When will it ever end

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Last September, I dotted the last ‘i’ and crossed the last ‘t’ on my final final final draft of SINGLED OUT. Or so I thought.

murder your darlingsLast September, I believed I’d taken My First Novel as far as I could in drafting and editing terms. I wrote my synopsis (a traumatic experience) and carved off a chunk of text into a sample document. I took a set of fluorescent markers to my copy of ‘Writers’ & Artists’ Year Book 2014′ and lined up a shortlist of lucky, lucky agents who were to be the priority recipients of my masterpiece.

Then I sat back and waited for the offers to flood in. I waited, I blogged about the wait, and I waited some more. Instead of a flood, there was a trickle, and what trickled in was not overawed, enthusiastic ‘oh my word, this is magnificent, send us your full manuscript and come in and see us at once, and by the way don’t talk to any other agents until we’ve explained what we can do for you’ emails. What trickled in was – yes, right first time – a smattering of polite and kindly worded ‘sorry, not for us’ rejection emails.

I kept going, still fairly selectively. But those rejections kept on coming. The current tally is 17 agent submissions and 13 rejection emails. Of the remaining four, three date back to February/March and can thus be regarded as time-expired, rejections by omission. (Happily, the majority of agents have proved to be more courteous than this.) To date one agent, in theory, still has my novel in review, but as this agent accepted it as a courtesy following a seminar, I’m not holding my breath.

There was the odd flicker of interest. Two agents requested the full manuscript on the back of my submission, prompting palpitations and a wave of misplaced optimism in yours truly. Their rejections followed in due course.

But here’s the thing. Pithy though their feedback was, those two agents made broadly similar observations in their rejection emails. Not only that, but a very welcome latecomer to the beta reader party (you know who you are…) and a much loved and valued writing buddy both offered more detailed critique which, blow me down, highlighted the exact same issues.

I went away for a few days last week with these critiques much on my mind. The original plan had been to spend a few days rereading my manuscript and sharpening up a few lines here and there. But I’d begun to realise the ‘problem’ with my story was more fundamental than scrapping yet more surplus adverbs (though the volume of those infectious little critters you have to steel yourself to eliminate across layers of editing is a revelation in itself).

As I grappled with my folder of curiously comparable critique, I confess I grew frustrated. Having been so close to my novel for four years, I just didn’t get it. Intellectually, I could grasp what they were saying were the shortcomings. But when it came to addressing them, I couldn’t see how without throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Worse still, I couldn’t see why my story seemed to need such fundamental changes. Cue a gnashing of teeth and much grizzling and pouting.

In the still of the night I lay awake, frustrated, fretful. True to form at around 4:00am, my brain at last began to shift into the right gear. I began to get my head around what they’d all been saying. I started to find my way from I can’t towards how can I?

In the morning I got to work, identifying sections which screamed out for more tension and scenes which demanded more mystery; I earmarked pages where the pace dipped, weighted by too much unnecessary detail; I hunted down paragraphs where the language had to be nipped-and-tucked to better fit the character.

I decided two of my main characters will undergo a name change; I’ve finally conceded they have too much of the stereotype about them, and it begins with their names. But that’s mind-bending for me, as I’ve lived with them for upwards of four years. Oh, and talking of characters, I’m introducing a new one.

If this all sounds like a major rewrite, I don’t want to mislead you. This is far more than the tweaking I’d originally planned, but it’s not a rewrite. The story is essentially all there and all the pieces matter. Everything fits together and the plot is – I still believe – strong. What I’m dealing with is tone and pace, adding suspense in places I hadn’t realised it was needed, keeping up the tension instead of allowing it to fade away, injecting moments of uncertainty, deleting yet more extraneous detail – that sort of thing. This means I’m back in murder your darlings territory – not just words and lines, but paragraphs, great chunking paragraphs, sometimes one after another – and it hurts. But I know what I’m doing and at last I can see why it’s needed.

