Gift giving in our household is littered with dullness and disaster. It is safe to say the expectation bar is set very low. Or was, until one Christmas my darling husband made one giant leap for mankind with an IOU for a Writers’ Workshop day.
At this point, a little history might be helpful. Like so many readers, I have been a writer since I could first manage a few wobbly words in pencil and later became a successful copywriter. It’s a great way to earn a living and to hone your editing skills. But then I travelled until I was broke and dropped into a commercial world. Nothing is wasted. All life experience brings influence to the page. Eventually, it was time to get serious about writing again. Re-connecting with writer friends on a regular basis was a great start. Something had to be written and ready to read for every meeting.
A short story competition for Chawton House Library caught my eye. ‘Write about any character from Austen’. The closing date was in an impractical two days, but I mused about which character I would choose and inspiration descended like a falling star. Mary Bennet from Pride & Prejudice was an intelligent, awkward young woman in her teens and roundly scorned. What would life be like for Mary and her sister Kitty a few years after their sisters had married? They each had the potential to grow and change. The words tumbled out as I wrote purely for my own pleasure.
My writer friends were delighted by a novel in progress. ‘Oh, no’ I said, ‘I couldn’t write a novel. I would edit the pants off it.’ But they were insistent and pushed me to join the Romantic Novelists Association. Great advice. At 70,000 words I was done. A kind friend read it. Hurrah, she didn’t want it to end. But she admitted there was too little description. I had written a play! 3,500 words later I turned to a writer friend for guidance. She was brilliant at pointing out where action or description was needed. The veil dropped and Perception was soon up to 83,000 words with edits and polishing done.
An author needs to be out there in the writing community and there is no point being shy. The first two agents I met asked for the full ms. A few months later I had contract papers in my hand but in the end, I held back. In my heart, I knew that the relationship wasn’t the right fit. You may think me foolish, but tears down the track are a bad idea. Yes, I did wonder.
Weeks later, my husband handed over his Christmas gift, a ticket to The Writers’ Workshop Getting Published Day. ‘I’ve researched this but choose something else if you like.’ he said. I’ll admit, I considered the cost and did a bit of research, but I was drawn to the opportunity to submit to a book doctor. Nobody had seen my draft agent letter or synopsis. I could also send a chapter.
Fast forward to March 5th, 2016 was a freezing day in Regent’s Park. My book doctor appointment was mid-afternoon. I felt sorry for these lovely people talking to a different writer every fifteen minutes. My heart pounded as the door opened.
Andrew Wille held out his hand and said, ‘Hello, I’ve been waiting to meet you.’ He wisely ignored my jaw dropping to desk level. There followed minutes of joyous praise and sage advice. Andrew introduced me to Shelley Harris, who told me about her agent, Jo Unwin. Other agents and editors were mooted and one introduced. I virtually floated home clutching my written report.
Within six days I had signed with Jo Unwin and we got busy. Time passed before a deal was struck with Orion books, initially with Jemima Forrester editing and later, Laura Gerrard.
Naturally, there’s a learning curve to embrace. Editors have a genius for finding a weakness. Alterations were fewer than I imagined but they asked me to write more. I loved every part of the process. The gift keeps on giving. Perception is published on 13th July. I hope it earns me some of what Jane Austen called pewter because I owe my husband a special Christmas gift.
Find Terri’s blog at terrifleming.com & follow her on twitter @TerriFlemingpen