For the past ten months I have been trying to get my novel The Incomers published. This is a demoralising and frustrating process and the amount of effort and motivation to keep going can not be underestimated.
Writing a novel is hard work – but it is fun. Every morning for a year or two you wake up and know you will spend the rest of the day in the company of good friends. OK maybe you created these friends yourself but they are still your friends.
The main character in The Incomers is a young black African mother, Ellie, who comes to live in Fife. I love Ellie. She is a wonderful person. I didn’t ask for Ellie to be the main character, that role should have gone to a small girl called Mary. But the moment Ellie entered the story she took over and made it her own. When I finished the novel I tried to treat the process of submitting to publishers as an administration task to be fitted around my writing. I wanted to write something that was under the bed – a short story called The Mongrel that screamed to be a novel.
I tried to write the second novel but I couldn’t. I couldn’t let go of Ellie. I sent out submissions to publishers and agents. The responses I got back were positive. “A great idea, very interesting but not for us.” Quite a number of publishers wanted to see more, but many admitted they were scared by certain aspects of the book, it didn’t fit in with what the public were buying.
Each time I thought I was getting close, a rejection came back. My early readers loved the book. One impartial expert told me it ticked lots of boxes and I shouldn’t give up on Ellie – she needed to be heard. And yet the rejection slips kept coming in and I still couldn’t write the second novel.
Then on Boxing Day while my family were all around, I got a phone call on my mobile. It was a London number I didn’t recognise so I ignored it. Then the land line rang, the same number, someone really wanted to speak to me. My heart was pounding when a voice announced she was from XXX publishing. No one phones you on Boxing Day unless it is good news. Unfortunately this particular lady must have had a bad Christmas. She began by telling me how much she loved the book and then why she was rejecting it. Meanwhile my family thought this was the phone call.
My disappointment didn’t last as long as theirs. I was furious. Furious that I had let soemone spoil my family’s Christmas, furious that I couldn’t find a home for Ellie and furious with myself for letting eight months go by without starting novel number two. I told myself that I still had many options open to me, but I had to put Ellie behind me. I will continue to try to find a publisher, but I may have to write a book that is more commercial and The Mongrel might just be that beast.
It is a horrible lesson to learn especially when I know that The Incomers is a great book and that when it does get published the public will want to read it.
In the mean time I am now forty thousand words into my second novel and am loving it. I haven’t abandoned Ellie, I still think about her every day and I still do something for her every day, but I am falling in love with my new character now and that is what is keeping me going.