So that’s my job for what remains of the summer – to carry on culling whilst I meld new and modified material seamlessly back into the story. Then the plan is to approach a few more agents in the autumn months. As to what happens after that… Well, without suggesting anything at all about my more grounded expectations for this part of the process, I’m booked into a ‘how to self-publish’ seminar towards the end of the year. So we’ll just have to see.

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

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acorns-57305_1280I thought this Twitter exchange from teatime yesterday might amuse. It just goes to show that (i) as a writer with unrealised ambitions, it’s all too easy to become twisted and cynical about agents and publishers and (ii) plot ideas can pop up anywhere.

(If you’re on a reader, click here to see the full post.)

By the way, if you’re new to my blog and you don’t know Dylan, check out his blog – and his compelling dystopian political thriller Second Chance here.

Twitter Conversation Dylan and Julie 3

Am I the toiletry industry’s wet dream?

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This morning, I counted up how many different products I apply to myself before I leave the bathroom.

Turtle-neckEarly on in my yet-to-be-published novel, SINGLED OUT, my main character, a woman in her 40’s readies herself for the day. It seems to amuse people that her make-up routine is, shall we say, comprehensive. This has been insightful, as her exact routine used to be my own in the days when appearance was everything and I faced customers and prospects on behalf of one global technology company after another, every working day. Safe to say, as a home-based freelancer, I’ve let myself go a little since those high-pressure days.

And yet… I remain in thrall to the toiletry and cosmetics industries. It seems I cannot rise in the morning without recourse to no less than 23 jollops, unguents, creams, lotions and potions. And that’s before I begin my now significantly curtailed make-up routine.

Impossible, I hear you cry! Well, here it is, this morning’s precise schedule of application:

  1. Toothpaste – a minty-fresh dental drenching
  2. Gum gel – yuk, temporary measure only, I hope
  3. Mouthwash – yes, I do love that minty-fresh feel
  4. Soap – duh
  5. Shampoo – twice, primer and undercoat
  6. Conditioner – topcoat
  7. Shower cream – soap is for the basin, bottled jollop in the shower
  8. Ph-neutral wash – muse no further upon this
  9. Shaving mousse – see, I still have some self-respect left
  10. Deodorant – what did the old advert say… may your armpits be charmpits?
  11. Hair mousse – it’s purple, does it really make my highlights gleam, I wonder?
  12. Anti-ageing serum – meant to sound medical, but off-the-shelf from Boots
  13. Face cream – I think this one actually does a job
  14. Eye cream – a micro-pot of magic with an earth-shattering price tag
  15. Talc – summer… summer
  16. Body lotion – scrummy one infused with tiny flecks of something gold, summer indulgence
  17. Athlete’s foot cream – purely pre-emptive, as I love to swim
  18. Heel balm – ditto above
  19. Lip salve – I keep a half-dozen of these dotted about the place
  20. Hair putty – gravity-defying sticky stuff
  21. Hairspray – I’m an 80’s girl, so shoot me
  22. Hand cream – I go back to this at least 5 times a day, but it pays off
  23. … last but not least, I can’t leave the house without a squirt… Eau de Parfum

As far as make-up goes, my significantly curtailed routine still involves eight products on an at-home day and ten on a going-to-a-meeting day.

You might call me a little OCD – and I would of course protest. But as a woman with a bathroom all to herself – I get all the cupboards, all the shelves, all the drawers, every flat surface, the whole dressing area, all of it – I can give free-rein to my corporal indulgencies. So I do.

Just don’t ask me if I line my jollops up facing forward with exactly, precisely the same space between each one.

Thanks, but no thanks

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I received two more email rejections of my SINGLED OUT submission this week.

thumbs downAs always, both literary agencies let me down gently and politely – but both were clearly standard format replies this time. One gets to tell the difference between the standard thanks but no thanks emails and the ones where someone has taken the trouble to insert a personal line or two. You can’t expect it, but it’s nice – even in a rejection – when someone adds a personal touch.

One of my standard email rejections advised:

“We receive over 300 manuscripts a week and can only take on a handful of new writers every year. The result is that we have to be incredibly selective, so please do not be too disheartened. Another agent may well feel differently.”

