Last week was a bit mad. The most important and exciting thing that happened was that our daughter safely gave birth to her first child and our second grandson (welcome to the world, Saul!). The second most important and exciting thing was the announcement and cover reveal for my new psychological thriller, ‘Lie to Me’ published by Bookouture.
I have been writing professionally for many years, but ‘Lie to Me’ is my first thriller. It was conceived nearly three years ago and the gestation period was longer than any mammal’s on earth. Looking at the fabulous book cover and reading the listing on Amazon now, it’s easy to forget all the pain and effort I went through to reach this happy moment – a bit like childbirth! So I want to take a moment to reflect on the ups and downs of the ‘pregnancy’. And maybe it will encourage any writers out there feeling stuck, not to give up.
Writing’s a funny old business. When the words are flowing, when the characters feel like they’re in the room with you and you’re in ‘the zone’, it’s a joyous experience. Re-reading the chapters a week later however, can be rather sobering. As ‘Lie to Me’ developed and the word count grew, I confess that sometimes I thought what I was writing was brilliant and at other times totally crap. Objectivity is impossible, but I was so close to the text that I couldn’t make any kind of useful judgement. Friends and family read the first draft and made helpful comments, which I tried to address. But their default position was supportive and I needed an outside eye.
When I completed the first draft (or rather a draft I was happy with) in late 2015, I went looking for a literary agent. Although I’m represented by a media agent for film and TV the agency doesn’t represent authors. Feeling optimistic, I sent the first three chapters to a small number of agents and received several requests to read the whole thing. A few agents were tempted but felt the book need more work. Rowan Lawton of Furniss Lawton – was particularly enthusiastic about the novel’s potential, but also felt it needed an overhaul. Close but no cigar.
I began 2016 feeling encouraged by Rowan, but also wondering how the hell I was going to fix the problems in the novel. To begin with, I wasn’t even sure what the problems were. I’d had a few months away from the text, during which I took up mosaics. I sat on the sofa smashing up crockery, which was a health hazard for the rest of the family who could no longer walk around the flat in bare feet, but it did me a world of good.
By the time I returned to the book, I felt less attached and more self-critical. I’ve done a fair amount of script editing in the past, and tried to apply my editorial skills, pretending that I wasn’t the author. Not easy, and quite scary. I ended up cutting an entire narrative voice, transforming the way I was telling the past story, adding a new narrative strand and simplifying the rather complex plot. I dumped fifty thousand words – that’s more than half the novel – and started again. The rewrite took me about three months – I sent the revised draft to Rowan and luckily, she loved it and took me on straightaway.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of it, editorially. Rowan and her colleagues at Furniss Lawton gave me some excellent notes and I did some rewrites. When Bookouture made their offer (hooray!) their editor Jessie Botterill gave me more insightful notes and the novel changed again. Then there was the copy-editing and proofreading stages to go through. More notes. More rewrites. I have to say everyone’s input improved the book and I’m incredibly grateful to Rowan and the Bookouture editorial team. Now my baby is about to be born – on April 19th to be precise – and I’m very excited to see how she gets on in the world.
Knowing when to persevere and when to give up, is very hard. Like most writers, I have a couple of horses that I flogged to death lying in my filing cabinet. So it might be helpful to think about this in a different way. Some years ago, I accidentally attended a motivational talk for business people, in which the speaker taught us this mantra – ‘Do what you always do and you’ll get what you always get.’ I’ve tried to apply this to my writing: if it’s not working, do something different and maybe you’ll get a different result. I know for certain that without that major rewrite last year, ‘Lie to Me’ would never have found an agent or a publisher, so it really can be worth making that final, huge, painful push.
PS – I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject of How Not To Give Up – please leave a comment.