2017

In 2016 I self-published a novel I had been working on for years. It was mainly so that I could finally count the book as ‘finished’, and commit publicly to this writing life. It is harder to be lazy when people you know and love think you spend all your time writing.

A Perilous Margin is still available on kindle on all amazons, and in paperback through amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

In 2017, I am going to try the traditional publishing route again. I spent the first days of the year reading publishing advice, writing advice, agent-seeking advice, and was filled with the intense need to make this part of my life. There is nothing else I want to do and so my options are limited. That might be a good thing.

I have never felt so close to publication, or so ready. I feel like all the work for the last nine years is finally paying off and I am this close! I have sent my new manuscript off for an assessment by an editor and I am terrified equally by the thought that it’s rubbish, and that it’s good. Our dreams are scuppered by fear of success as often as fear of failure, apparently, and I am trying desperately not to let that happen.

So, 2017, if in 351 days I still have no agent and no sign that anything is moving forward, I’m going to be very angry.

In the mean time, these are the potential novels I’m working on, because I’ve discovered that making things public is a good way of committing to them.

  • Still Life (working title)

A young woman takes a year off after university to learn how to be the carefree, easy-going bohemian she has always thought she could be. Months of partying hard allow her to break out of her shell, but one disastrous and damaging night makes her reconsider the person she is becoming.

  • Harriet Starling (working title/name of the main character because I haven’t thought of anything else)

A former sex-worker turned women’s right activist is caught off-guard by her daughter’s approaching adolescence, and struggles to teach her to deal with the common juxtaposition of sexual freedom and sexual violence.

  • How to build a temple (working title)

Tabitha, a twelve year old girl whose friends have disowned her, helps her mother build a temple in their backyard to compensate for the fact that she can’t afford to travel to Thailand on a life-changing spiritual journey.

The numbers game

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I’ve always enjoyed writing short stories. They were the first prose I tried to write, not counting several horrendous novel attempts when I was a teenager. I thought of short stories as a way of practicing writing without committing huge amounts of time or energy.

I think short story karma is coming to kick me in the shins for not taking it more seriously.

I just got a rejection email for a short story which I think is really quite good, but which has now been rejected five times. In the world of submissions, five rejections is not actually that bad. But it still hurts.

So I’m sitting here, knowing I should be being productive, but all I can think is – what more can I do? Of course, there is a lot more I can do.

I don’t actually read short stories. I’ve probably read three anthologies in the last six years. I was blown away, years ago, by Janette Turner Hospital’s collections of stories, but other than that I tend to just avoid them. I find their magnification of a writer’s style a bit painful. There is no escaping in a short story, there’s no sinking into the story and becoming accustomed to the style. It’s just there.

I can’t imagine trying to write a novel without reading novels. What a ridiculous idea, and yet here I am, treating short stories like the easy warm-up and getting disheartened when I’m not very good.

People talk about getting published as a numbers game, in terms of pieces submitted versus potential publications. That is, you need to submit a lot to get a small number published. But number one, I am not very good at handling rejections, and number two, maybe the real numbers game is about reading. Maybe rather than submitting 100 times to get 1 published, I need to read 100 stories to help me write 1 good one.

So my plan, because when sunk in the depths of a rejection depression I always need a plan, is to read one short story a day for three weeks. In three weeks, I’ll try to write something.

If anyone is looking for quality, free, online stories, check out Carve. They run the Raymond Carver short story contest, so they kind of know what they’re doing.

What to do when you’re not publishing

  1. Read lots of really good books and try to be inspired by their genius rather than dispirited by the gulf between you
  2. Read some badly written books and fix them in your head, and remind yourself that physiology – biting lips, churning stomachs, twisting fingers – is as painful to read as it is, apparently, for the character to experience
  3. Read those sentences, paragraphs, or pages written by friends and family that seem so impossibly clever but remind yourself that that is a different gift to writing a book, and fight down that jealousy and the sense that you are the wrong person to be attempting this
  4. Devote some of that precious writing time to looking through old work and thinking about how it might fit in the future

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    Look up writing quotes which can occasionally ring true

  5. Daydream about all the amazing things that you will write and that maybe, one day, will be published, or else will be discovered on your death when you will be hailed the great, unsung hero of your generation
  6. Think about what your life would be like if your favourite book had never been published
  7. Revisit favourite characters
  8. Write a list
  9. Write a paragraph
  10. Write a chapter

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