Over 300 manuscripts a week!

I think SINGLED OUT is a solid piece of work – it’s an original setting with distinctive characters and, even if I say so myself, a pretty decent plot. It’s gripping and grizzly in parts and laid-back and sunny in other parts. Perhaps that’s a fault, but if it is, no one has yet homed in on it. It’s not perfect, but that’s because it’s my first attempt at a novel. It’s as good as my (lack of) experience can make it, and I imagine I’ll find I can do better with subsequent manuscripts, given how much I’ve learned through writing this one.

The question for me is, is it good enough to rise to the top of a pile of 300 manuscripts in one week, let alone an annual pile of over 15,000 manuscripts. Is SINGLED OUT good enough, original enough, compelling enough, well-written enough… to rise to the top 5 or 6 in a pile of, what… 15,000 on any literary agent’s desk? Even I have to admit, this seems slightly more unlikely than winning the lottery jackpot whilst being simultaneously struck by lightning – and a meteorite.

I’ve blogged before here about whether I should simply chalk it up to experience and bottom-drawer SINGLED OUT before moving on to the next. But with so many other options available to today’s authors, struggling for recognition through traditional publishing avenues, would it be a waste, simply to bury it?

In truth, I’m coming round to the idea of self-publishing…

Corporate Doublethink

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Since when did the definition of the word ‘unlimited’ change?

Endless roadUnlimited = limitless, infinite, boundless, indefinite, unrestricted…. so says just about any dictionary you care to reference.

Why then, do the Validation Certificates for my latest shiny new Ford Fiesta say “Unlimited mileage is to a maximum of 100,000 miles”?

Of course the missing word in this grammatically dubious sentence is… you guessed it, ‘limited’:  Unlimited mileage is… ahem… limited to a maximum of 100,000 miles.

I’m all for language evolving – new words being brought to life, outmoded grammar being laid to rest, but why the doublethink?  Either it’s unlimited, or it’s limited – n’est-ce pas?

In the bowels of corporate headquarters everywhere, there are people working on this repurposing of perfectly adequate language. Data contracts have adopted the same flexible interpretation of the word unlimited, coupling it with what they charmingly call a fair usage policy. That’s to say, ‘We’ll all pretend we’ve given you a totally unlimited download capacity, but you have to go careful now, don’t get too greedy, because you’ll try our patience and then we’ll cut you down just when you need us most’.

Another favourite of mine is that deceptive pairing of the words ‘up to’… as in, “Up to 80% off” (any and every high street furniture sale the length and breadth of the country), or “Up to 80Mbps” (my Broadband contract, which actually delivers about half this speed).  Cleverly deploying a size zero font, the corporate boffs imagine their customers are so stupid they won’t notice those microscopic letters.

When I’m not trying to be a novelist, I work freelance in marketing and copywriting.  So you might  imagine I’d be sympathetic to these attempts linguistic ambiguity.  But I’m not and that’s because I’m a consumer first and a Grumpy Old Woman second – and only then am I a marketer. And I don’t like the idea that the corporate world is out there reinventing language in an attempt to confuse and deceive.

If you have a favourite snippet of corporate doublethink, share it with us.

‘My Writing Process’ Blog Hop

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Creative processThe blogosphere is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? My blogging buddy Dylan Hearn, of Suffolk Scribblings fame (and author of the inspired and intriguing dystopian thriller, Second Chance) has nominated me to take part in My Writing Process Blog Hop. I decided having done two blogging awards, that I wouldn’t do any more. But since three*, not two is the magic number – and since it’s Dylan who nominated me – how could I refuse?

So here we are:

1. What am I currently working on?

Until recently, I would have described myself as ‘between jobs’ (resting?) in writerly terms. I thought I’d finished My First Novel, which I’ve titled SINGLED OUT. I’ve been submitting to agents (17 so far), with a flicker of interest here and there, but no tangible progress. I’ve been trying to work out my next idea, but I’m beginning to think my mind won’t allow me to let go of SINGLED OUT. Now I come to glance through it again after a few months’ absence from its pages, I realise why. I can see things that need work. So I’ve decided to have another pass-through, a few days over the summer teasing out a few improvements, deleting a few more adjectives, tightening a few more sentences. The one agent who has thus far offered a line or two of specific feedback said my minor characters weren’t engaging enough, so I shall look at these characters more critically and see if (a) I agree and (b) I can do anything about it.

