My wishes for you as writers in 2010 are that:
- you make significant steps towards your dreams, with some well-deserved achievements
- your writing becomes ever more beautiful, clear and effective and that you learn to see it as your readers do
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???