Let me prefix this by saying I’m sorry. If you’re reading this and you are a writer (as in someone, published or unpublished who writes creatively), then you will probably read this and hate me. You might hate me loads, you might just hate me a tiny bit, but I think you will definitely hate me to some degree. Because I would hate me. And I like to think I’m generous and compassionate though not quite the light being that living in Ubud should have made me by now.
You see, I never imagined being a writer. I didn’t staple paper together when I was 6 and write stories about fairies that lived at the bottom of the garden, I didn’t wile away time as a teenager writing angsty novels about loving and losing. Ok, I wrote some really, really awful poetry for a while which I think my ex boyfriend still has and hopefully won’t put on ebay when I’m famous. When I was about 10 I was asked to write a story about an invention – any invention that we could think of – and the page stayed blank. When I was 18 my English teacher told me not to bother applying to read English at university.
I did write other things despite these early warnings to take up maths instead; diaries, newsletters, amusing emails to friends, love letters (sent and unsent) an early blog at the start of the century, countless essays about the Renaissance, the resistance and neo realist cinema, and then once I started work I wrote millions of words of wildly creative nonsense in the form of funding reports and applications to government for large amounts of money.
I honed my creative writing on the battlefield of the British voluntary sector. And I won a lot. Anyway, the point is I never really aspired to be a writer, other than that vague notion in the back of my head to one day write a book which I think I shared with 99% of the population. Just one of those things I thought would be cool to do but which I would probably never get around to.
Then in 2009 I got sick of working and sick of living in London and my husband John and I decided that we’d pack up our lives and head off around the world with our then 3 year old daughter in tow to find a new place to live. That’s documented on the rest of this blog. About the time we were planning our route I started having panic attacks about what I’d do for money when we settled somewhere else. I was swimming one day and I thought to myself, right, gotta earn some money, or I’m screwed, so now, who’s rich? Richard Branson, but he’s a workaholic, oooh Stephanie Meyer, she ‘s rich and all for writing about vampires with angsty faces and quiffy hair, right I’m going to write a book.
And that, really is the first part of my story.
By the time I’d swum twenty lengths I had the kernel of a story idea. Every time I got stuck I’d think ‘what if…’ and so the story expanded and evolved. Having said that I always felt like the story already existed and that I was just tapping into it and writing it down. I’ll detail my writing process in another blog post later.
I started writing Hunting Lila in June. I wrote it naively, I wrote without really knowing what I was doing as is obvious by the final wordcount of my first draft (117,000 words – I had no clue that first novesl in YA should run 60-80K max – didn’t even think to google it). I finished it in November and started editing it. Then I began sending out letters to agents in London whose names I’d culled from the Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook.
I was good at writing letters – that was something I’d honed through long practice in the work place. I sent out my submissions and then I headed off with a backpack to India. Most people find themselves in India, and I was no exception, in India I realised that I wanted to be a writer, that writing was no longer just a means to an end but something that I couldn’t imagine not doing, it was my passion. I’d have daydreams where I had to choose what limbs to lose and I’d make pacts with myself that I’d be fine if I had an accident so long as I was left with my head and my right arm. If I lost my right arm I decided and could no longer write I would just want to die.
I hit the beach in Goa and started writing again – this time the sequel to Hunting Lila. I didn’t have a book deal, I didn’t have an agent but I had this story and these characters of Lila and Alex who I couldn’t let go. They haunted me. I felt like I was betraying them in some way just leaving them hanging, their story only partly told. They would actually talk away in my head, whole conversations with me as the eavesdropper and then I’d just write it down. It was an awesome way to write a book – feet buried in the sand, looking out over the Arabian sea.
Whilst I was there, I received replies from the agents I’d posted to. I had sent 12 letters. I received 9 rejections, 3 of which claimed to really like it but had no room on their lists, and I received 2 requests to read the entire manuscript.
I emailed the full manuscript through to these two agents in utter terror. At the point of getting an agent I could suddenly see the glint of light through the trees and with it came this sense that I would die if it came to nothing. (see melodrama in every aspect of my life, not just my writing). If you’ve ever got to this stage in writing you’ll appreciate how hellish the waiting is. Those points where I’ve been waiting – for an agent to get back to me, for a publisher to respond – have been the most stressful and godawful but also most exciting moments of my life, like being in the throes of labour but not knowing if the child you’re giving birth to is going to be born with a head or without one.
Anyway, both agents came back almost instantly to ask to represent me and I found myself in the amazing position of being able to choose my agent. I spoke to writer friends and asked them what I should ask and I scoured the net. Both were highly reputable, well established with excellent track records. Both were very excited about the book. It was an easy choice for me to make in the end after I spoke with both – I chose the person I got on with the most and who had clearly read the book more than once, knew it very well, and who loved the characters as much as I did.
So I signed with Amanda at Luigi Bonomi Associates and have had an amazing year working with her now. Having someone to whom I can dump creative ideas on and who knows the publishing world enough to tell me what to run with and what to ditch is more brilliant than I could have guessed. I will do a fuller blog post on literary agents later.
I spent about 2 months editing my mammoth manuscript down to 85,000 words and then after several more read throughs by Amanda we thought it was ready to send out. Amanda handles the publishers. My job was to wait. And finish work on the sequel.
She sent it to the top 11 publishers in the UK – Penguin, Hodder, Simon & Schuster, Harper, Orion etc – and then we waited for three weeks. And then another two weeks. And I got a lot of rejections that made me feel like puking. It came very close with publishers whose names I could barely whisper and only then in reverential awe. It’s an almost impossible thing to get my head around still – that editors at these publishing houses read my manuscript.
In July last year I received an offer from Simon & Schuster for Hunting Lila and its sequel.
It was a good offer, especially in this day and age, for a debut author. It wouldn’t have been enough to let me give up my day job in London (though maybe go part time) but it’s enough to live well on in Bali. We celebrated a lot. I think I may have cried.
In August we were on the final leg of our journey, a road trip of California. We were staying in a beautiful house in Montecito with friends and one day I started writing a new story. This time a stand alone novel. I’ve since found that after every book I need a 6 week break, at the end of which time I’m leaping to get back in front of a computer, almost feverish and manic with the need to write. So I started this new book and it came to me very quickly, needing very little rewriting. I had it finished by October and sent it to Amanda. She loved it but wasn’t sure that Simon & Schuster having taken such a big leap of faith on a two book deal with me already would buy a third book when the first two hadn’t yet been published.
But they did. I think I woke every person in our village in Bali, screaming about that one at 6am.
It’s February 2011 now. I’ve just finished final edits of Hunting Lila with my editor at Simon & Schuster. It goes to print next month and Hunting Lila will be released in the UK this August. The sequel will come out sometime in 2012 whilst the third book, still untitled, is due for release by Simon Pulse (S&S’s paranormal imprint) in January 2012.
I write this and then I read it back and I think bloody hell, was that the easiest ride to the top ever?
It’s true right? You hate me. Just a little bit.
But so long as you love my characters I can live with that.