Dear lovely Blog Readers
This week I was preparing to go to one of my Writing Groups – one that encompasses writers from a Christian faith tradition, whether our writing is faith-based or otherwise. Our co-ordinator sent an email reminding us that:
‘The subject chosen was Hopes and Fears in the hope that you might be inspired by Christmas, Advent, personal events, or political upheavals.’
Well, I thought, my biggest ‘Fear’ at the moment is sharing my news with the writing group – and with you dear blog readers – the news that I delivered my new novel Westminster Bridge to my agent and that she does not engage with it enough to pick it up.
When I found an agent who believed in my book after nearly two decades of trying (in this case my previous novel Out of Silence) I felt like I had somehow ‘arrived’ as a writer. Out of Silence was a book that wrote itself, one that felt like a ‘coming of age’ of my writing – as one of my lovely friends described it. It developed from a strong simple idea that grew organically as I wrote. I felt that the quality of my writing had moved on in some way. I never for a moment thought that the next book would almost take me backwards.
Writing Westminster Bridge felt, at times, like the proverbial pulling of teeth. I worked through this and grew to love my characters and their story and yet still something would not fully hang together like it did in Out of Silence. I wondered whether part of this was writing it knowing that my agent was, at some point, awaiting its delivery. Another question all along has been the storyline. When I first started Westminster Bridge I was encouraged by my agent to provide her with the ideas I was working on so that she had this information to give to the publishers who she sent Out of Silence to. I sent my ideas – quite fluid and not developed into a full story yet – for a book that was going to be called Starfish Edge. My agent felt there was not enough substance so I developed more ideas and a stronger and somewhat different storyline; I added more backstory for one of the characters at her suggestion. Eventually this developed into Westminster Bridge.
I wrote and researched Westminster Bridge for 15-20 hours a week on top of my paid job for over a year and now I have to ‘park’ this book and accept that it is simply not good enough. My agent wrote a very tactful and kindly worded email to give me a chance to absorb the news before we spoke. She said:
‘I’ve now had a chance to read Westminster Bridge, and this is very difficult to say, because I know, as with everything you do, how much time and thought you have given to it, but I am afraid I just didn’t connect with it at the level I was hoping to.’
A week later we spoke and both realised something had gone awry in the translation of the way I was working on this book, the effect on the quality of my writing, and the expectations my agent had. In addition, despite much praise from publishers, Out of Silence has not found a publishing home. I finally have to accept that I am unlikely to become traditionally published in the way that I’d hoped.
My feelings are so mixed, dear reader. I feel a deep sadness that all my ‘Hopes’ with respect to my writing have now reached what feels like the end of the line, but I also feel a great freedom that my time, and in some way my life, has been handed back to me. I realise now that what was driving me was more a need for ‘recognition’ of my writing than any kind of financial reward. I intend to stop writing for the moment, and to have breathing space for life and other endeavours.
My friends say: you will always be a writer, you can do it for yourself in the way that suits you. Maybe they are right, but my standards for myself are high and in Westminster Bridge I have failed to meet them. I’ll never say ‘never’, but I can’t imagine writing another novel while so many (four to date) sit on the shelf unread. Maybe I’ll return to a shorter form, like poetry, or simply go back to the pleasure of having more time to read. My agent has agreed to keep me in contract with her and should I write another book she is willing to look at it. The door is still ever-so-slightly open…
In the meantime I have the inclination to put Out of Silence into a public arena where it is available to an audience, however small. I don’t fancy self-publishing, or all the marketing and self-promotion palaver that goes along with it, but I think that I might serialise the book on this Blog from the new year. Available to all, free, waiting for those who find it by chance.
© Anne de Gruchy