Writing

And then, LIFE

It’s been a while since I blogged about anything vaguely personal or about writing. The reasons for this are several. Firstly, the first few months of the year, and the last few of last year, were taken up by marathon training. I’ve banged on about it loads AND it was ages ago AND nobody likes a gym bore, so all I shall say on that subject is that my life hasn’t  exactly been permanently transformed; nowadays I rarely run more than 5k, I won’t be puffing smugly past you on the pavements through the rain and snow, but I do wear my London 2013 t-shirt to bed.

My lack of lasting fitness, and lack of blogging, is because after the dual commitments of marathon-ing and elf-ing, I decided to give myself a little break. Which I think was fair enough. A week or two of catching up on my reading, hanging out on the sofa, watching a few films. Very healthy, very restorative. Except that that week or two stretched into a month, and then a bit longer, and then, all of a sudden, the summer was over. And now it’s almost November, I can just about stagger through 10k on a good day, and my blog is all neglected and dusty.

So, that’s sort of the reason I haven’t been saying anything. But I’ve also been having a bit of a crisis about what it is I actually have to say.

When you first get a publishing deal – no matter how well versed you are in the difficulties of the industry – you sort of expect to have crossed the finish line. You’ve done it, you’ve made it through, you have the contract and the cover and the people congratulating you on Facebook.

But things don’t always work out the way you want them to, for all sorts of reasons. Getting reviews is hard, working out how to position yourself is hard. There are a lot of people to get to know in the team around you, and though everyone wants the book to do the very best it can, that can’t always happen. The most daunting thing about being published is when you realise that THERE IS NO FINISH LINE. There is never going to be a point where you can sit back, contract in hand, and soak up all the cyber-congrats. Pushing a manuscript up the hill to final draft is tricky enough, but when you realise it’s never really going to level out to high ground… ANXIOUS FACE.

In the meantime, with the stubborn streak of blind optimism I’ve inherited from my father, a lifelong Luton Town fan, and the pig-headed love of a challenge which also landed me in a marathon vest and an elf hat, I’d decided to start again from scratch and try my hand at a YA novel, using a pseudonym. That particular project had been going on for about eighteen months of back and forth with my excellent agent, and ended with a submission at the end of last year. It was a nerve-wracking few weeks which thankfully were full of plenty of tiny Santa-fans to distract me, and the end result was one I’m sure most authors writing in the UK today know well: we like it, it’s well-written, but we don’t love it enough to take a chance on it.

It wasn’t the crushing moment I’d expected. YA is an extremely competitive market and I had begun writing because I “wanted to write a YA series”, not because I had a fantastic idea that just wouldn’t let go. Therefore, no matter how much I refined the writing, the characters, the setting, the central hook wasn’t, you know, hooky enough. It was only there at all because I’d fiddled around until I found it, and that, to me, is fundamentally the wrong way to approach any novel.

Still, though, it was a bruising experience, and I tried to put it behind me quickly. Book 2, my second novel for adults, written under my real name, was in its fourth or fifth draft, and I finally felt ready to share it. I did, and the feedback was that it was good, but that there was more work to be done.

And then, well, basically… LIFE. Life happened. My much-loved agent left the industry. It was the marathon*. Speak Easy took off. Deliverance started delivering to my postcode. LIFE HAPPENED.

*Oh god. I am a gym bore.

Thankfully, in the middle of all this dizzying life stuff, I was lucky enough to sign with my wonderful new agent, which was really the kick I needed. I eventually finished a sixth or seventh draft of my second novel, also fondly referred to as the San Fran novel, or LMD (you’ll see), and she loved it.

Like I said, things don’t always turn out the way you expected. Books and relationships don’t always work out, and there are often times when, having previously thought yourself securely landed, you find yourself flung out over the void again. And again. And the problem with publishing – love it though I do – is that it is LONG, my friends. Falling, and waiting to see if someone will catch you, takes days, weeks, sometimes months.

But sometimes you land. You do it, you make it through. Vintage will be publishing my second novel, also fondly referred to as the San Fran novel, in February 2015.

And now the work really begins.

A post-script: And then… More life

Amidst all the highly important takeaway/box-set dilemmas that took up my summer, something really huge happened. One of my dearest, dearest friends – one of the people who truly understands me best, who can make me laugh with the tiniest expression or inflection, who has sat up all night with me to rave about Jane Eyre (me) and Maggie Tulliver (her), who is one of the most joyful, witty, heart-led people I know – moved to India, where she is doing extraordinary work with an NGO and a literacy foundation. She writes an excellent blog about her experiences here and I can’t thank her enough for it; it makes me laugh and it makes me miss her, but it also makes me realise that, no matter what’s going on with manuscripts and contracts and submissions… there is, you know, LIFE.

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