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.