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!
This post might make more sense if you read the one below, before you read this
My teaching and learning continued, and my pile of rejection letters grew, and then one day another phone call brought some exciting news – It was from the competition organiser of the Birmingham Readers and Writers Festival – I’d entered for the short story category, and the man from BRMB radio station was telling me that my story, A Head for Heights had won fourth prize – my first ever recognition as a writer! The smile on my face lasted hours.
The subject of my story was one that would provide yet another strange link across the years. My best friend at school was a skinny girl with thin straggly hair and an occasional Australian accent. She’d turned up at our convent boarding school halfway through the year, and, unlike the rest of our class, wore actual nylon stockings instead of knee-length socks. (I discovered later, after we’d become friends, that her mother had been misinformed by the woman in Harrods school uniforms department about the regulations for the required clothing in the different years ). This put her at an added disadvantage, as it made her look like a sissy, choosing to subject herself to the discomfort of suspender belts a whole year before it was absolutely necessary, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, she had an unusual Christian name and a double-barrelled surname – I mean, I ask you, Clarissa Dickson Wright!
She was adopted by a kindly group of girls, who took her under their wings and showed her the ropes, but after a few weeks, one of them approached me and asked if Clarissa could join our small gang instead, as she was too naughty for them, and that was it – we’ve supported each other through the ups and downs of our lives ever since.
So, back to my prize winning story, which features a character based on my friend – It’s no secret to anyone who’s ever shown the slightest interest in Clarissa since she became famous that she’s a recovering alcoholic and that before she went into a treatment centre she’d had several years of slow decline. She continued to visit us throughout those years, and was dearly loved by my two children, her godchildren, who had no idea of what was happening to her. They both took for granted her store of green Gordon’s bottles that she brought with her whenever she visited, and they’d compete with each other to be the first to pour her tonic and fetch the ice cubes from the freezer.
There was one occasion at the pre-school playgroup when I sensed some strange looks from one or two of the helpers. I was later enlightened when I was told about my three year old’s offering of a doll’s size plastic cup and saucer to a visiting playgroup leader, with the words, ‘Would you like a gin and tonic?’