It’s easy to forget sometimes with all the narcissism, hype and critical tosh that goes with writing a successful (whatever that is?) novel, that we do it to connect.
But also that this connection needs to be measured and calculated – show a wonderful idea to an agent or publisher when it is half-formed, and you’re on a hiding to nowhere…
When I wrote my strange little novel about women in Kidwelly in West Wales in the 1984 miners’s strike, I had an amazing piece of luck.
A friend of my husband’s, Richard King, suggested I contact an agent Cathryn Summerhayes, and that it could be her sort of thing.
It was and she tried to sell it and though we got very close to getting a deal with a traditional publisher, there was not one.
At the same time, the Vogue editor, Alexandra Shulman was getting a much-tweeted-about deal for her first novel from a mega posh commissioning editor. I seethed with class warrior chipiness over the ‘eating goat’s cheese with an author in their Dordogne house’ type of comments.
As I’d learnt html, I thought I’d channel this anger into making an e-book of my offering: and hand-coded one for Kindle. (those of you who can code will know that doing this with 80,000 words is an act of utter insanity). No one needs to hand code now, use Pressbooks, or Scrivener instead.
Cathryn suggested helpfully I get my work edited and recommended Clare Christian of The Book Guru.
Clare was amazingly constructive, not only editing the book, but also suggesting online direction for other projects, which was just spot-on. I got a much needed boost of career coaching, too. She is one of those rare people who is able to put her attention entirely onto other people’s work and the context in which they produce, and come up with intelligent and incisive steers.
Momentum And Frustration
I self-published, and a friend who has a book group of professional women in Cardiff, asked if they could read the book and discuss. It was so exciting turning up at John Lewis cafe to hear their reactions, which included the comment ‘it would make a good film’. It’s humbling when people you don’t know give up their time and thought to something you’ve created, and then have the generosity to give you feedback too.
Neighbour and friend Vanessa read it, and was most encouraging, and politician friend Jane did the same. I read excerpts from the books at a couple of International Women’s Day events and it was well-received, audiences laughed. My little creation seemed to be gaining connection and momentum.
Then my friend Liz read it. We’d been in a book club together for several years, and shared a deep affection of Anne Tyler’s work. Liz is a tv producer, and although she does not produce drama, she knows people who do.
By now, I’d channeled all the frustration I felt at not being embraced by traditional publishing into making things online to do with my book, using free software: video, infographic, blog, cinema poster and press releases.(more about this in the next post). When Boom Pictures looked up my book online, they could even see a blog post where I cast the imaginary film.(‘Totally lost the plot’ was the family’s verdict here).
Liz loved the book, and spread the word. She became an ardent champion of its dramatic potential. A quick meeting in a coffee shop with Ronw, executive producer and I was in to meet the commissioner.
And Dai, Richard, Cathryn, Clare, Ceri, Dawn and their reading group, Vanessa, Jane and above all Liz, were responsible for this – and thank you.
And for all of you out there who may be struggling with projects – yes, the internet can democratize opportunity and get voices heard if what you produce here is interesting and provoking enough. But it has to reach the right people, too.
Not all my friends were helpful. Indeed one who is a BBC bigwig and who I’d known for a long time, ignored totally the three progress updates I e-mailed her and I suspect would probably ignore me now too, if she saw me. But then maybe we never had that much in common in the first place?
So it is who you know, but it’s also who likes what you do, too. Connect, people, only connect…