1

Plotlines – Mysteries and Miracles!

A Round Robin Post

For the second time, my patient readers, I am participating in a Round Robin blog post. The topic we have been asked to address this time is:

When you are stumped on moving a plot line forward, what do you do to reinvigorate your imagination and get your characters moving?

Now those who also vaguely follow my Twitter rantings will know that I have been laid low for the last few weeks with a horrible (and I mean HORRIBLE) virus type thing. This has involved recurrent fevers, feeling constantly sick and dizzy, a wracking cough and blood pressure descended so low that I blacked out and injured my pelvis in the resultant fall. One result of all this is that I have felt too ill to stand up, yet alone manage any kind of computer work or writing, and the second result is that I got so despondent and sorry for myself that I stopped believing I could write at all.

Thus, I have had a proper mega-crisis about whether I can write the book I am currently in the middle of, which has included me getting all negative about things like my plot and characters.

If I’m honest, I actually quite like my plot and characters. I feel I have a reasonable storyline and some themes that will be fascinating to explore in more detail. My characters wake me at night demanding I write that next scene, but I simply feel too ill to do so. The question I am asking myself, though, is ‘am I playing to my strengths with this book?’.

The trouble I am finding is that I have a wider plot and list of settings than I normally work with, some of which are not that familiar to me and will require a lot of research (which is very interesting so far) or some active visits. I’ve just got to that ‘loss of self-belief’ place about whether I can do this. I look at the book I am trying to find a home for currently (with the help of my wonderful agent) and it seems so simple by comparison – on mainly safe home ground, although clearly I do not have personal experience of being a serial killer!

So what do you do when you get stuck like this?

Well, firstly experience tells me to sit it out. I have written three novels so far and there have always been periods of diminishing self-belief to contend with, and when I simply persevered and put the time in I eventually wrote through the periods and came out feeling all fired up about my book and characters again. The other lesson I learned was that my writing did not differ hugely in quality depending on whether I was simply ‘plodding on’ or feeling all positive and engaged.

Secondly, experience tells me never to make decisions or big changes when you don’t feel well!

I think that my history of learning to deal with plotlines and characters is interesting, though. My first novel had a strongly linear theme (woman coming to terms with the loss of a baby by travelling round Scotland with a complete stranger) which seemed to appeal to the agents I sent it to, but they didn’t ‘engage’ enough with my characters to pick this up. I think this book was very much my learning piece. I plotted it out in such detail in advance that I didn’t give it, or the characters, enough room to breathe. When I started my second novel I probably over-compensated by giving my characters so many experiences and traumas that I lost some of the intensity and descriptive qualities that were good in the first book. Writing this in the first person didn’t help, although it was immensely enjoyable to do. In book three, the one that is being offered out at the moment, I feel that all my learning curves came together and at last I got it right.

So what made it work? Well, I had such a strong idea of the two main characters and what connected them that writing them and their story seemed to almost dictate the plotline and pace, even though I had quite a detailed plotline and overview drawn up in advance. I let the characters breathe.

When I got stuck with the storyline for the book I’m currently working on I went to one of the ‘Summer Taster’ workshops that Nottingham Writers’ Studio was running. The workshop looked at Plot. It seemed an odd thing to do when I already had a lot of ideas down, I just wasn’t sure how to structure them and drive them forward. Although the workshop used a very simple ‘tentpole’ method to look at plotting, it made me really see my story with fresh eyes. In the end I realized that to make it work I had to add a couple of extra ‘flashpoints’ in relation to one of my themes, and also that the character whose story I was most interested in was not the one I expected!

So: perseverance, being willing to revisit the plot and characters you have with fresh eyes, never being afraid to change focus if the characters seem to be demanding it.

Now I just have the less than simple task of finding that elusive ‘self-belief’…

Photograph: One of my many methods of working out a plotline! Flipchart, coloured pens, stick-on events/scenes that can be juggled, strands for each character. This plotline never actually made it into being, but maybe one day…

annedegruchy.co.uk image: flipchart with plot outline

Check here for other people’s takes on how to deal with getting stumped in the middle of your plot:

Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Marie Laval http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-137
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

© Anne de Gruchy

14

Talking about Genre (or: Trying to avoid the ‘L’ Word!)

