I had a wonderful morning last Thursday, talking to a lively group of enthusiastic readers. I never know quite what to expect when visiting different reading and writing groups, though one thing I can be pretty sure of is that it won’t be boring. Not for me, anyway!
Giving talks about my writing is second only to the pleasure I have when I’m at my desk creating characters in a novel, or finding the words to express my thoughts and feelings in a poem. This has been one of the unexpected benefits of finding a publisher for The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society nearly five years ago (October 2005). I’d already had a small collection of poems published (Single Travellers, Flarestack, 2004) but I was amazed by the difference in people’s reactions when they heard I was now a published novelist. Suddenly, I was being invited to give talks to reading and writing groups and a range of other organisations - I’m still receiving requests for these types of events.
I feel so lucky!
Thursday’s visit was particularly enjoyable for me, as most of the group had only recently read the Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society and were keen to give me their comments and ask me questions. It was wonderful to know that this novel is still being appreciated by readers, especially those who know and love Birmingham, and liked the positive image of the Brummies in the book. Here’s a link to Sheila Arthur’s reviews of the book and her reflections on the event on the Active Arts website, and her own blog.
After introducing the ideas behind my new novel, Paper Lanterns, I read a few extracts, which gives me the opportunity to present the voices of different characters, something that I love doing. It reminds me of how I felt when I was part of the poetry ensemble, Late Shift, reciting in front of audiences at Literary Festivals across the country – a skill that I acquired to my great delight, in my early fifties, after experiencing painful self-consciousness in front of groups of strangers for most of my early life. What a gift that was – as you can see in : “ How I didn’t get Stage-Fright “
I always have a box of my books in the boot of my car – not because I have any expectations that people will want to buy a copy of one or other of my novels, but as part of my ‘Just-in-Case’ approach to life. So I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who were happy to hand me some cash in exchange for a copy of Paper Lanterns. There was even a huge display board with information about me and my books, and including a copy of the Sunday Mercury article about the Chinese letters. Thank you for arranging this display, Lesley!
Funnily enough, when I browsed the headlines from the daily on-line Bookseller, I came across a link to an encouraging article that seemed particularly relevant to me in my guise as Novel Press: Re-inventing Book Marketing, by Dave Weich, who tells his readers,
“In the next ten years, book marketing will radically reinvent itself.”
And guess what? His closing paragraph states,
“Word-of-mouth will always drive book sales…”
No, I haven’t really got the recipe, but right now there are three subjects in my head that in a strange way seem to link up.
1: Getting published.
2: A novel for young adults called Wasted
3: An inspiring poetry Workshop
If you’ve visited this blog before, you’ll know that it’s mainly about my writing life as a poet and novelist, and that this can be split into two stages: before and after publication. The ‘before’ part is a good deal longer – I‘m an expert in the art of dealing with rejection: : it took me twenty years from completing my first novel to finding a publisher for my fourth.
You can find out here about Novel oneand Novel two. I nearly made it with Novel three, when I won a competition to receive a free read from The Literary Consultancy. Several amendments later, the novel was recommended as ‘deserving to be published’ . That was where the luck ran out: although I now had the backing of T.L.C., the agents on their list of contacts turned it down. They loved it, but not enough to take me on.
After at least forty more rejections, Novel Four was recommended for a free read from… The Literacy Consultancy! This didn’t feel like good luck to me. I’d been editing this novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society, for over a year, and I knew that it had reached its final form. I wasn’t going to attempt yet another re-write.
I sent it anyway. Was that luck, or chance or sheer doggedness? All I know is that if I hadn’t grasped that opportunity, I wouldn’t have heard of “the new publisher, Transita about to bring out its first novel in a few months’ time”, and I wouldn’t have become the published author of The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society in October 2005. You’ll find a mention about the demise of Transita here ,and there’ll soon be more about my second way of being published.
2: A novel for young adults called Wasted by Nicola Morgan which I finished last night, made me think about the role of luck or chance in our lives, and for me, specifically, the chance that led to publication at last. Nicola has an inspiring blog, ‘Help I need a Publisher’ and has set up another for her new novel, Wasted: which, in spite of my reluctance to buy yet another novel for my t.b.a. pile, I bought.
Although when I taught English in secondary schools, I used to enjoy reading fiction for teenagers, I haven’t done so since my own children were in their teens. I’m not going to say much about Wasted here – apart from saying ‘BUY IT!’ and quoting from an email I sent her after I’d read the first six chapters: “ I love the way you kind of dance through the words on the page with such energy and sensitivity. You’re ridiculously, arrogantly original and you’re making me want to write for teenagers. (not that I could)”
Last night I couldn’t sleep until I’d finished Wasted. This morning I visited the Wasted blog and came across this review.. It expresses my thoughts and feelings exactly.On another blog, where Nicola was responding to questions about Wasted, I find her voicing my own sentiments:
“As Jack says in Wasted, “Luck is just what we call it.” I think we very largely make our own luck. Terrible things happen to people through no fault of their own, and sometimes good things happen to those who don’t deserve it, but I believe that there are lots of ways of maximising our chances in all aspects of life. With trying to be published, there are right things to do and wrong things. The more right things you do, the more likely you are to be “lucky”…”
3: Yesterday afternoon I was at an inspiring poetry Workshop in the beautiful Shakespeare Memorial Room in Birmingham, led by Mario Petrucci and organised by Jaqui Rowe of Poetry Bites. I came away feeling grounded again, and with a few notes that might become a poem. I’ve been reminded of what I need to do and, more importantly, not do. I’ll write more about this soon, but meanwhile I shall follow Mario’s advice and do - what might look like to anyone who might see me – nothing!