It's been ten years of nursing an idea and four years of actually writing and revising it with a six month hiatus in between but it is, finally, time to admit defeat. INFELICE is, unfortunately, a no-go.
The idea was conceived in 2008, writing began in June 2014. During two sets of submission rounds, the full 'finished' manuscript saw the attention of two agents in 2016. Based on their feedback it went through a hefty rewrite between 2017-2018, and went out on submission again in April. To my delight, the full MS was requested by one of the most highly sought-after agents in UK publishing. It is a big compliment, to have the novel requested by them - as a member of my writing group said, to get that particular agent to even take a sniff at a full MS is a massive achievement. But at the end of the day it didn't quite tick all their boxes - on October 1st, I had my official 'No'. The agent's rejection was the best I've ever had - it was constructive, extremely complimentary about my writing and my potential as a writer in terms of the type of novel they envision me writing in the future, all done in a few email exchanges rather than just the one (again, an achievement, since most agents will not engage further once the rejection has been dealt). Ultimately, INFELICE lacked peak tension and an intense enough 'hook' which, in laymen's terms, means it would be difficult to sell.
To say I was sorely disappointed was an understatement. I wallowed in much the same way I would after a broken down relationship as, to be frank, this felt like ten years of my life down the shoot. I'd hoped I was better than to react in such a melodramatic way. After all, I'd been very realistic about the whole thing from the start; this rejection had not come as a surprise. In fact, I expected this outcome for a while. But it turns out I'd nursed the dream too closely, letting myself hope that there was a very real chance of getting that longed for 'win'. So, the heartache of it was acute (and when you've invested so much time and passion into something only for the rug to be pulled from beneath your feet, that's exactly what it feels like).
For a while I was at a crossroads. Book 2, which I had tentatively been calling 'FOUNDLING', came under a period of severe contemplation. Did I spend another three years on a novel that has its roots firmly embedded in historical fact and Romanticism, only to have my hopes dashed again on something that is simply too difficult to sell? You see, the agent advised that I needed to be writing something more high concept and international in scope, echoing my suspicions that I'd kept my head too firmly immersed in the history books and archives (as evidenced by my last post). They also told me they'd be delighted to see my next novel and if I'm honest, while I could keep sending Book 1 to agents and hope for the best, the further down the agent ladder I go, the more I do it a disservice. If I work on Book 2 it risks a similar fate. I decided I would much rather aim high with a fresh and innovative idea (whatever that may be), and revisit the other two novels at a later date if (if) success eventually comes.
So with no novel to focus on and no fresh ideas, I've had to re-evaluate my next move. After a week or so I picked myself up and began to network. I chatted to various people in the industry who kindly offered me their ears, members from my writing group, and close friends. They've all helped me see and come to terms with the fact that the obvious answer is not only to keep going, but to dabble in something different for a while, partly to experience different formats and genres, and partly in the hope a novel idea will strike when I'm not actively thinking about it. The past couple of days has been spent reorganising the bookshelves, sifting through my 'idea drawer' (basically a collection of papers, notes and magazine articles I'd been saving for a rainy day that never came), and - more importantly - creating a spreadsheet of Short Story and Flash Fiction magazines and competitions, with an additional two tabs tentatively marked 'Poetry' and 'Radio'. The plan is to use this down-period as Personal Study - research, read. See what works and what is current, take note of winning entries, other avenues. Listen to podcasts. Forging a writing career is about demonstrable talent and taking chances, building a writing profile, something that I've not done before having focused so steadfastly on the novel format. I need to familiarise myself with the unknown and see if I can adapt to it.
There isn't much else to say, really. Is my disappointment still raw? Yes. Will it take a while for the bruises to disappear? Hell yes. But I have two choices - either let this beat me and give up, or, simply, find another way. Frustratingly, it seems to me I'm forever finding another way. But if I don't explore other avenues then I'll never know. I can't guarantee I'll always be optimistic about the process (in fact, I'm positive I won't be), but on the better days I have to remember this: rejection is just a stepping stone to success.
P.S. Thank you to all those who have supported (and put up with) me during the l o n g and often tedious process of writing INFELICE - you all know who you are.
I know I've been quiet, so here's a brief (and I do mean brief) update to keep you all in the loop:
The Agent Search
I sent the novel off to agents for the third and final time on the 20th April. Playing the waiting game is always tough, and if I let myself think on everything too much I invariably end up looking like this woman in yellow here. But, where am I at? On the 1st July one agent requested the full manuscript (it's still too soon for a response at this stage), but by 24th July a few agencies had yet to respond, to which I have now chased. Usually radio silence after three months means a rejection, but I wanted to have an official answer. Somehow having it there in black and white makes moving forward and dealing with rejection easier. So, at this stage I have no news on this score. What I can say is that if by September I have nothing to show for the wait, then my decision to shelve the novel as discussed in my last blog post will come to fruition. I've done all I can. And that's ok.
