I spend a lot of time walking. Not enough to keep my doctor happy but enough for my good friend, Sue, and I to put the world to rights – and exercise our equally disobedient and mischievous dogs.
It is during those walks that the subject of my first novel often comes up. Sue was with me, attending one of Graham Carlisle’s writing courses in Spain, when I wrote the first four chapters – and has been through the entire journey with me since then.
‘Well, you bloody did it,’ was one of the first comments, three years later when I announced I had finished my first draft.
At that point I thought I had. Done it, that is. Finished, complete, etched in stone, finito, end of the line.
That was about two years ago and if only I had known then what I know now (and every writing course tells you); that publishing a novel is far more than getting to the end of a first draft. However much you might think you have polished, honed, deliberated and decided.
The first ‘edit’ came when my very good friend and fellow writing enthusiast, Susan ‘Curly’ Matthews agreed to look over Dear Beneficiary in its raw form.
She has an ability that really needs to be acknowledged, which is to deliver potentially difficult feedback in an exceptionally acceptable way. It is only in hindsight that I realise it must have taken most of her self-control not to tell me exactly how amateur my first draft actually was.
Instead she cajoled me into re-working it into something more likely to get a positive response from an industry over-run with first draft and therefore mediocre novels, that never muster enough support for publication.
Of course it was David Headley’s enthusiasm for the better-shaped Dear Beneficiary that took it to the next stage – a true reason for celebration and, of course, a long walk.
‘Bloody hell, you’ve done it!’ said my friend Sue when I was signed up to his agency and I couldn’t stop celebrating at every possible opportunity. I think we had a bacon sandwich and a cappuccino in the Selsdon Café – a treat that has since become a habit, being the sort of thing that ‘writers and their friends’ do J
Yes, you’ve guessed it… there’s more work to come. Another editor and another year – with little to show other than the usual rejection letters which I initially thought were personalised to my book but of course were industry standards.
‘A humorous book but not quite what we are looking for’ seemed to be a favourite. I wondered if it would ever be what anyone was looking for.
Paul Swallow of Cutting Edge Press, however, did personalise a response and made an offer – in April 2014 – nearly a year before the proposed publication date. It seemed a hell of a long way away back then..
And guess what? Yep, more editing with both Paul and the lovely Sean Costello and we finally reached the ‘print and be damned’ stage about three weeks prior to launch date. It felt like a feeble victory.
‘You really have bloody done it!’ said Sue on our latest walk and on this occasion I felt I could agree. It has been like running a marathon and then being asked to go back to mile 15 and do that bit again. Then maybe try the whole thing from the start the next day because you might be able to do it a bit faster or with more panache.
You know you get those weeks when you really need to buy more toothpaste but just keep on squeezing the flat and empty tube? Something always comes out but you don’t know where from?
That was what it was like for me when the various editors asked me to come up with a bit more for a plot or ‘something funny to go in chapter 12’… I’d squeeze and squeeze and then ‘pop’ would come an idea -often helped by stories from a friend or my husband, who seems to have a wealth of tales from his job working with the general public.
The debut novel is not something that develops in isolation, certainly not in my case. It has come about through support, advice and passion from people who want to help and give their time and knowledge willingly.
But yes, I have bloody done it. From what started as an idea brought about by a collection of incidents involving older people and the internet – including my own technological incompetence – has grown into a story that has become very much part of my life and hopefully of those around me.
I’ve loved the process and not unlike running marathons (I have done two – very slowly – so can speak from experience) it isn’t something you just get up and do. There’s a lot behind it.
One thing I have learned is that writing a book is not unlike a marathon. Yes, you can run as fast as you can and get to the end, blistered, exhausted and not remembering a thing.
Or you can walk, take in the scenery and enjoy the process with people around you.
That way the journey is far more enjoyable, particularly when a bacon sandwich and a cappuccino is involved.
Follow Janet on twitter: @JantyK
To help create buzz around Dear Beneficiary a number of advertisements for the book have been placed in various media, outside Tesco stores, in national and regional papers and beyond.
We are now offering a number of signed copies of Dear Beneficiary to people who send in a photo of any version of the adverts to Facebook, Twitter or any social media channel, tagging @dhhlitagency (if on twitter) or tagging the agency’s Facebook page if on Facebook, using #DearBeneficiary on both channels.