If I Should Die

I was reading the blog of another, Matthew Frank, author of the excellent ‘If I Should Die‘ and it inspired me to keep a diary of my rise to fame (or slush pile avenue).

What I liked about Frank’s blog was it revealed he is not unlike myself.  I don’t mean to infer that I have his talent, no way Hose! But he too was unaware of how the world of publishing lives and breathes.  Reading his blog is very relevant to those out there who need an insight to how the process works, which includes me.

Matthew Frank’s book about a TA soldier with PTSD returning to his job as a policeman ticks all my boxes:

  • it’s original
  • the characters are brilliantly crafted – in my world that means I believe they exist – I can see them and feel them
  • I like the characters – I can’t spend time with people I don’t like, they can be vicious, cruel, psychopaths but I have to connect with them which means I find books like ‘Gone Girl’, ‘Revolutionary Road’, ‘The Liar’s Chair’ a struggle. Gillian Flynn’s ‘Sharp Objects’ was more my thing.
  • I’m gripped so each time I  put the book down to tend to my family or get on with real life I miss the characters.
  • When I’ve finished the book I’m a little sad.

That’s why I’m blogging about ‘If I Should Die‘ because I’m not ready to let it go.  I want others to read it so we can enthuse together.

I’ve always been interested in thrillers and crime. I grew up watching Starsky and Hutch and Magnum. When I should have been revising for my O’Levels I was reading PD James and Val McDermid.  Mark Billingham and Elizabeth George are among my favorite authors.   Admittedly I rely on my ‘sure things’ but I’m always on the look out for a new writer, a new protagonist because it’s lovely spending time with old friends but it’s exciting to be stimulated by someone new.  Without dissing the literary world I have to admit that I’ve struggled meeting new friends.  Nicci French came along who I adore, Chelsea Cain I love but since then I’ve been a little lonely.  But it seems the tide has changed because Sarah Hilary’s ‘Beneath the Skin‘ is excellent; I can’t wait to read ‘No Other Darkness‘ and now there’s Matthew Frank’s Jo Stark.  I can’t imagine it will be long before these books come to the small screen.  I love ‘Lewis’ but I’m Oxford-ed out.  I need a bit of London drama.  I was a big fan of ‘The Bill’.

Anyway back to me and my book but if you want to read about this talented new writer and his book ‘If I Should Die, which I  highly recommend visit http://www.matthewfrank.co.uk/

I actually feel a little guilty.  Enjoying myself at a Wedding reception last weekend I was chatting to a friend of my husband who congratulated me on finding an agent.  He asked lots of questions, I enthused about how exciting the whole thing was only for him to reveal he’d been writing for years to no avail.  I imagine this is the case for so many writers but not me.

Writing a book wasn’t on my to-do-list but I fell down a rabbit hole one day and like ‘Alice’ all sorts of things rambled round in my head as I plummeted.  I was one person when I fell and a different person when I landed.  The new me was out of sorts, I no longer fitted my life so I retreated a little and spent quite some time with my imagination and my teenage kids.  Henry Whittle emerged.  I knew he’d been in the military, I decided he was now a contract killer.  Henry’s a little damaged.  I thought about Henry when I wasn’t well enough to spend time with actual people.  Henry became as real to me as I’ll bet Jo Stark is to Matthew Frank and Marnie to Sarah Hilary. So I didn’t plan to write but my kids encouraged me and at one point in September I was in so much pain and unable to distract myself from it that I sat at the computer and typed whatever was in my head that day.  In Henry and Phoenix’s world I didn’t feel pain, so I went there everyday until I had an operation in December.  After recuperating I started contacting literary agents.  REALISATION 1: – your manuscript needs to be as good as you can possibly make it.  If you can afford to get it edited do so, if like me you can’t then get family and friends to read it through so that any timeline makes sense.  Also contact https://literaryconsultancy.co.uk/ to see if you meet their criteria for the Free Read scheme.  My manuscript was read and I received a detailed editorial report.

I received plenty of ‘nos’ which were all very politely worded and quite a few requests for the full manuscript followed by ‘it’s not one for us’.  How did I know what agents to send  to? I just googled and went through a list.  I sent off three requests for representation and as a rejection arrived I’d send off a new request.

They say everything happens in threes well that was true of interest in my book, suddenly there was a hive of activity and parties were very interested, but I didn’t string things out.  One of the agents phoned me.  I was  so nervous, I could barely string two words together.  My dogs were barking, my two youngest were coming in from school and I couldn’t really hear what she was saying, but her tone was professional and excited; it was clear that she loved my book.  Could we meet to discuss her ideas?  Definitely.

Leaving the house, meeting a new person, going to Notting Hill Gate – I had to get the NEXT catalogue out –  I only ever wear pajamas (slight exaggeration).  I was excitedly nervous as I entered Le Pain Quotidien and who was behind me but my agent.  I laughed nervously as we were seated.  I’d decided at home that I was going to order a pain au raisin because they are easy to eat in company – big mistake – it was not the tidy Tesco version, it was massive and flaky and consuming it was awkward but hey it can’t all be about the book.

We spent well over an hour discussing my book, the characters, how the whole thing came about and it was amazing to chat to someone outside of my family, someone who knows about literature and who knew my book inside out.  REALISATION 2: who need to have a firm market in mind.  I knew my book was borderline young adult/adult and that I was trying to reach two audiences because I couldn’t make my mind up.  So decide who is going to read your book and construct it to meet their needs.  I had to decide.  I chose Young Adult because I wrote it for my daughter who’s fifteen and she has been both helpful and inspirational in my writing – without her there would be no book.

As our first meeting came to an end my agent offered me representation, she told me to think about it, but I didn’t have to because she was so lovely and easy to chat to that I knew we would make a great team.  REALISATION 3:  you need to feel comfortable with your agent.  I don’t know what I would have done if my potential agent had been stuffy or snobby or made me feel like a right plank.

A week later, I received an email with editorial suggestions.  Catherine was happy to meet with me to discuss her ideas but her suggestions were so clear and straightforward that I thought no lets just go for it.  So my first editorial job involved toning down the violence, sexual references and bad language to make it appropriate for a younger audience.   Straightforward you make think but not so when one of the P.O.V’s is that of a serial killer.  It took me three weeks, less a day at Maroon5’s Wembly concert and a day for my husband’s birthday.

Catherine now has my new version.  It’s just like school.  I’m nervous, I want to get a good grade but I know it can’t be an ‘A’ because it’s too early, I’ll need to make many more revisions.  What’s lovely about having an agent is you’ve got a professional in your corner, helping you to strive to achieve the best (and you don’t have to write any more bloody query letters).

Catherine commented on how many manuscripts she reads from new writers that on reading reflect the hard work and tears that went into the writing as opposed to the story and characters.  It’s important for the reader to see only the characters and not feel the angst of the writer.  She said my book felt like I’d just sat in the garden with a laptop and keyed away which is very nearly true.  When I read ‘Beneath the Skin‘ and ‘If I Should Die’ I felt like Hilary and Frank produced these amazing books effortlessly so reading them was easy.  REALISATION 4: don’t work on you book when you’re not in the mood, don’t force the words, if they don’t come, relax, pick up a book, pop on the telly.

I am nowhere near getting my book published.  Obviously I believe in it and I imagine myself at some wine and nibbles book meeting, mingling with Sarah Hilary and Matthew Frank, because I need this vision to keep me focused.  Let’s face it it’s no longer just about me anymore.  REALISATION 5: responsibility – I now have an agent to think about – I have to make this work, I have to repay her faithIMG_1028 in me and The Rebirth of Henry Whittle.IMG_0986

Be happy, T.

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