A Round Robin Post

Hello dear friends and brave blog-readers.

Today I am going on a new adventure – I am trying out a blog-post for a writing-related ‘Round Robin’ that I discovered through a fellow member of the Book Connectors Facebook page. Here’s how it works:

Each month I will receive a new topic that I can choose to write about if it appeals to me. There is a specific date for publication, with other bloggers who are interested also posting on that subject on the same day. At the bottom of our posts we will all provide links to the other blogs that have participated. Thus you can dip into a whole series of alternative views on that topic should you feel like a marathon read.

www.annedegruchy.co.uk image: a shelf of books

Here is the topic I was asked to address today:

Whatever genre you write, do you have a different one that you love to read? What do you think attracts readers to certain genres?

Well, my first thought was: don’t get me started!

Genre is one of those things that people often ask about if you tell them that you’re a writer. ‘What kind of books do you write,’ they ask. ‘Literary fiction,’ I reply. Here there is usually a long pause and then, inevitably, the killer question: ‘What’s “literary fiction”?’

This is not something I find easy to answer. I think it’s obvious; other people clearly do not.

I looked up ‘literary’ in the online Oxford Dictionary which came up with the following: ‘Concerning the writing, study, or content of literature, especially of the kind valued for quality of form’.

Great, I thought – although it can sound a bit arrogant if you use the ‘quality’ word as it seems to imply that other forms of literature are less than acceptable in this department. Further, the dictionary suggested that, in relation to language, ‘literary’ is associated with writing that has ‘a marked style intended to create a particular emotional effect’.

I’m not sure about that, and it does all seem a little vague. I am definitely a sucker for emotion though, and for anything that moves me or makes me think deeply about things. If I look honestly at my own novels it’s possibly only the most recently finished one that would fully qualify as ‘literary’. The one before might be ‘commercial women’s fiction with a literary bent’, whatever that is – but thereby hangs another tale.

I do have a get-out clause to explain what ‘literary fiction’ is when people ask me: anything that is likely to be entered for the Booker Prize. And, to be honest, this is also my favourite type of thing to read. Give me John Banville or Jon McGregor any day over romance or crime or steampunk (although that is rather fun). My favourite books of all time would include The Bone People by Keri Hulme (yes, it won the Booker) and Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton-Walsh (full of amazing ideas, and yes, a Booker shortlistee).

I find it interesting that I have attracted an agent who does not fully share my overly literary tastes. Her background, workwise, is slightly more commercial and also crime-orientated. When I described my reading tastes to her they included authors that she simply doesn’t get on with – I was reading Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child at the time. I do find it comforting that when I heard Alan Hollinghurst speak about his writing process it was remarkably similar to my own. Maybe this is an omen that there is hope for me yet in getting that publishing deal!

But I am a wide reader and I always have some non-fiction on the go, too. I am very into philosophy and spiritual writing, and am currently enjoying a brilliant translation of Rilke’s Book of Hours, subtitled Love Poems to God. I love poetry. And I’m not averse to the occasional foray across the fiction genres – for instance I enjoyed Stieg Larssons’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the rest of the Millennium Trilogy (it helped that I also have a dragon tattoo so there was an inbuilt affinity from page one).

So what do I think attracts readers to certain genres?

Well it’s so personal that I find it hard to say. I’m told that, however literary your work, you still need a good plot with a hook and direction and engaging characters, but I could give you examples of books that break that rule and still work. It helps though, whatever the genre, to be carried along with the characters and what they want to achieve; to feel that you are in good hands and will arrive at your destination without disappointment.

Personally, I love language. I love rhythm and metre and the way writing can make you sense and feel the things that the author is describing. I like an emotional journey as well as a practical one. I like ambiguous endings that don’t wrong-foot you at the last minute.

