by Anne Corlett
2012 wasn’t my first visit to the The Writers’ Workshop Festival of Writing. I’d attended in 2011, clutching the unedited manuscript of my first novel, Telemachus. It had been about ten years since I’d made any serious attempt at writing, and I was in the process of packing to relocate from London to Somerset with my partner and 18 month-old son. As you can probably imagine, when I decided to sit down in the middle of all the carnage and start writing a novel, I was not popular.
But I finished the first draft, then looked around and thought now what?
I should point out at this juncture that I had fairly hazy ideas about the whole novel-writing process. I I had the faint sense that editing was something that was done to you by someone else, rather than something you did yourself.
Anyway, the Festival of Writing seemed like a reasonable answer to now what? So off I went to York.
It was a complete revelation. I learned about self-editing. I discovered the importance of covering letters. I heard the words ‘psychic distance’ uttered for the first time. And I had two incredibly encouraging one-to-ones, with an agent and a book doctor. Not only did they both make it clear what I needed to do to improve my manuscript, but they also made me believe that it was worth persevering.
I spent the next year working on my manuscript, and when booking re-opened for York, I decided to head back there for a second time. I entered the Friday Night Live competition, not really expecting to get anywhere, and I was delighted to make the final.
I didn’t win. I did receive two out of the three judges’ votes, but when I lost the all-important audience vote, I assumed that was pretty much that, and I got on with drinking wine enjoying the rest of the festival.
Then I had my one-to-one with Lisa Eveleigh of the Richford Becklow agency. She liked my submission. She requested the full manuscript, and then offered representation. At this point I began the process of getting Thoroughly Carried Away. I knew how this worked.
Go to York.
Sign up with Agent.
Await fame and glory and tearful acceptance of manuscript by major publishing house.
It didn’t work out quite that way. We had some interest, and some positive responses. We even had one ‘I thought of making an offer on this but…’ but no takers.
I finished my second novel in late 2014, and I was just starting the second term of an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa when I heard from Lisa that there had been some provisional interest. After several agonizing weeks, Fallen made it as far as an acquisitions meeting. Unfortunately there was no consensus at the meeting and the book was rejected.
And then something surprising happened. I had a huge burst of writing energy. I motivated, and unexpectedly hopeful. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that in the glacial world of writing/publishing, something had happened. There’d been a milestone of sorts. At the time I was struggling with my MA novel, but, still bursting with my new-found enthusiasm, I had the idea that became my third novel. It went out on submission in November 2015, and after only a few weeks there were some expressions of provisional interest.
I didn’t get my hopes up – we’d been here before, after all. As it turned out, this was the time I should have got my hopes up. I could have got Thoroughly Carried Away again. In January I got a call from Lisa to say that Bella Pagan of Pan Macmillan had made an offer. The deal was officially announced in February, and a month later the US rights sold to Berkeley Publishing, part of the Random House group. The Space Between the Stars will be published on 5th May 2017.
It can seem as though York is a springboard, catapulting a lucky few to instant success, but my experience shows that are all sorts of ways in which the festival can push writers forward in their publication journey. If you’re in the early stages of the process, the most important thing you can do at the festival is go along and listen and learn. If you’re further along the writing path, you can make useful connections, and gain valuable confidence in your work. Even if you don’t walk away with an offer of representation, you may well find that a chance conversation over dinner bears fruit further down the line when an agent reads your submission and thinks oh yes, I remember her. For some the Festival of Writing is a springboard; for others, like me, it’s a foundation on which to build something solid. York didn’t lead to overnight success for me, but it did set the wheels in motion for everything that followed.