Recently I had my dream come true of getting a publisher for my debut novel. Once I’d calmed down enough to start making some sense again one of the first things I did was email the team at the Writers’ Workshop to thank them for the huge part they’d played in my success. I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have achieved it without them. When I went to the Festival of Writing for the first time in 2012, I was nearing the end of the first draft of my first novel. I’d been on a couple of courses but was floundering around not really knowing what I was doing but knowing that whatever it was, I needed some help. I found it initially in the form of Book Doctor, Shelley Harris, who gave insightful advice and much more than the 10 minute session I was booked in for as she had a free space after my 1-1.
I will never forget what she taught me, her faith that I could do it, nor the buzz and excitement of being surrounded by hundreds of other people who were as obsessed with reading and writing as I was. The workshops I went to also showed me the way into taking that first draft and turning it into something resembling a novel that people might want to read.
Shortly after York I booked onto the Self-Editing Your Novel Course, which is run by Debi Alper and Emma Darwin. It completely changed my writing life as well as my manuscript. With everything I’d learnt and applied to my story, I took the next step up the 1-1 ladder at the 2013 festival and booked to see an agent and an editor to find out if I was getting there or not. They liked it. I felt like I was onto something, especially as the agent said she wanted to see the finished version when I was ready. So I went home, hungover and exhausted but exhilarated and motivated too, and spent the next year editing, revising, writing a new POV in, pulling my hair out, threatening to abandon it, and wondering why I’d ever thought I wanted to write novels.
But by the time York 2014 came around I had a submission ready novel and 1-1s booked with the agent I’d seen the year before and another two that I’d thought I’d like to work with. Readings on my excitement radar were at dangerous levels at the Saturday night party as two of them wanted to read the whole MS and the other had asked for the next two chapters. I went home, sent it out to them and to another three agents (who also asked for the full MS) and a couple of indie publishers, and then came crashing back down to earth as the rejections came in. But they were all ‘great’ rejections – they’d read the whole thing, it was compelling, I was a natural storyteller, it just wasn’t for them.
I’m not going to lie it was crushing and upsetting. I felt like giving up. But I couldn’t as I knew that I must have something good for them to have read it all and given the feedback they did. So when a friend of mine recommended a new indie on the block to me, Urbane Publications, I thought I’d give it one last shot with this novel before really focusing on the next one. I’m so glad I did. Urbane have been so professional, inclusive and supportive and they are publishing some really exciting things. I feel like I’m in great company. My novel, As If I Were A River, will be published in Spring 2016; and seeing as I was always an indie chick in my teens and twenties (and still am in my 40-something heart), it feels really right that my work is with an indie publisher now.
So even though I didn’t actually meet my publisher at York, if I’d never been there I wouldn’t be as accomplished a writer as I am now (although I’ll always still be learning) and I certainly wouldn’t have the belief in my writing that everyone I met there instilled in me.