I do find it interesting that many of the writers that I like are men. I think that there can be a divide between the sexes in tastes, and where authors want to appeal across the gender divide they sometimes resort to de-sexing themselves by using initials. Think P D James or J K Rowling. I have not checked this statistically, but I suspect that men are much less likely to buy a book that they know is written by a woman. Women, however, seem to be more willing to cross the divide. (I have just done a little online search on this and discovered a Goodreads survey from a couple of years ago that showed an overwhelming proportion of books read – by both the sexes – were written by authors of the same gender, however the authors had branded themselves. I am always happy to be proved wrong!)

So… Perhaps readers make assumptions about what a book will be like depending on who has written it, and perhaps they have a better chance of liking it if they do! They also make assumptions based on the cover. Look at how standardized the styling of different genres has become, and at the repackaging of books aimed at young people with alternative covers to also appeal to an adult audience. We are a gullible lot, and well led by the media and the publishing industry.

But this cover ‘uniformity’ and branding by genre (dark pictures with big author names in silver letters equals ‘thriller’, etc) reflects what is probably a wider truth – people love the reassurance of what is familiar. They like to dip into a new book knowing that it will ‘fit’ like a comfy pair of old slippers. They stick with what they know. How they decide which genre constitutes a comfy pair of old slippers for them is another story.

Maybe there’s a case for simply going into a bookshop or an online store and choosing the fourth book along, on the third row down, and seeing whether, without prejudice, you might just happen to like it after all…

© Anne de Gruchy

Now check out what some other authors think about the subject of genre…

Skye Taylor http://www.askyetaylor.com/blogging_by_the_sea/view/542
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-11v
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Kay Sisk http://www.kaysisk.com/blog
Rachel Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/

5

Edifying Editing Experiences

Well! It has been a while, hasn’t it, since I last ventured a blog post. Is working very very hard a good enough excuse?

By working I don’t just mean my new paid employment. This takes up the first part of my week and involves a job back in the field of mental health. This is my ‘real’ work – the thing that isn’t writing, the thing that actually pays the bills. It also makes me feel like a bona fide member of society again after two years out of paid work caring for my dad and making progress with my books.

But, why shouldn’t being a writer and a carer also make me feel like a bona fide member of society? This is a question I often ask myself, and I suppose it comes down to what I’m actually paid to do. Maybe if (oops, I mean ‘when’!) we sell my book I will actually feel that my writing counts.

When I typed that last sentence I originally put ‘if I sell my book’, then I had to delete the ‘I’ in favour of a ‘we’. This highlights rather well the difference that having an agent has made. (Did you know I now have an agent? Did you know it took me 17 years on-and-off to get there? I know – I’m beginning to be a bore on the subject!). Anyway, I now have the lovely Julia Silk from MBA Literary & Script Agents on my side. And that’s what it feels like – that there is genuinely someone there for me, who believes in my writing and is working alongside me to make the book the best it can be with the aim of finding a publishing home for it.

The whole process of actually signing up with an agency has been pretty nerve-wracking as well as exciting. Firstly there was the trip to London to meet with Julia, and the relief of getting on as well as I thought we would from our telephone conversations and email correspondence. We see eye to eye on my writing and the things that need to be done, and I respect her professional expertise. I knew we could build a relationship of trust. Then there was the scary nature of contracts and all things legal – it was with great relief that I joined the Society of Authors as an Associate Member and received advice from them. A lot of hand-holding was needed. Finally there was the scary nature of handing over the whole manuscript for in depth perusal and editing suggestions from someone else.

For me my books are, cliché that it is, a bit like children. I’ve moulded and refined them, had critiques and feedback, edited and refined again, then sent them out into the world in what I felt was the best shape I could muster. The characters can get stroppy and determined to have their way, but you love them nonetheless. When you get an agent, or indeed a publisher, you are suddenly in deeper waters – trusting your book to the close scrutiny of people who have expertise in the industry but who may not necessarily agree with you about what’s needed. They also have invaluable insights into what will actually sell.

And so it was that I awaited Julia’s suggestions with trepidation. She painstakingly went through the whole manuscript and not only lightened it by 4,000 words, but recommended that I took out a further 5,000. Descriptions that interrupted the flow of the story or messed up the tension were gone, gone, gone. I opened the document nervously and started reading.