It doesn't mean I've given up on the writing completely, however. Research for Book 2 - tentatively titled FOUNDLING - is under way. This research is a pick-up from where I left off in 2016, but with two double anniversaries looming - Peterloo (August 1819) and Cato Street (February 1820) - I'm conscious that I've left this longer than originally intended. But then, I had hoped Book 1 would have been further along by now, and I must take into account all that had happened in the interim period, the fact that I've rewritten Book 1 from scratch between July 2017 and March 2018, and had the day job to juggle while doing so.
For the moment I have removed the Twitter and Instagram apps from my phone so I cannot be distracted by them, and the second week of August will see me in London hitting the National Archives at Kew, the special collections department at Senate House, and an 'historical walk' that will literally have me following in the footsteps of a key figure in my second novel. Some of this research is not fully dedicated to Book 2, however, as I have an academic chapter to finish which requires a lot of the information I plan to collect. But there is progress - albeit slow - which is a lot more than I could say for myself six months ago! With nothing else to report, I'll leave you with William Faden's Fourth Edition of Horwood's Plan (1819) and a glimpse of where my walk will start ...
So. It's done. As far as it can be for the time being.
While I didn't start officially writing the novel until 2014, I got the idea for it in 2007. The novel has - give or take - been in my life for just over ten years and is, quite frankly, the longest love affair I've ever had. I've lived and breathed this novel for four years, let it take over parts of my life at the cost of, well, a lot of things. Over the past eight months I've butchered it down to its bones, ripped the bloody remains of it to shreds, and built it all up again word by word, paragraph by painstaking paragraph, and created something I truly think is richer for having done so. But there comes a point in every writer's life where you have to be brutally honest about the lifespan of an idea. It's taken me a long time to come to terms with it but the truth is, Enough Is Enough.
In a few weeks I'm going to be sending the novel for it's third agent round and if, after all this effort it is not picked up, then I shall put it to bed. I shall shelve it. I have such a strong belief in this story and in the characters, not just because they are historical figures but because of what they represent. INFELICE is a story of human emotion: grief, love, obsession, the capacity to lie and what happens when you do. It is a story of acceptance and gender inequality. I feel that now, more than ever, it is timely. It is a story that needed to be told. Some stories, however, just do not 'sell'. Some stories have their moment in the sun, some linger in shadows. I would be lying if I said I didn't want my first novel to be my début. I would also be lying if I said my ambitions as a writer didn't rest on this particular one. I am realistic enough though to understand this isn't the way it always works in the publishing industry, that many novelists don't find success until their second, third or even fourth novel. And if I spend all my energy focusing on my first, I'll never focus on my second, or third, or fourth. It is time then, to move on. Ten years really is enough.
My plan of action now is to complete my final agent compilation, prepare submission packages, and send the novel once again into the abyss once London Book Fair is over (the busiest time in an agent's calendar aside from Frankfurt Book Fair in October). I fully expect a six month wait (possibly longer) so in the meantime I shall embark - officially - on Book 2 and a few other projects I've had on the back-burner, and simply take it all from there. All I can do is keep my fingers and toes crossed that my first novel finds a home this year. And if it doesn't? Curb my disappointment and keep going. After all:
Writers are desperate people and when they stop being desperate they stop being writers. ~ Charles Bukowski
I hate January. It’s the month everyone is broke and miserable and in my case, feeling frumpy after Christmas from excessive eating. January is cold and wet and just seems to go on far too long. I got no writing done that month - I focused on Day Job admin (I work from home) and the back garden which was in serious need of TLC. It wasn’t until the last weekend of January that I managed to brave looking at the half-finished mess of Part II and put together a plan of action.
I've given myself a deadline of the first week of April. After that I know I’ll have too many work commitments to juggle and writing time will end up falling on the wayside whether I want it to or not. Hence why I’ve stayed mostly silent on social media and my blog - I wanted to invest as much time as possible into the novel without distractions. And here’s how it's gone:
On my first official day back to writing I posted an Instagram story which better shows my feelings on the matter. (Remember how I keep saying writing isn't glamorous? Not only does the first image prove it, but being messaged by a friend the same day with a comment that both exuded amusement and concern at my appearance really leaves no room for doubt!)
But, as with all things, starting is always the hardest part. I read an excellent book to help me, to ease me back into the writing flow. It was set in the Georgian period (I find that helps, to read something similar [know your market]) - THE MERMAID AND MRS HANCOCK. I'd read the opening chapter online in the January and was overcome with those pesky Doubt Demons, but early in the February I gave myself a mental slap and read the novel in one very long sitting ... by the end, for once - and rarely - I felt buoyed on by the writing. It made me confident again that I could inject my novel with the language and sentence flow I'd previously thought needed to be cut. I realised that I'd had too many differing opinions from early readers and had been trying too hard to please, rather than stay true to my own voice. As a result, I believe my writing these last weeks has been richer for the change. So onward I went and onward I go (albeit slowly, with good days and the bad). Part II is finally taking shape.
In other news, I:
Well, that's all I have to update you with for now. I hope by April I'll have some news for you - successful progress, a final draft, a last round of edits ... All I can hope is that the Writing Gods are with me and the Doubt Demons keep at bay, so that I can do a Dory.