The Waiting Game

When I first started blogging, the aim was to record my writing ‘journey’ and the experience of being a mature student on an MLitt course. A lot has happened since 2011, and back then there was no shortage of topics to explore when guest speakers visited the uni, attending workshops and book events, and all the ups and downs of having two books published.

But I haven’t blogged regularly for quite some time. Mainly because the ‘firsts’ such as the excitement of my debut novel being launched are behind me. Also, the act of writing is a solitary one and it takes a long time (in my case) to write a book so there’s not much to say in between typing ‘Chapter One’ and ‘The End’.

For my latest novel, Sisters in Solidarity, it’s been an even longer process as it included a research trip to Russia (which definitely merited a blog post!). After having my manuscript critiqued, I’ve now completed a third full edit and in many ways I’m back to where I started all those years ago – seeking a literary agent…

Any writer will tell you that this isn’t easy. Literary agents receive thousands of submissions a year and sometimes I feel as if there are more writers out there than readers! The job of finding an agent involves scouring the internet, reading their submission guidelines and then preparing the material requested.

It can feel as if every agent wants a different submission package. Some want a 10k word sample, others want the opening three chapters or 50 pages. Some ask you to write a one line ‘elevator pitch’, a back cover blurb or a three-line synopsis. The variations can mean that it’s not a case of ‘one size fits all’ and requires a lot of time and effort. This is especially true when you’re asked to select the agent you’re submitting to which can mean you have to read a dozen biographies before you try and guess which one will be the right match for your writing. It can seem as if you have as much chance of winning the lottery!

Then you sit back and wait. And wait and wait and wait. Most agencies aim to respond, within 8-12 weeks IF they’re interested in reading the full manuscript. I started the process a couple of weeks ago and submitted to an agency on a Friday and received a standard form rejection on the Monday. Another has got back to me with the feedback that my novel sounds “too niche” for them. That’s the harsh reminder that literary taste is highly subjective. One person’s “too niche” might be another’s “exactly what I’m looking for”.

Of course, a poorly written novel won’t stand a chance of being snapped up, but even a well written novel has to rely on luck. Will it arrive in the right agent’s inbox at the right time? All I can do is hope someone out there is interested in my manuscript and all my time and effort pays off. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, all I can do is keep submitting and wait…

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Creative Writing = Creative Writhing

This week, creative writing was more like creative writhing! 

By Friday night, I had a pounding tension headache. What was the cause of such stress? My WIP! My literary agent had given me feedback that my current idea was “too small” and I needed to be more ambitious. I needed inspiration and I’m not too proud to ask for help. I went into uni for a one-to-one session with Eleanor Updale, an award-winning writer and a Royal Literary Fellow. Eleanor is based at the uni one day a week on behalf of The Royal Literary Fund Fellowship scheme which places professional writers in higher education institutions to offer writing support to all students.
Eleanor Updale- the author of The Montmorency Series
My MLitt course is entirely self-funded and I plan to get mymoney’s worth and grab every opportunity for professional help that’s availableon campus. So I made an appointment to meet with Eleanor to discuss my WIP in an effort to help me move forward. The session was great for sparking new ideas and making me take a fresh look at the entire structure and concept of my WIP. Eleanor gave me some very interesting ideas but as I headed home, I was still left with one key question, if there’s already more than enough books in the world, does anyone really need mine?


Glug, glug,glug. I poured a large vodka, I had a headache already so a hangover didn’t frighten me. I moaned at my long-suffering husband my old pal, Pierre Smirnoff, that life would be sooo much easier if I just tried to get a ‘normal’ job and save myself (and my family and friends who have to put up with me) all the aggro?

Yes it probably would, but I’ve never been one to take the easy option (this explains a lot of my life choices, hence hubby no 2) so although I’m struggling, I’m not willing to give in (not yet anyway). And the reason I need to carry on writing is simple. I write because I have to, whether the world needs another book or not. And thankfully my hubby and Pierre still believe in me!



Is Being Published the Be All and End All?

HATE musicals with a passion. And yet, I have a fond childhood memory of watching South Pacific with my gran and the catchy lyrics of the show song, ‘Happy Talk’ being forever lodged in my brain,
“You got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream
How you gonna have a dream come true?” 

The message is simple and one that I apply to my writing. Ever since I started to take my writing seriously, my dream has always to be published (in the traditional sense).  There are many aspiring writers who will say that it’s not important for them to get published. Or so they say. They claim to write for the love of the art form, blah blah blah. Am I one of those writers? No. And I’m not ashamed to admit that being published is a key goal. It’s not the be all and end all, but for me it still matters. Will I keep writing if I don’t get published? Yes, absolutely and for many other good reasons.  But will I give up on my publishing dream?Not on your Nelly!



I wasn’t the only aspiring writer in the family sharing this dream- I had competition. My 9 year old nephew, Ryan is also a prolific writer of poems and short stories.  One of the best Christmas presents was his own reworked version of a Christmas Carol (his 7 year old brother, Frazer was the illustrator).