What a relief it was to find that, on the whole, I agreed with her suggestions! Even where she had excised passages I felt a little precious about, I could still see why they needed to go. In the whole manuscript there was only one suggested deletion that I have asked to remain in!

Furthermore, the process of my own edit and cull of words felt positive and liberating, and I do feel we have a better book for it. Working one particular character into the plot earlier and enhancing her role also worked well. The manuscript has now winged its way back to Julia and yet again the ball is in her court.

So editing has proved an edifying experience. Now there is just the task of refining and agreeing changes and Julia developing and delivering her pitch to her selected publishers. That, and beginning the process all over again on a whole new book!

And, as for my dad, he is settled and happy at a care home close to me. Although his cancer is proving a little troublesome and his memory remains largely non-existent, we are going out together at least twice a week enjoying strolls with his dog (who is homed with a staff member), concerts, and plenty of meals out. Today we went out and bought him a sunhat. Of course he chose a classic and elegant design just like him!

MAD MOMENT

Setting off for a 10 mile walk over Beeley Moor with a forecast of rain, rain, rain! That, and the fact that there were 15 of us who risked it…

Image:  annedegruchy.co.uk - Beeley Moor

MARVEL MOMENT

Just being back in a job and enjoying it!

© Anne de Gruchy

7

Twitter: Love or Hate?

Twitter and tweeting has been a lot on my mind lately.

To be honest, I feel a bit of antipathy towards Twitter, and also to the whole alter-universe that is social media. Perhaps I am a product of my generation – someone who grew up with a life that was not constantly interrupted by the internet. Someone for whom mobile phones and personal computers of any kind did not exist until I was a mature(?!) fully-formed adult who felt able to choose or reject their intervention into my life. Or perhaps simply someone, like most generations, who does not feel fully at home with the new technology that is outpacing them.

For many years I ranted against social media. I felt uncomfortable about lack of privacy and control over who saw the things that I shared, and, if I’m honest, I felt that relationships formed online surely could not match up to the integrity and depth of relationships made face-to-face. I did not like the idea of being forced to adopt technology by a market that was playing for profit rather than genuine social cohesion.

Eventually, to the amazement of my friends, I caved in. My progress onto Facebook was largely fuelled by the fact that my lodger always knew what was going on locally and I didn’t. He would be off to some intriguing music gig or discussion group and I would be saying ‘how did you find out about that?’ and he’d say ‘Facebook’. It happened too often to be ignored. Now, Facebook is one of the main ways I find out about events and share pictures with family and friends. It also forms a useful reminder system for someone with a rubbish memory. ‘You have eight events coming up this week’ dear old FB will flash at me. Of course that is the other problem – there is so much going on that if you tick an interest in everything you are swamped with choice. It is not an incentive to peace or personal space.

Twitter, on the other hand, I find harder. I properly embraced many forms of social media a few years ago when I stopped paid employment to focus on my writing and caring for my father. I knew that if I was serious about getting my writing ‘out there’ I needed to engage with others through social media. Websites and blogs and Twitter accounts are some of the first things an agent or publisher will look at when considering taking on a writer and their work. I was surprised at how much I took to some of these media, but Twitter is still a bit of a mystery.

In some ways I get it and I love it. I get that I can engage with the thoughts and ideas of people from all backgrounds from all over the world. I get that news comes instantly, and responses follow like my cat trailing me when I have a plate of hot toast with melted butter on top. (There wouldn’t be melted butter on top for long if my cat had his way). I also get that people are not always who they say they are, and that a certain amount of caution and intuitive cynicism needs to be exercised. I get that the whole Twittersphere is incestuous in the ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ culture – tweet me and I’ll tweet you, like my stuff and I’ll like back – which is what I find mind-numbingly difficult. It doesn’t feel ethical and it doesn’t encourage people to think independently and have confidence in their own views.

