En-route to Ireland, I met up with My Agent in London. He is a dear fellow who would most fittingly have been attired in a deerstalker and inflammable cape, but maybe he didn’t want to overwhelm me.
He took me to lunch in Piccadilly. I was nervous and talked too much.
“You’d better make me MONEY,” he muttered darkly.
“Well, that is the general idea,” I said. “And if you sell Smart/Casual for a seven figure sum and optional movie rights, I probably will. What are you sitting around for?”
But first, there was the matter of the overhaul. When he offered to represent me, My Agent wrote a specifically vague email about the first third of Smart/Casual: how it was choppy and erratic with too much Bridget Jones-style teetering around in high heels and under-developed characters engaged in a flailing plot with not enough darkness.
“And the first CHAPTER, darling,” he said. “It’s too FARCICAL. And not INTERESTING enough. I mean, your heroine falls OVER in a SHOP. Now, my DAUGHTER – she’s just done a charity ABSEIL. You know, darling- down the side of a BUILDING. Now, I was THINKING- maybe- maybe your heroine could do something like that- you know, a charity ABSEIL- and she could maybe- she falls on top of a MAN- and he- he- topples over! And you know, he- he- gets a bit ANGRY and he- he waves his arms around and maybe HITS her! With a stuffed fish! How about tuna?”
“Interesting idea,” I said, shredding my napkin all over the table. “Really not farcical in the slightest at all. Funny I hadn’t considered that already.”
“What people don’t understand about we WRITERS,” said My Agent, finishing off my glass of wine, “is that writers must – we simply MUST – create. We are COMPELLED to write. Darling.”
As far as I’m concerned the only thing I MUST create is noxious quantities of carbon dioxide – and it’s less a compulsion than a regrettable side-effect.
I repaired to Ireland with a signed contract and lethal build-up of carbon dioxide. After pausing to greet The Wrinklies and kiss my mother, I barricaded myself in The Resource Room with my laptop, notepad and a blanket, which is where I spent the month of August refining my skill for profound swearing and gusty spells of weeping.
By the time I finished, I could no longer recognise arrangements of letters. In fact, I didn’t technically finish; one day I stared at the word ‘and’ for five minutes trying to ascertain how to apply it to any given sentence, and realised I could no longer write.
I gave the manuscript to my mother to read through for seplling mistakes and dodgy grammar: “Mum, I don’t want to <expletive deleted> know my <expletive deleted> hero’s a <expletive deleted> pansy-arse with a weak character arc! It’s a bit <expletive deleted> late to be telling me that now, all right? Hold it- sorry to interrupt- wait- wait- I feel some emoting coming on. Waaaaaah!”)
Evidently, I was a joyful addition to the household. My father fortified himself with extra rations of crucifixes and exorcised me a couple of times, to no measurable effect. Mum provided a steady supply of coffee and monitored my hunger levels.
At the end of August I sent the amended manuscript to My Agent, complete without charity abseil; I just couldn’t get it off the ground. I told him I would be travelling for a month with sporadic access to email, so regrettably any further editing would have to wait until October.
I tried to prepare myself for My Agent’s demanding multiple rewrites before declaring he preferred the original version. Thankfully, about a week later, he responded saying he would start submitting Smart/Casual to publishers. He also mentioned that one of his contractors, an independent bookseller, reviewed the manuscript and thought it would do well. But really, it’s all just words and not worth the paper it’s not written on until a publisher tries to screw you out of royalties you haven’t even earned yet