(This post might make more sense if you read the one below, before you read this)
There’d been lots of other writing-related developments in the twenty years between writing that story and launching my published novel. There were many more ‘boomerang’ short stories and I thought I was becoming quite hardened to rejection. Little did I know that I was still a mere novice in the art of, ‘Oh well. Maybe next time…’
Perhaps it was that minor success which gave me the impetus to write a full length novel – that, and all the ‘How to Write’ books I was reading in order to help ‘my’ creative writing students.
Whoever first said, ‘Ignorance is bliss,’ was dead right. In spite of my B.A. Hons in Eng Lit, followed in later years by everything I’d learned from my students’ work, and from reading all those books about writing, I was virtually clueless.
In spite of that, or maybe because of it, I revelled in the experience of working on a novel. Instead of facing regular blank starts as I struggled with the plot of another short story, or tried in vain to catch the vague feelings that were hovering out of reach above the part of my brain marked ‘Poetry’, my ‘novel’ was writing itself.
Somehow it managed to uncover the peaks and troughs in my generally uneventful life, and shape these, (together with a few imagined disappointments, joys and expectations) into something like a coherent whole: approximately 70, 000 words of a novel, the title of which, I’d taken from that short story, A Head for Heights.
So, armed with my ignorance, and my first Writers & Artists Year Book, I set out on the long hunt for an agent. Even now, that hunt goes on. Or, to be more accurate, has only just been halted – but I’ll come to that later.
A lot has changed in the publishing world since then – For a start, the NET book agreement still held good – not that I had the least idea of what that meant for authors.
In those days, some agents were prepared to nurture talented new writers, even if their first published novel stood only a small chance of making much money for anyone. They could afford to be patient, because they knew that (in those far-off, happy days) commissioning editors had some level of autonomy, and could trust their own judgement in spotting a promising writer, whose big success might not materialise until their second or third novel.
I can now appreciate the handwritten letter from one agent who said that while H for H was not for them, she’d be happy for me to send her my next novel. My next novel!! Didn’t she know that a novel took at least a whole year to write – that it wasn’t a matter scribbling down yet another short story, or a twenty line poem. This was bulky stuff. Serious work. And that woman could glibly refer to ‘my next novel’!
Some time later (several years, in fact) I was profoundly thankful that it hadn’t been published. It was, as the astute agent had seen, a ‘bottom drawer’ novel – an apprentice piece, a hotchpotch of semi-autobiography. It also demonstrated that, in patches, I could write well, but it wasn’t something I’d want to have my name attached to.