As it happens, I’m in the mood for a few days with Singled Out, as it’s set in the heat of summer. My characters are on a singles holiday in Turkey. It’s a psychological story, a kind of fox in the henhouse piece – where henhouse is a deceptively sublime setting. Whilst several characters are not quite who they seem to be (believe me, it’s easy to hide your true self for a week with a bunch of strangers), one character in particular is playing a very nasty game. It’s not a mystery or traditional crime story as the reader realises early on the identity of the fox. But the other holidaymakers don’t and the reader watches them putting themselves in harm’s way. I like the idea that the reader is outside a window, seeing something bad play out, unable to intervene.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

There’s a dark psychological conflict running through the story, but SINGLED OUT is not a thriller, more psychological suspense; a slow-burn with a clash of wits, a mental contest, at its heart. It’s not a whodunit but a whydunit.  SINGLED OUT is emotional but although it’s set on a holiday for single travellers, there’s very little romance – actually none.  It’s commercial, but because of the setting, it’s also more sensory than is typical for a commercial novel.

I’ve been told often that the context of a singles holiday is a unique and great idea. I’m writing from experience as I’ve been on several of them in my time, although none had quite the colour of the entirely fictional one in my story.

3. Why do I write what I write?

I realised early on that I like writing stories about dark, psychologically damaged or maladjusted people. Weirdly, I relish imagining myself into their personalities, their motivations and their views of the world. I’m exorcising a ghost or two here, I’ll confess, but that’s a topic for another day. I’m not sure if this will be the only type of story that I write, but that’s where I am for the moment.

4. How does my writing process work?

All I can say is how it worked this time – my first time. I began with a chapter-by-chapter outline, so I knew how the story would progress and, more importantly, I knew I had sufficient material and ideas to fill the pages of a novel. Each chapter outline was just 5 or 6 lines long, an account of what should take place and from whose point of view. A final single line indicated probably the most important thing – how this episode takes the story forward, or what the reader learns.

One example: X is sleazy, understands his place in the pecking order, acts inappropriately towards women

My outline changed, probably about 40% over the course of writing – I dumped a character, I added a backstory, I changed the ending – but it remained a reliable roadmap and it helped me appreciate my progress.

I wrote for as much time as I could find. I work freelance and my workload varies from week to week. For almost two years whilst writing SINGLED OUT I was outrageously busy with a big contract. During that time I shared a commitment with a writing buddy to produce at least 500 words a week. That’s a staggeringly small amount, but some weeks that was all I managed. On other occasions, 500 words was all I thought I could manage, but once I sat down on a Sunday to push that out in the hours before our agreed deadline, I kept going and eventually produced 2,000 or 3,000 words. That 500-word commitment – so small that I could never say I couldn’t manage it – kept the process going.

Each day before I began writing, I would re-read what I’d written the day before, but do no more with it than tweak the odd word. It was a bit like applying a jump-start to the day’s writing, or doing a run-up.

I had the support of a mentor for several months, which was a great learning experience, but also challenging, as it meant I was reviewing/editing in one section whilst writing another. Like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.

Eventually I had a first draft, and a year after that I felt I had a draft (6th) in good enough shape to begin the submissions process. Now I’m not so sure…

5. Nominate three other writers

Okay here’s where it gets tough, because I know how most people don’t like the commitment that awards, blog hops and the like demand. So I would say to all three, do it, or don’t do it – it’s up to you. I’m nominating these writers because I think they write a great blogs that deserve to be seen by as many people as possible.

Sweat, Tears and Digital Ink – MG Mason is a fellow freelancer with a writing habit in the sci-fi/horror/fantasy genres. He writes about writing, words and the origin of language too, and has a great Highlights page on his blog (including a personal perspective on writing sex scenes, something which challenges many writers).

