicola. I've read a few posts now that have inspired me to write a different blog post than I would have done, had I not spent most of the day on the sofa with a bad head...

All the best for 2010 x

catdownunder said...

Nicola Morgan is not a crabbit.

Elizabeth Madden said...

I discovered your blog towards the end of last year, and I've found every posting of yours interesting, informative, sometimes funny and often inspirational, as this one is, so I wish you all the very best & hope to continue enjoying both your novels & your splendid blog for a long time.

Very best wishes,

Elizabeth M.

Clare said...

Thank you, Nicola, for sharing your memories of Alison with us - she sounds like a very lovely lady.

What a moving and motivating post to start the year on - crabbitness has its' place but thank you for an uplifting start to the New Year.

Stroppy Author said...

What a fantastic and moving post with which to start the year, Nicola - thank you. I have nothing to be stroppy about :-)

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Happy New Year, Nicola. Thank you for all your support for writers everywhere.

Jane Smith said...

Nicola, I've just scheduled the first part of your "How I Got Published" story for Friday morning, and am going to schedule the second part for the following Friday. And if anyone is wondering, they're both just as beautiful and inspiring and potentially weepy as this post of yours, and I'm glad you've let me showcase them.

Have a wonderful new year, dear friend.

Nicola Morgan said...

Thank you all, so much. You clearly all identify. There's a lot of similarity between us writers, isn't there, whatever stages we're at?

Jane - you old softy! I should reassure everyone by stressing that no one dies in the other stories... And I don't believe you'll cry, but I hope you'll feel some more resonance.

Caroline Green said...

That has both inspired and touched me. Thank you, Nicola.

Rosaria Williams said...

Hi. I've arrived from An Awfully Big Blog, needing inspiration. I read the entire post and feel better. Thank you.

Jo Franklin said...

What a lovely touching story, Nicola, You are an inspiration to us all.

Rebecca Knight said...

What a wonderful start to the New Year :).

Your hard work and persistance have definitely inspired me. It's priceless to have someone with such firm belief in you through it all.

Good point, too, about looking back at what we've achieved and letting it inspire us to set the bar higher. Good luck to you and everyone here this year!

Andrea said...

Very lovely, very nice, very beautiful story Nicola! Good one! Keep it up!