I like contradictions.
I like it when there’s a round hole and a square peg that somehow fits it, I like it when things that should be black and white have shades of grey (erm, not those shades. Unless that’s your thing, in which case go right ahead).
The exception to the rule always pulls my attention. There’s a story in there, I find myself thinking. How might it unfold?
And because I like contradictions, I also like serendipity. The word itself has become a contradiction: in the original tales of the three princes of Serendip, the princes achieve success not merely through chance, as the modern day understanding of the word suggests, but more importantly through the use of logical deduction.
And that’s how I met my wonderful, inspiring, supportive agent Marcy: it was serendipitous, but I’d deliberately stacked the odds.
I met Marcy just as the train we were both on pulled into York. I noticed a lady waiting to exit the carriage holding some papers emblazoned with Festival of Writing, realised we were going to the same place and somehow eschewed my usual British reticence in order to make small talk. She was having difficulty with her luggage so I helped her with that and then we shared a taxi to the venue.
It was only during that taxi ride that I discovered she’s that most important of creatures – an agent, no less – and, moreover, an agent representing writers in my genre (psychological suspense, since you ask).
I plucked up the courage to ask if I could send her some material. Thankfully, she liked what she read, and we started down a path that has thus far led to an enormously exciting two-book deal with Berkley and the sale of the TV and movie rights for my first novel, The French Girl (how sweet of you to enquire! It’s out in hardback in February). Like I said, serendipitous, certainly – but it you want to meet an agent by chance, you must surely have a far greater probability of success if you go somewhere where there will actually be agents.
I count that particular Festival of Writing as a pivotal point in my writing career, and not only because I met Marcy. I also met lots of other authors, agents (I got pretty far down the line with a couple before settling with Marcy), book doctors, presenters, panellists. I learnt a huge amount about the craft of writing (or in some areas, relearning what I had forgotten). It was a deliberate investment, both in terms of time and money, in my fledgeling writing career and an important psychological step to take: just registering for the Festival of Writing felt like a public acknowledgement that I was serious about my writing.
I went to York entirely on my own, which forced me to get out of my hermit-like comfort zone and actually start up conversations with people, and I was warmed to find that those people were unfailingly friendly, polite and interesting. As a writer with a young family and a part-time job, I don’t have, well, any free time at all, actually, and certainly none to spend tapping into a nearby community of writers; it was heavenly to spend time talking about writing with people who weren’t either gently bemused by the compulsion to do it (my husband) or rather miffed that my stories don’t contain sword-fighting and/or spies (my sons).
I returned from the Festival with a good idea of what was wrong with my current writing project, and a decent plan of how to go about putting it right. More importantly, I returned with a better understanding of my own creative process and a renewed enthusiasm for … wait for it … actually writing.
Because, a lot of times, sitting down at the laptop can feel like hard work.
It’s much easier to spend that time watching Netflix, or reading the result of someone else’s hard work. Sometimes it can even be easier to tidy the house and do the laundry than to write (admittedly those are very dark days). But those bolts of inspiration, that supposedly come from the blue to strike like creative lightning in the minds of aspiring writers, don’t really strike unless your mind is open to them. You have to put in the thinking time and the writing time. You have to make yourself into a lightning rod. It turns out that inspiration takers work (just another of those contradictions that I like).
The Festival of Writing won’t do the work for you, but it will help you figure out how to get it done. And if you already have something that’s ready for the world to see, you have a pretty good chance of finding just the person to help you get it out there.
May the force of serendipity be with you.
Serendipity (noun); the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.