Sarah J Carlson, Author – Sarah is an American living in Singapore. As well as her writing, she shares her experiences of living and exploring in South East Asia, and some fabulous photos too.

Blondes Write More – Describing herself as a novice writer starting her journey, this blogger has also just won the Very Inspiring Blogger Award so I’ve learned more about her from her fascinating facts. I hope she won’t mind getting some publicity for her sparky and very engaging blog.

So Dylan, thanks again for your nomination and for continuing to be a brilliant blogging buddy and a generous supporter of budding writers everywhere.

* The Rule of Three dictates that details and objects that are arranged or grouped in threes are more appealing, funny or memorable than even-numbered pairings. In papercrafting (when she’s not up to her neck in edits or traumatised by synopses, this writer diddles with papers, inks and sticky stuff for fun) this means three (flowers, gems, butterflies) not two, and not four (although five is ok on a larger surface). You see the Rule of Three all the time in photography and in display of objects and ornaments; the Japanese do it in some style with Ikebana flower arranging… and so on. Blah.

Can you tell what it is yet?

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Do you like this picture? It’s not an original, only a limited edition print, but I think it’s stunning. At least, I did.

Darwin Dawn by Rolf HarrisI loved it the moment I saw it, four years ago. At a few hundred pounds it cost more than I’d ever spent on a picture before – it was a real treat to self. I was thrilled when it was delivered, beautifully mounted and framed and complete with authentication. Since then it has hung on my landing, half way up the stairs and away from natural light which might damage it. And I have enjoyed and treasured it every day.

Every day, that is, until last week.

Look closely at the signature on the mount to the bottom right of the picture and you’ll realise why my feelings for this slice of creative endeavour have tarnished.

Yes, this is a print of a painting by Rolf Harris.

UK and Australian readers of this blog will be more than familiar with Rolf Harris, one-time television presenter, children’s entertainer, singer-songwriter, master of curious musical instruments (wobble board, didgeridoo and stylophone), artist of some note and – of course – gold-plated national treasure. He was a regular on television throughout my childhood at a time when the whole family watched together at Saturday teatime. His impish humour made us laugh; he would paint inexplicable splashes and splats with decorating brushes and black emulsion, which morphed mysteriously into magnificent panoramas. He carved a niche for himself as a popular artist (even though the snootier art critics would always rubbish him) and migrated to presenting programmes about sick animals and grandiose public art projects. He even painted the Queen.

That was then.

And this is now. As of last week, in a spectacular fall from grace, 84-year-old Rolf Harris is now serving time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, having been convicted of multiple indecent assaults on young and teenage girls.

My picture – it’s called Darwin Dawn, by the way (although apparently it shows not dawn breaking, but a sunset) – remained resolutely on display as the trial ploughed on towards its almost inevitable conclusion; innocent until proven guilty and all that. But the conviction changed things.

Since the trial much has been written about the fire-sale of Rolf Harris artwork – you won’t be surprised that I was looking out for opinion pieces on this topic. The internet is now awash with listings of his pictures at a fraction of original value. I understand completely the desire of many owners to divest themselves of these tainted artworks, even though they’ll take a hit, financially speaking. I considered it myself.  I thought long and hard about it but I’ve decided I don’t want to sell.

But  before you rush to judge I’ll tell you, it doesn’t feel good or right or proper to have this picture hanging on my wall. I’m not comfortable being that intimate with it anymore; I don’t want to walk past the signature every day; I no longer feel the glow of joy at owning this picture; and I don’t want friends and other visitors to wonder why I’m displaying the art of a child molester. This beautiful piece of art taints my home.

Many creative types – writers, artists, actors, musicians – have earned society’s disapprobation for crimes, moral weaknesses and addictions. In time we forgive most of them. But sexual assault on children is a step so much further, a line crossed. It’s a place from which there is no return, no rehabilitation, socially or artistically.  Rolf Harris, national treasure, is tainted now and so too is my love of that picture. It’s hardly a crime when compared to what his victims endured, but he’s robbed me and many others – of the pleasure of enjoying his art.

