Wednesday, 12 June 2013

My story so far - part 1

I said in my first post that I'd write a bit about what's happened since I began writing full time as I thought it would be good to bring you (and this blog) up to date with a summary of all the blog posts I probably would have written if I hadn't stopped blogging before.  So here's a little background.

I used to work for a telecoms company called Cable & Wireless.  In 2005 I was made redundant and so decided to have a go at making a career out of writing.  That idea didn't just come out the blue because I've always written, but it was only in the face of questions like, 'What the hell am I going to do now?' that I decided maybe there was a chance I could write full time for a living.  So, with my wife's agreement and support (and the little bit of redundancy money that was left after paying off the car loan) we decided to give it a shot.  That first year I wrote and wrote and ended up with a first novel that was 168,000 words long and in need of much editing. 

That book was In the Blood and when I felt it was ready I submitted a great many query letters and samples of the book to the various literary agencies, and I remember my very first rejection letter even now, almost eight years later.  I remember it because it was hand written and said some very nice things about my writing and ideas and I'd read many times that getting anything handwritten from an agent or publisher was both rare and a very good sign.  Of course, I received many form rejections after that (some even on the back of my own letter), but every now and then one would come back with positive things to say.  So, encouraged by this I kept going and one day an agent asked me to go and see her at her offices in London.  I remember that day very well, too, because after leaving her offices I just couldn't stop smiling (it was and still is very high up on my list of best feelings) and I rang everyone I knew, or so it seemed, because suddenly I had an agent!

If everything that goes up must come down again, for me it was a year later when all the publishers my agent sent my book to turned it down.  But again, I wasn't discouraged because she was kind enough to share their rejection emails with me and they all had very good things to say about my book, most ultimately blaming the economic climate forcing them to be particularly choosy, with others saying that although they liked it, they thought a semi-historical mystery thriller would be hard to place on the bookshelves.  I had written my second book To the Grave by now, although it was very different to the version I eventually published.  My agent wasn't keen on half of it, though: She liked the past narrative but not the present-day (which I agreed with and later re-wrote it),  so I shelved that book, too, and wrote another book called The Last Queen of England.  It was originally much darker than the version now in print (which isn't dark at all by comparison) and my agent chose not to represent that to the publishers either.  Four years on I suddenly felt as though I was back to square one, opening that redundancy notice again and wondering what to do about it. 

Not ready to give up, I tried in vain to get another agent, and again my mailbox filled with rejection letters.  Then one evening I went out for dinner with some friends and contracted food poisoning, which, although very serious at the time (having put me in bed for over a week), on reflection was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me because it was while I was laid up in bed that I decided In the Blood and the idea behind the genealogical crime mystery series I was writing had too much going for it just to let it sit and gather dust and go unread.  So with nothing to lose, I decided to have a go myself.

Please check back soon for part 2.