His current WIP is his novel, ‘The Last Dinosaur ‘and I joked that his writing would probably be published before mine.  We decided to make it a challenge. I’m a bad loser but I had to admit defeat when Ryan produced a letter saying that one of his poems is due to be published in an anthology. Is it wrong to be even a teeny weeny bit jealous? Of course it is, even for a poor loser like me, that would just be pathetic. I’m well chuffed for him but Ryan’s victory was followed by an email from my agent; one that I had feared might land in my inbox.

Ryan goading  me  with showing me the letter from his publisher!
This time last year, my literary agent was sending out my last novel to publishers. I got some really great feedback but ultimately there was no book deal at the end of it. My agent then went on maternity leave and everything was put on hold until she returned to work at the beginning of the year. Then I got the email…

“I think at this point, very sadly, we need to draw a line under it. The business is moving fast with the rise of e-books and the continued growth of Amazon, creating less space for smaller books and generally an enforced sense of competition and that each book must stand out very robustly to the shrinking of margins and of retail display space.”

Was I gutted? Hell yeah. But the upside is that she still has faith in me and wants to see my WIP when it’s finished. In the meantime, I’m hoping Ryan will look kindly on his struggling auntie and share some of the secrets of his success. In the meantime, I need to dust myself off and keep on trying because,”You got to have a dream…”


Writing Feedback-Cruel To Be Kind


As a mother of two teenage sons, I’m no stranger to tough love. I like to think that I know what’s best for them even if they rarely agree. Do I rise to their moaning that “everybody is allowed to…” blah blah blah? No chance!  I tell them to suck it up. It’s part of my job description as their mum to be cruel to be kind. I have to tell them things that they don’t want to hear.

But being on the receiving end of a home truth isn’t easy. My second experience of a writing workshop wasn’t any less painful. Hearing your work being criticised and not being allowed to interrupt is not for the faint hearted. 

Luckily I had just read the latest post on Nicola Morgan’s excellent blog, ‘Help! I Need a Publisher’.  http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2011/11/beware-of-praise.html

This week’s post, ‘Beware of Praise’ really helped me accept the blows when I later read the written comments (although a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon Rose wine helped even more).
Nicola’s analogy is that praise is very like chocolate.It tastes great at the time. Too much of it is (regrettably) bad for you.” Oh how true!!

Would it have been nice to walk out of uni with praise ringing in my ears? Hell yes! But would it have made me a better writer? Duh! Of course not, so I have to suck it up like I tell my boys.

Nicola warns wannabe writers to accept praise with extreme caution. And not to listen to your family and friends if they gush over your writing.  Step away from praise. It can be your enemy unless it comes from someone qualified in the publishing industry or whom you trust and value.

It’s sound advice. At the beginning of the year, I experienced a line by line edit by my literary agent on my previous novel.  She made comments like,
“This section should hit me like a punch in the stomach. It doesn’t. You can do better.”



So you would think that by now I’d have skin as thick as a rhino’s. Alas, it’s not that simple. I value the opinions of my fellow students and my lecturer and if I didn’t care about my writing it wouldn’t hurt. As Jane Fonda would say, “No pain, no gain!”



Next semester will mean a fresh bout at the workshop. I will grit my teeth and stock up on rose wine! Bring it on!!

Everyone Has A Book In Them


Is it scary but true that everyone has a book in them? 



And writing a book is easy isn’t it? Anyone can do it. Or so I’m told all too often since starting the MLitt course.

If I had a pound for every person that’s said to me recently, “I could write a book” then my uni fees would have been paid ten times over! I want to scream at them, “Well what’s stopping you write it if it’s so easy!” Because clearly anybody that can hold a pen or sit in front of a PC can write a book. My dog could probably knock out a Booker prize winner if he wasn’t so busy licking his balls.


But as the literary critic Christopher Hitchens once said, “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” 


Do I think I’m able to do anybody else’s job?  Do I assume that I can cut my own hair, fix my car or carry out medical procedures on myself? Thankfully not!



I’m under no illusion that I’m the next Charles Dickens. I haven’t got enough facial hair for a start. But for all you fellow wannabe authors, here are my midterm musings on my experience of the world of words….

Our Creative Writing group has been kindly permitted to gate crash a programme of seminars arranged for the university’s post graduate publishing students. So far, this allowed us an insight into the life of an established literary agent- Maggie McKernan, an innovative publisher- Adrian Searle and a successful writer-Paula Morris.

We we’ve been treated to fascinating but often frightening facts from these highly respected guest speakers.

Here are a few key messages that stick in my mind…

With the on-going struggle with market forces and the challenges thrown up by the ‘digital revolution’ in publishing, the Maggie McKernan literary agency rarely takes on a new client unless they have been recommended. .

Adrian’s publishing company, Freight Design recognises that it’s even harder than ever for debut novelists to be taken on by a major publisher and many established writers have become ‘London orphans’ due to their failure to secure major book deals.

And the biggest reality check came from Paula who blew away the myth that if you’re a good enough writer you’ll get published. Nah! There’s a lot more to it than mere talent.

Becoming a published author? Easy peasy lemon squeezy! What’re you all waiting for?