So the sun has well and truly set on Darwin Dawn.  It’ll be taken down and tucked away, safely stored. No danger of it suffering sunlight damage any more, that’s for sure.

Off-message – but on top of the world

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On a trip into London and an unexpected high.

River Thames from Millbank TowerOkay, so this is off-message, I know – but WordPress tells me it’s my 100th post, so I hope you’ll indulge me.

I live to the west of London. If anyone except another Londoner asks, I say I live in London because that’s specific enough. But there’s Central London and then there’s the wide band of suburb stretching out in a radius of perhaps 10-12 miles from the centre before you get to the M25, the motorway that encircles the city. And I’m at the far edge.

Mostly I stay away from the centre of the city. It’s crowded, noisy, stinky and dirty like any large city, and in the summer it’s overrun with tourists shouldering hazardous backpacks and stopping without warning every few feet to take pictures of each other. For years I commuted daily to areas in the West End (shopping district), City of London (old financial district before Canary Wharf came along) and Westminster (the seat of power). But as a home-based worker now, my trips into London are rare, perhaps five or six times a year, no more.

Yesterday I was to be in London on behalf of a client, attending and doing the write-up on a seminar at Millbank Tower by the River Thames. As usual I grizzled to myself about the journey; whichever way I try, it never has less than three legs and never takes less than 90 minutes. Choking on the fumes I abandoned a walk from Victoria and took a taxi – the lazy approach, but I didn’t want to arrive unable to breathe. I knew Millbank Tower was tall – the clue is in the name – but I hadn’t realised I was headed up on one of those lifts that zips past the first 15 floors, ultimately to the 29th floor. The venue was called Altitude – I should have realised.

The view that greets you from the 29th floor of Millbank Tower all but takes your breath away. My last trip ‘up’ in London was to escort a friend from the USA on The London Eye (see it in the photos), but on the day in question it had drizzled solidly and the clouds tickled the capsules as they rounded the top of the wheel, smothering the view.

London from Millbank TowerYesterday was different, so I took some photos – of the city I simultaneously hate and love. Down on the ground, it’s an assault on the senses – and not in a nice way. Up there it was magic, insulated from the noise and dirt; an urban panorama harking back centuries and stretching forward – and upward – into the future. The skyline changes year by year as old buildings are dwarfed by structures reaching ever higher. (Can you spot St Paul’s Cathedral? It’s just to the right of the tallest crane.) Individual towers, striking when they were built, become swamped by their neighbours within a year or two. Look closely and you’ll see the scene is cluttered with cranes, as old real estate is levelled and spires of steel and glass take root. It’s a constantly changing skyline. In a weird way it’s not unlike a forest, with its natural balance of decay and renewal.

Anyhow, it fair took my breath away, so I thought I’d share one or two photos I managed to snap before the business of the day got underway. Enjoy.

When is a debut novel not a debut novel?

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The learning experience continues…

Bottom Drawer FilingI read an article recently on beginning a fiction writing career late in life – you can find it here on the Writer’s & Artist’s website if you’re interested. The author, Dinah Jeffries, has some telling observations about the challenges of getting published. I noted she regards her first attempt at a novel as a learning experience. She doesn’t name this novel in her article and only cites the succession of rejections she received. With her official debut novel, The Separation, just published by Penguin, her actual debut novel remains, I presume, tucked away in a bottom drawer somewhere.

For obvious reasons I keep an eye out for debut novels regarded as stunning, astounding or wildly successful. I’ve enjoyed many of them in recent years. Just a few examples: The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Monster Love by Carol Topolski and more recently The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer and The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence. These are all extraordinary books with unique and distinctive voices.

What’s interesting to this would-be debut novelist is the number of debut novelists whose debut novel, as it were, isn’t their first novel. I can’t speak for all the authors above but in addition to Dinah Jeffries, Nathan Filer for one admits to having an earlier work tucked away in a bottom drawer somewhere. I’m pretty sure he isn’t alone in this.