What has taken me longer to understand is that I need, as my son pointed out to me, to try to properly engage in conversations and interactions – just as if I was in a room with someone. This in itself sounds promising, because I am a confident person who loves chatting to people and learning from them. However the Twittersphere is a big place and interractions and Tweets come and go in a nanosecond. Some lead onwards and others crash and burn or fizzle out slowly while no one watches. To do it properly, you see, takes time. And regular contact. Daily contact, in fact, and many minutes or even hours.

This scares me! The bottom line is that what scares me more is that I sometimes get drawn into it. I wake up and switch on my phone and an hour later I am still pinging around the internet somewhere. I absolutely KNOW that I have better things to do with my time and I’m still out there, ineffectively ‘liking’ and ‘retweeting’ things.

Chat times I understand more. There are ones around mental health, caring and dementia that give me a chance to interact with the same people regularly and which genuinely provide a great network for support and advice. But the individual ‘pings’ – those little blasts that make up a huge great skyscape full of the litter-dust of people’s reactions – they sometimes cloud the original trigger so totally that it quickly spirals into an infinite round of navel-gazing.

And what of Love or Hate? In his prayer, St Francis of Assisi asked that ‘where there is hatred, let me sow love’. What is difficult about tweeting is that we don’t know where the seeds of our thinking will fall. Our intention may be good (or bad), but like the parable in the Bible we simply don’t know the kind of ground that will be receiving them.

I suppose that ultimately social media reflects the society we live in – and indeed forms part of that society. Good intentions can accidentally (or incidentally) lead to melt-down, but, on the other hand, hate-filled tirades can lead to an outpouring of public support and love. The bottom line, though, is that I would rather be walking by the river than checking my phone…

MAD MOMENT

Going for that high hill Peak District walk with my friend despite the weather forecast for rain all day.

MARVEL MOMENT

Despite the weather forecast for rain all day, driving to said walk in rain, putting our boots on in rain, driving home in rain, but for 5 hours of walking, not a drop!!!

© Anne de Gruchy

2

At a Writing Crossroads

When I first decided to write on this topic I was job-less, had no potential take-up for my novel, and was juggling the risks of continuing as self-employed and penniless against returning to work and the potential of stress-city and the abandonment – or at least dilution – of my getting-published dreams. However, life is weird and wonderful and a week later I found myself in possession of a job offer and that precious and rare thing: potential agent-representation for my book.

The job-offer alone has an element of surreality. The original closing date was several months ago and the relevant department was very hard to contact when I tried to find further information. I liked the sound of the job, but the delays made it seem an unlikely option and, when I was finally invited to interview, I was so unwell on the day that I nearly cancelled. The omens did not feel good. Neither did the idea of the ‘test’ that formed part of the interview.

But life has a habit of surprising me at the moment. By filling myself with half of my medicine cabinet I managed to get through the interview without killing everyone else off, and the eye that was red and swollen as a result of infected conjunctivitis managed to stay roughly in focus. Better still, the three people who interviewed me were all lovely, with a great attitude towards the work involved, and I immediately felt that it would be good to work with them. Cue an uncomfortable weekend while I awaited the result, but on the Monday afternoon, despite an intermittent phone signal up on the moor above Two Dales, I got the call that told me I had been successful.

The next day, whilst immersed in DBS forms and ‘pre-employment’ Occupational Health questionnaires, an email pinged into my inbox from the agent who had previously requested to read the whole manuscript of my book. Now for those of you who are not writerly types a lesson in book-selling etiquette might be appropriate. There are several ‘rules’ involved:

1. Publishers, especially big ones, don’t like to do the leg-work of sifting through zillions of submissions and prefer to only look at books that have been suggested by an agent, who will hopefully have done the sifting for them.
2. Trying to get an agent also involves a submissions process, and getting one is like finding gold-dust in the River Trent.
3. Nowadays you are expected to have a certain level of online presence and interaction to show you can engage with an audience, even if you don’t intend to publish your work yourself.
4. God-forbid that you try self-publication if your aspirations are remotely literary – if it doesn’t fit a genre where people might take a punt on an unknown author (crime, romance, et al) then sales are also as unlikely as finding gold-dust in the River Trent.
5. If an agent replies with anything more than complete silence or a one-line ‘this is not for us’ email, then that means you are generally going in the right direction.
6. If an agent asks for the whole manuscript (having seen a synopsis and so many thousand words) then that is cause for a minor heart attack – or at least angina – and a long breath-holding wait while they find time to read it and let you know if they are willing to represent you.

