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Cosmic prank

When I completed Smart/Casual in early 2007, it was 90,443 words long and most comfortably described as ‘Chick Lit’ (or ‘Clit Lit’ as my buddy JohnO likes to call it, the cheeky spank meister).

By that stage, I was sick of the sound of my own voice. If any of my characters had walked through the door, I would have attacked them with a frozen chicken with an unseemly amount of bloody relish. 

I nearly did not submit Smart/Casual at all. Whenever I read through it, all I could see were the flaws. And after all, I had learned so much from the process of writing it; and my second book would be better. Yes, definitely.

Also, I was a little bit terrified.

But whenever friends asked how the writing was coming along and I said with as much enthusiasm as I could dredge up: ‘Well, I’ve finished my first book, and – hey! Guess what? I’ve started on the second!’, it proved to be rather a conversation stopper. People didn’t see the point – and after a while, I rather lost sight of it myself.

So I decided to submit. Good experience etc; and I might get some feedback as to the degree of my literary delusion.

One of the greatest leaps for me was to view Smart/Casual as a product and the submission as a pitch, rather than my precious baby and a personal vendetta respectively. I focussed on the first six chapters and, with the assistance of various kind members of Litopia and Bookshed, ensured they were as fabulous as possible without doing serious damage to my brain.

I did a load of reading about the submissions process: recommended layout, what agents look for, what makes them snarl. An invaluable resource was Miss Snark, a blog offering advice from a literary agent’s perspective. I read pretty much every archived entry, took note, and winced at all the mistakes I’d been planning to make.

Then I went through Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, picking out agents that specialised in chicklit/ humourous fiction/ general fiction. I prioritised agents who accepted email submissions, since I lived in Dubai at the time and organising SASEs was problematic (I actually ordered £300 worth of stamps from Royal Mail, but they got lost in the post 🙂

In most instances, the W&A Yearbook provided explicit submission guidelines. I customised each submission EXACTLY. First three chapters? Here they are count ‘em. Font Times New Roman point size 700? One letter per page, coming up. Every fourth word to be ‘ostrich’? Not a problem.

There were only seven agents who accepted email submissions in Smart/Casual’s genre. Over two years later, I am still awaiting a response from two and received form letters from another two. BUT three wrote back and asked to see the full manuscript.

Of these, one never got back to me. Another responded six months later with a rejection. However, she wrote a terrific, thoughtful email on why she passed, and asked me to bear her in mind for my next book.

The agent who offered to represent me was Peter Buckman, of the Ampersand Agency. Within two days of my query, he responded asking to see the full manuscript. Within a week of receiving the manuscript, he offered to represent me.

Although Peter requested a significant overhaul, representation was conditional only on my accepting his revision requests – i.e. he signed me before I completed the revisions. He was proactive, responsive and encouraging throughout the entire process.

I completed the ‘final’ edit in August 2007 and Peter started sending Smart/Casual to publishers. The responses trickled in; first rejection came in November, followed by . . . oh look, it’s still too depressing. One said my voice was ‘angry and caustic’, which I would have accepted as a compliment – except it was a rejection.

Most of the publishers were kind enough to give feedback on why they passed. Whilst all liked my writing/’voice’, most had issues with the plot (could see the twists a mile off when they weren’t focussed on the holes etc).

Finally, in early 2008 we got an offer from Little Black Dress Books, for a two book deal.

Although it is all tremendously exciting, there are still times I feel like the subject of a great, cosmic prank

Qualified author

I have just been offered a publishing contract! Yippee! Apologies in advance for the number of exclamation points in this post – I’m not proud of it! Little Black Dress Books have offered me a one, two or three book publishing deal!

This afternoon, Husband and I went into Borders at Sylvia Park to check out Little Black Dress publications in the romance section. Husband demonstrated an uncanny ability for opening books at the paragraphs detailing hot shafts and throbbing rods. He did a rather unheroically unmanly amount of giggling.

When I thought about Smart/Casual fighting for space on these shelves I got quite squeaky and overexcited. With any luck the cover won’t feature martini glasses, fluffy mules, poodles in raincoats or female apparel.


Extra rations of crucifixes

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

My Agent

I’m so excited about going to Ireland at the end of this month, I got around to booking flights last week. We’re both looking forward to the break – Husband will join me for a couple of months mid-August. That’s if his passport turns up – oh, don’t even get me STARTED.


One date is fixed: I need to be in London on 1/8 to meet My Agent. Sorry, did I forget to mention? After submitting the full manuscript on request, My Agent said he would love to represent me because My Agent thinks Smart/Casual is very funny. My Agent said he’d take me for lunch in Piccadilly. My Agent said not to get too excited, because My Agent cannot guarantee publication, so I’ll just leave it at: Woohoo! Waaah!


But seriously though – oh, hold it, I feel another woohoo coming on. WOOHOO! WOOHOO! Sorry, I didn’t realise there were two. You’re right: that was over the top.


Mixed with the excitement is a not insubstantial amount of pure terror. Before submitting, I was aware that Smart/Casual had a number of flaws: choppiness in the first third of the book mainly deriving from not having half a clue what I was at when I first started it; one-dimensional characters; not enough variation in tone; charges of OTT humour from my tendency to take a joke too far and then turn around and bring it all the way back again.


Instead of offering me a squillion-figure publishing deal, My Agent asked me to address these problems before sending it off to publishing houses.


I had always assumed interest from an industry insider would give my self-confidence a great licking, but the effect has been the opposite. (Although if you figure out what the opposite of a great licking is, I would be grateful if you could let me know, thanks.) For about four days I was all over the place, before I levelled out in a flat spin. I still indulge in a lot of quivering and the occasional histrionic. These tend to be all-singing, breakdancing, booty shaking spectaculars, so I save them for when Andrew is around.


For a while I considered simply deleting the first third of Smart/Casual – it was a close thing. I spent the last couple of weeks renovating it in between full-scale panic attacks.


I know there is no guarantee of a publisher agreeing to take on Smart/Casual, but someone in the industry believes in it enough to put it out there and I am just so proud of my book!

Starving writer

Finally it is crunch time: time to find an agent to represent ‘Smart/Casual’.


Recently, my muse went on a drugs and alcohol fuelled bender. Eh, it’s been threatening for a while, the addled old lush. When I tracked her down, I reluctantly admitted her to rehab. Since then she has been out on day release once.


While my poor muse dried out, I revised and edited Smart/Casual. I discovered there is little I hate more than editing my own work. It makes my head tingle – and not in a good way.


The positive aspect to the editorial process is that it gave me confidence in my writing. I may not be able to fashion a finely honed point but my sentences often make sense, my grammar is fundamentally sound, and you would be hard pressed not to admit that my spelling is phenomenal.


At the same time, the editorial process highlighted how little I know about plot, structure, narrative, character development and characterisation, tension, point of view, pace . . . the list goes on. In short: being able to write is just the tip of the iceberg – or the spore of the mushroom (dodging cliché being another necessary skill).


A few weeks ago I joined an online writers’ group, which has been a marvellous source of technical advice, encouragement and discouragement in equal measure. It is interesting to see how my sense of humour polarises people: for every member that loves this line, someone else hates it.


The community members helped me put together the submission proposal for Smart/Casual; it is good. It is ready.


I am terrified

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