So I’ve been wondering, is Singled Out my bottom-drawer novel? I’ve certainly learned a huge amount in the course of writing it. I’m still learning too, as I’ve realised I need to work through every page again in another dispassionate, murder-your-darlings line edit. This I will tackle over the summer (which means for now, no more agents will be burdened with the task of reviewing my submission).

When I’ve dragged Singed Out through yet another edit, will it be extraordinary enough? Will its voices be unique and distinctive enough? I don’t know. But I am beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t just accept the inevitable, finish the edit I know it needs, then set it aside and begin my second novel, armed with the mass of learning that the last four years, three writing courses, two retreats and one mentor – oh, and 330+ pages – has delivered.

There’s always the self-publish option, I know, and that remains in my mind. But if I believe my second novel could be excellent and distinctive enough to be my debut novel, should I debut, as it were, in a self-published way, with my learning experience? Or should I instead swallow my disappointment, finish that one last edit, then parcel it up and tuck it away in a bottom drawer?

I’m interested in your thoughts on this, but I’m not looking for easy answers. I’m just sharing the thought process that accompanies the experience of rejection and the almost certain knowledge that I haven’t quite got it nailed – yet. I know not to take it too hard, as rejection is a much, much more common experience than acceptance, contracts and publication. But if I’m sincere about learning to become a good – and publishable – novelist, is it not pragmatic to bottom-drawer that first attempt – filed not under failure but under learning experience?

What will they think of me?

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Do you ever worry what people close to you might think of you if you write certain things into your novel? I do.

eye-catcher-74182-pixabayA few months ago I circulated Singled Out to a small group of Beta Readers. On returning with his feedback, one reader said, with a wry smile, ‘I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at you the same way again, Julie.’

I don’t think he meant anything by it – in his case it was more tongue-in-cheek. It’s just that Singled Out does contain a few shall we say, edgy moments and a bit of shall we say, earthy language, and I think they took him by… surprise. But that’s because I’ve chosen to write psychological rather than chick lit or aga saga; deadly nightshade, not sunbeams and butterflies.

His reaction though begged the question, will others who read this feel the same way and if they do, how do I feel about that? Readers who don’t know me will take it all at face value, since writers write about all sorts of things and readers buy what they enjoy. But what about friends and family? And for me, wearing a businesswoman’s hat as well as a writer’s hat, what about my professional marketing clients? Should I be concerned what they will make of it?

So yes, if not a worry, it is certainly a concern.

Pale faced, my Beta Reader went on to ask, in a way which suggested he might not actually want to know the answer, if I was writing from experience. I told him, I’d been on one or two singles holidays so, yes, I was writing from experience. ‘Not that’, he said. ‘The— oh, you know what I mean’.

Ah. Yes. But no. What he’s talking about, those edgier plot moments, it’s a No. I wasn’t writing from experience. It was all from imagination – well, almost all. Mostly. Anyway, I thanked him for his concern and told him he could stop worrying.

Of course one doesn’t have to experience things in order to write them into a story. I can describe a dead body without ever having seen one; a cocaine hit without ever having been near a gram of the stuff; a deviant sexual activity without ever having so deviated; or a grizzly crime without ever having been a victim of it – or a perpetrator for that matter. There are always people who know people who can help with credible detail and failing that, there’s a world of Googleknowledge to draw on. If writers couldn’t do this, there’d be far more dull and insipid novels around and far fewer murder mysteries, heart-stopping thrillers and psycho-dramas.

But whether I’m writing wholly or partially or not at all from experience, I chose to write a gritty psychological story where bad stuff happens and the mood is at times raw and unsettling. Apart from anything else, I confess it’s weirdly fun to get out of my workaday existence and alter-ego this kind of material.

So if any clients, close friends or family are reading this – or in future if any clients, close friends or family read this novice writer’s first attempt at an unsettling psychological story – I hope you will all forgive the fact that I’ve taken a big step away from my comfortably suburban private life and my conscientiously professional business life and gone somewhere very different for my new writing life…

I just hope it doesn’t offend you, or disturb you, or make you look askance at me.

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