Like the wait for the job interview, it had taken a while for the agent to un-bury herself from the huge pile of manuscripts that are an agent’s lot and finally get to mine. And, given the delay, her email simply asked if I still wanted her to look at my work. Did I still want her to look at my work? Of course I did! Cue another uncomfortable wait until ‘the end of the week’ when she’d promised to get back to me. And, true to her word, she did.

The email pinged in. The agent’s name pinged up. I waited to read the ‘I’m sorry…’ bit, but instead there was ‘I think this is a wonderful book and would love to talk to you about representation.’ Wow! Now, a few days on, we have talked at length on the telephone and a client agreement has wended its way for my perusal. We seem to get on well and to be on the same wavelength, and I am thrilled to find someone whose approach and experience I can trust and who believes in my work.

So, once I settle down after the shock, I have to regroup and apply myself to two parallel paths of part-time employed work and writing. The crossroads seem to have dissolved and I have ended up on a dual-carriageway instead!

MAD MOMENT…

Doing a Model Railway day at a local church hall with dad. He and the under fives were at one in their interest and wonderment. It felt completely surreal – like I’d moved back in time and we’d swapped parent and child roles.

MARVEL MOMENT…

Ditto, above! Plus dad’s enjoyment of his birthday treats and cake – 92 years young!

© Anne de Gruchy

annedegruchy.co.uk image: stone doorway with view of woods
Where I was when I heard I got the job! Gateway to new opportunities?

2

Experiencing Woodbrooke in Photographs

So here I am, investigating the Quaker testimony of simplicity at the wonderful Woodbrooke study centre. I am deep in interviews and books and writing and research. I am also deep in peace and goodwill and greenery. So here is a quirky tour by photograph…

* The beautiful sculpture of a Quaker Meeting by Peter Peri. *

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* On the first evening we held a Meeting for Worship and vigil to uphold those in parliament who were making the decision about the renewal of Trident. We sat in a circle and these candles formed a centre and focus. *

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* The terrace alongside the garden lounge at night – there are wonderful words of wisdom etched on the windows and doors of the garden lounge. *

2016-07-18 22.42.07    2016-07-18 22.43.22

* I don’t have to worry about missing my cat too much… *

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* The rose arch looks even better in the dark. *

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* A Friend-in-Residence allowed me to photograph her emerging flower arrangement. *

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* Wow! Looking back at the main building in thirty degrees of sunshine and flower meadow. *

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* The anti-torture garden has a beautiful statue, and wirework… *

2016-07-19 11.28.33    2016-07-19 11.29.13

* …with flowers winding through. *

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* The walled garden is full of vegetables, and fruit, and herbs, and… nasturtiums.  Three watering cans make an imaginative water cascade. *

2016-07-19 11.32.29    2016-07-19 11.33.36

* I met a member of the gardening team carefully clipping the Cloud Hedge.  There are so many beautiful trees – even a dead branch brings beauty. *

2016-07-19 14.07.23    2016-07-19 14.10.18

* Stepping stones across the stream – exploring the woodland beyond the lake. *

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* Word Labyrinth in the Garden Lounge. There is a grass version you can walk outside. *

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© Anne de Gruchy with thanks to Woodbrooke

0

Rejection Dejection

Rejection is never easy; and when it comes to the rejection of a novel that you’ve spent over a year of your life writing – well, it’s tough. That’s where I’m at.

Not only that, I have just spent the past ten months sending out my previous novel and that, too, has bounced back to me every time. I counted up the other day and was surprised that the tally was so low: 2 independent publishers, 2 novel competitions and 18 agencies – 22 rejections in all. This may sound a lot, but believe me the effort involved makes it feel like more.

