In 2013 I attended the Festival of Writing in York. That was the year I realised that nothing could protect me from the siren call of scribbling stories for a living so I’d decided to work part-time as a waitress and really focus on my writing. Sometimes a cliché can prove surprisingly useful.
I had written a novel, a fairytale for adults, and when I saw the festival advertised, I jumped at the chance to discuss it with industry professionals. I entered my fairytale for Friday Night Live and the first chapter competition and submitted it for critique in one of the workshops. It wasn’t selected for anything.
But the really big deal for me was the agent session. I approached it with a thundering heart. I loved my book and I wanted the agent to love it too – and, preferably, offer me representation right there and then!
He had two key messages for me. One was that the fairytale, as it was, was unmarketable; I hadn’t aimed it at a particular genre. The other was this: keep writing. He took some pains to ensure I took this to heart. Your writing is wonderful, you must carry on, don’t stop here.
Inevitably, as I left the hall, it was his first message which haunted me. I felt I’d let my beloved characters down. As for continuing to write, I knew I would. I’d come too far and given up too much by then to do anything else. But over the following days, his other words sank in, and I realised how important they were. Writers are tender creatures, even the most hardened/desperate of us, and encouragement along the way is invaluable. I think he knew this.
At that time I was sending work out to everyone – poetry, short stories, novels… This included what I then considered to be a completely pie-in-the-sky endeavour – I entered Richard and Judy’s wonderful Search for a Bestseller competition. In October 2014 I heard that I had won. Amy Snow was published by Quercus in April 2015 and my second novel, Florence Grace, will be published in June this year.
My route to publication, in the end, did not come via the Festival of Writing. The book I took there wasn’t the book that got me published. So looking back now, what part did it play in my journey?
First of all, it was a gesture of faith that my writing dream would prove worth the investment of time and money. These bold gestures, I believe, are always well rewarded.
Secondly it was an opportunity for me to steep myself for two whole days in the writing industry. I talked to other aspiring writers, published authors and professionals, and reminded myself in a completely concrete way of what it was I was trying to do. I had a session with a book doctor who provided me with useful observations on the work I’d submitted. I met another book doctor at dinner who was supportive and helpful. I left with leads and contacts I could never have found otherwise and with strong encouragement from the agent ringing in my ears.
We need these things. We all know it’s a tough industry to crack. But experiences like these help counteract that, so that we carry on.
To my delight, I’ll be returning to the Festival of Writing this year as one of the industry speakers.