I’ve just heard that my novel, The Making of Her, will be published this Friday. Even as I write this, it’s at the printers being turned into A Real Book. I’ve never had a baby, but I guess this is the nearest I’ll come to it. So please bear with me, because I’m going to blog about its story. Not its plot, but the story of how it came into being.
I began The Making of Her waaaay back in August 2006, on a How To Write A Novel course at University College, Falmouth, run by the redoubtable Jane Pollard. I came clutching the beginning of a novel, but my bright-eyed optimism was soon dashed. Jane told us to discard any novel we’d begun and start again from scratch.
In new-age circles, Letting Go is said to be a good thing, because it creates a vacuum into which something new can be born - and this proved to be the case: that night at the kitchen table an idea came to me. I sat and scribbled, and by next day the basic plot was there. I drew on my own experience as a television director, many years in therapy and my position in society as a middle aged (aka invisible) woman.
Little did I know that this was only the beginning of what would turn out to be a six-year project, with much heartbreak - and a few highs.
The first draft took about a year, although I stopped for four months in the middle: I lost faith after an incisive critique on the first three chapters. Like most beginning novelists, I was very resistant to changing my ‘baby’, partly because my skin was still too thin. Over the years, the skin thickened and the resistance was gradually dismantled. And I was lucky to be a member of three different writing groups, as well as WriteWords, a brilliant online writing community, and received invaluable critique from them.
I began subbing to agents in 2008.
At that point the novel had an unfortunate title – The Change – and involved rather too many menopausal references. It was also unrelentingly downbeat. Six form rejections came back. I entered some competitions – no luck. I sent the first three chapters and synopsis to the Hilary Johnson editorial service: they were encouraging and I realise, looking back, that there are a few events in writer’s lives which act as markers or milestones – where someone ‘gets’ what you’re doing and says ‘keep going’. This, together with being shortlisted in a Cornerstones competition, renewed my faith and energy to continue. One agent asked for the full – and rejected.
But some progress was being made.
I rewrote passages. I edited and revised. I changed the title to The Making of Her. I worked on making it more upbeat and changed one of the main narratives to first person. I subbed to another handful of agents. The rejections continued to come in, but now some of them were personal, and encouraging. One agent rejected, but asked to see the next one. A couple more asked for the full. There were moments of hope, but many more moments of despair and dejection. One agent ‘loved’ the first 50 pages and asked for the full, then hung onto it for many months before sending a pretty brutal rejection.
At this point I was ready to throw in the towel.
As a final shot, I decided to submit directly to a publisher. My friend Derek had told me about Linen Press Books, a women’s press based in Edinburgh, so I sent off my synopsis and first chapters. To my utter amazement, since I was feeling battered and bowed, they asked for the full and, within a week or so, had read it. They asked me to make some revisions and after seeing the preliminary changes, offered me a contract.
This was in January 2011.
The year that followed felt like a miracle. I had a fabulous editor who worked with me over many months like a mentor, meticulously going through the novel chapter by chapter. I rewrote the beginning (again), added a couple of sub-plots and rewrote a middle section. I could see the novel improving with each change. And because Linen Press is a small publishing house, I was fully involved at every stage, including the cover design.
So here it is. Or will be, on Friday. Now I’m immersed in marketing and asking for reviews, which feels rather like subbing to agents – lots of rejection/ignoring but a few ‘yesses’ or ‘maybes’. It’s been a long and often painful process to today, so what I’m long-windedly wanting to say is:
It is possible. You can do it. Keep going. Have faith.
The Making of Her will be available from www.linenpressbooks.co.uk from 27th April.