A few weeks ago I started sending out my third novel. My writing, I like to think, is of a literary/commercial cross-over nature and this, in itself, poses dilemmas. For a start, literary fiction doesn’t pay – or hardly ever. And secondly, it doesn’t sell easily if you self-publish. I’ve taken advice from many writers, both published and self-published, and they all say the same. Literary is different. Don’t expect sales, don’t expect an income, and certainly don’t expect to market it yourself. Even the zealously, and very successfully, self-published author who ran the ‘Make Money from your Writing’ course that I attended last year told us that literary writing is in a category of its own.

I don’t want a lot in life. I want to write the type of books that intrigue me and include ideas that fire me up. I want to see them in print and available to buy online. I would like enough money – a couple of thousand pounds would do – to buy me enough time to begin my next novel. This, I am told, is entirely unrealistic.

There was a time when I still had visions of winning the Booker Prize. I was entirely and inappropriately confident. But you need that confidence, and mine carried me through the learning curve of writing my first novel. I was helped by a wonderful local writing group who supported and believed in me, and by the kudos of winning an Arts Council Writer’s Award to help me complete the book. When I came to marketing it I got some positive feedback from agents and some asked to see the complete manuscript (this is gold-dust!). Looking back, I didn’t realize how close I came. Sadly, though, my marriage broke up and my mental health dive-bombed. I was a part-time single mum who ended up having to move house four times in two years. Writing, and trying to sell my novel, was the last thing on my mind.

My second novel was written, and re-written, in fits and starts over several years. I still think it is a good book. Sending it out I began to feel as if the subject matter might be holding it back – it is a coming-of-age story set against the declining clothing industry in Nottingham in the 1990s. Never mind, I thought, I have the third novel to fall back on. The third novel, unlike the second, almost wrote itself. From beginning to end the process was a joyful and productive use of the time I took out from paid employment to help me cope with caring for my dad. The third novel, I simply KNEW, was ‘the one’.

The first time I sent it out I think I physically shook as I pressed the ‘send’ button. My precious new work was finally out there and it felt like make-or-break. If no one picked it up I would need to go back to a job and would lose the time to write intently and productively. I selected the agencies and agents carefully, my first choice being the one who had felt my second novel ‘stood out from the many we receive’.

So far I have had two rejections. I cannot describe how this has felt. The first ‘no’ sent my mood spiraling down and the second, a few days later, felt like a punch in the gut. It did not help that one of the agents described the subject matter as ‘an intriguing premise’ – the writing didn’t hit the mark. It makes me realize how stoically I took the rejections for my second novel. I felt like going down to the agency’s office and conducting a sit-in protest.

Friends and local writers have rallied round. We have discussed alternatives to the negativity of the word ‘rejection’ and several people have sent links to articles and web-pages outlining how famous novelists and novels were rejected many times before getting published. One Booker winning author had his first novel rejected 78 times before it was published. I am not sure that even I have that level of stamina. Having said that, I have four full-length manuscripts (including one non-fiction book) sitting on my shelf. How many people can say that?

So I will continue to send out novel number three. Meanwhile, I have also been scanning the jobs pages and working on my research into Simplicity for my upcoming summer scholarship. This is spawning some amazing material and ideas. I’ll have to be careful otherwise book number five will be queuing up on the shelf for its place in the rejection hierarchy.

MAD MOMENT…

My mad cat having mad-hatter moments chasing imaginary mice and real shoelaces at the bottom of my bed at 5am in the morning.

MARVEL MOMENT…

Seeing the amazing production of ‘COAL’ at Nottingham Playhouse – part of the neat (Nottingham European Arts and Theatre) festival. It was physical dance theatre that aimed (and succeeded) to share the experience of being part of the mining community as it was decimated by Thatcher in the 1980s. So powerful and sad and emotional and joyous, and just simply amazing to be part of the audience. It touched me especially because I lived for 20 years in the ex-mining communities in north-west Nottinghamshire, moving there just after most of the pits closed in 1985.

© Anne de Gruchy