Anyone who knows me well will tell you that one of my fatal flaws is impatience. I chafe at slow responses to emails. Nobody on the planet makes decisions as fast as me. If a deadline isn’t in place, I impose one and it’s always tight. I pace if guests are late for dinner. I hate queues. I don’t walk if I can run, and my father nicknamed me ‘The whippet’.
Some years ago, when I was naïve about the publishing industry, a literary agent once told me that she had authors on her books that she believed might take ten years to obtain a publishing deal. To my shame, I replied: ‘Hell, I haven’t got time to hang around for that,’ and scarpered. As it turned out, I actually waited seven years before my first novel was published in 2007. Remember, this was in the day when self-publishing was frowned upon. One publisher warned me that, should I be daft enough to go it alone, I could forget ‘proper’ publication thereafter. Times change.
Back in 2005, I penned a psychological thriller with a female lead. ‘Beautiful Losers’ was written very much from the heart, the shout lines of my main character’s life not dissimilar to my own. I thought at the time that it was the best thing ever and I was right to a point because Broo Doherty read and enthused about it. To cut a long story short, the novel went precisely nowhere after a brief foray in front of publishers. Green as I was, it never occurred to me that the answer might be ‘pass’ or ‘Thanks, but no thanks’.
After a couple of months of crushing rejection, it dawned on me that my dream was over. Sobered and depressed, I went into a downward spiral in which I thought it unlikely I’d ever summon the energy or creativity to write a letter never mind a novel. It seemed like a major blow and it knocked my confidence in a way that I had not envisaged possible.
I turned my back on psychological thrillers, came up with some appalling ideas for other stories, which were all rightly rejected, after which I pretty much gave up.
As already described, my legendary lack of patience is a major character flaw but one thing I have in spades is tenacity. I hate to be beaten so, little by little I rehabilitated myself by playing around with ideas until I felt strong enough to write again. I did not do this on my own. I was lucky enough to have a husband who believed in me even when I didn’t. Every time I wanted to throw the computer out through the nearest window, he’d talk me down from the impossibly high ledge of self-doubt I’d erected. The result was a brand new novel and representation by, you guessed it, Broo Doherty. It heralded the start of a strong relationship and a multi novel run of action adventure/spy thrillers with male main protagonists.
But I never lost the desire to go back to where I started.
A couple of years ago, Broo, now a partner at DHH, and I were having lunch and she said: ‘Do you know, I always thought it sad that Beautiful Losers never saw the light of day.’ ‘Hmm,’ I said. (I probably flinched at the memory.) ‘Why don’t you take another look at it?’ she suggested. Reluctantly, I did.
Surprise, surprise, but my novel didn’t seem so great any more. With the advantage of time and experience, I could see its flaws. I worked on it and worked on it. I changed the third person narrative to first. I ‘warmed up’ my female lead and made her a more sympathetic character. I cut and rewrote to improve pace. I don’t remember how many drafts it went through, but there were a fair number and, through it all, Broo read each redraft, made suggestions and I’d work on it again. The strangest thing is that I have great patience when it comes to revision. It was a terrific and enlightening process and, at last, I could see what I’d tried to do but had failed to execute.
This story, you might have guessed, has a happy ending. Due to the novel’s colourful history, it rates as the sweetest deal I’ve ever received. Somewhere there’s a message in its journey. If, like me, you are an impatient sort, don’t stress about it. Concentrate on digging deep, on plugging away, on exercising that writing muscle and summoning up the belief to persist and to dare to dream. And if you can find the right agent to keep you on that straight and narrow, grab her and don’t let go.
As part of a two-book deal, ‘Beautiful Losers’ was published in the States by U.S. publisher Midnight Ink on March 8th 2016, and is released here in the UK on April 1st 2016. The sequel, ‘An Imperfect Past,’ will be published in March 2017.