I wanted to do it right. For years, I did. And year after year followed. The novel remained in the drawer (or in my case, stuffed in a box). For fourteen years. There was the odd stab in the dark – a frenzied, too quickly sent email to a random set of agents whilst one of the babies slept, a frightened peek into ‘the box of papers’. But nothing back, no surprise!
Last year though, I had a moment. Not of clarity, really. But I found myself with a spare day, which felt like a small miracle of quietude and bewilderment when you have a two year old. And my thoughts turned to writing. I reworked my three chapters, sent them.
And heard nothing. I waited until the final week of the agent’s ‘do not expect a reply for up to 12 weeks’ and gently enquired if they had received my chapters. ‘We will let you know if we are interested.’ Came the reply, polite and short. Fair enough. But I felt impatient.
And thank god for that. The next day, I sent three chapters and a summary to Sue Armstrong at C + W Agency. I read her biography carefully. She seemed, for want of a better word, compatible. And nice. Human.
And she so is all that. She wanted the book. And we have worked damned hard to make it better. It has been almost a year since my heart stopped at receiving an email from Sue, who wanted to read the entire novel. Of which I hadn’t touched for 14 years. The book was so aged that one of the characters ‘snapped shut’ her mobile phone. I had managed to delete the word ‘islanders’ from the entire novel. It is set on an island.
Holed up with the book over the weekend, I turned it in to Sue, bleary eyed and delirious, three days later. I waited a few days, sweatily. When Sue’s email appeared on my phone as I walked on the seafront with a friend, I felt deep, jellied fear throw itself into my heart. Sweating buckets doesn’t do it justice. I felt like just not looking at my phone ever again. Perhaps I could throw it in the ocean. Job done.
When I got the courage to look, with shaking hands, in a pub surrounded by screaming children and the smell of natchos, I was floored. She was on board, and we were away.
Now, a year and at least six drafts later, the novel has doubled in size and my children have forgotten my name. I am ‘that lady upstairs’. But it is finished. It has left my hands, to be put in Sue’s capable ones. We cross our fingers. I want to see it as a ‘real’ book. But I already feel incredibly grateful for this year. I have gained the confidence again to write, and to think expansively. What a joy. An occasionally arduous joy, but a true gift nonetheless.