This time two years ago I thought The Rebirth of Henry Whittle was complete. Which goes to show how little I know about publishing. Between then and the new year I turned my manuscript back to front and inside out.
My book was not picked up by a publisher. I think it hit my agent harder than me. She’d talked of it being auctioned to pubishers and how excited her film agent was about it. When the knockbacks came I felt the distance between us swell. It didn’t help that we’d spent a year toning it down only to be told it needed more grit, more edge.
My agent’s experience was mainly children and early teens. I felt re-working Henry Whittle was not a hurdle we could jump together so I broke up with her via email. Although I was the one to terminate our contract if I’m honest her silences for months are what came between us. We’d lost confidence in one another and although I miss her, and I may never find representation again, we simply weren’t right for each other…but she was lovely. Most likely my work will never be published and over the Christmas I accepted that probability.
My problem is identity. Before I had children I worked in merchant banking. I wore the long, wool double breasted coats that everyone wore in the city. I then became a teacher and my teaching qualification was pinned to my resume. Motherhood followed, my most rewarding and enjoyable role todate.
I was forty four when I was diagnosed with CSM. In fact I spent that birthday, in fact the whole summer in hospital. Grace was 17, Tommy 14, Caitlan 10 and Patrick 9.
When I came home returning to work was not an option but I was still a mother which meant there were never enough hours in the day – particularly as I was now slower than a sloth. Each day I had a reason to get up. My husband worked full time then so I was still the responsible parent. Over the next six years my condition progressed parallel to my children becoming independent young adults. Of course I’m still mum but I’m in the back office now instead of front of house.
Writing appealed to me because it brought the outside in. I could cosy up on my pink sofa with a cappucino and in a keystroke be in a room with a murderer. There are no limits to who I meet and what I do. I say ‘I’ because at the root of each protagonist is me although it’s not my name I write under. Gertrude T Kitty is my pen name because I use my daughters’ experiences and language to help create the voices of my characters. They critique my work, give ideas, proof read, even audio type and very importantly make me a cuppa.
In the New Year having seperated amicably from my agent I had pretty much given up on writing. Initially I felt relieved. An agent is a responsibility – you push yourself because you need to be successful to repay their faith in you. January to March were not good months for me. Usually writing distracts me from my csm symptoms but for that period I was gripped by pain radiating from my temple to my finger tips – I couldn’t type. That added to agent withrawal had me feeling washed up and wiped out.
Who was I? I didn’t feel like I was useful or relevant. I couldn’t read because I felt resentful that authors were succeeding where I had failed. My body felt weak and my mind was empty. It was Spring when I picked up a book and read. With each pageturner came ten mediocre novels. I started getting itchy fingers, my writing is better than this! So out came my dinosaur of a laptop, too heavy for me to pick up or put down independently. Without an agent I could work without pressure. I re-worked Henry Whittle, very much back to its original format. Finished Random Attachment and began drafting September, my third novel.
I could happily start on a fourth novel because I like to work in tandem but before I do I’m going to give getting published another crack. The reason being identity. Right now I’m a disabled, middle aged woman. I don’t know how else to describe myself. Cervical myelopathy has cut off nearly every avenue to a fulfilling life. It’s swallowed all my savings and left me financially challenged and physically and mentally diminished. If there is only the slightest, mearest, tiniest chance of regaining some control over my life I have to take it. If I don’t I might completely disappear. I look in the mirror and I see a woman and her eyes are dead and her mouth is set in a grimace and she’s not a book character she’s me. I can’t remember what I was like pre myelopathy. I look at holiday snaps and I want to scream and throw my body around in despair, not because I’m greyer or weightier but because my spirit and love of life is so apparent. I glowed with it. I think how amazing I looked. What a fun mum I was.
I miss my agent. Or should I say my x. I could email her or phone her. She’s a great agent. I think she’d take me back. The thing is I want to write chilling, sinister, dark teenage novels. I need an agent who wants me to strive to do that. To push me in that direction. To criticise me for being too safe, too average. Will I find a second agent to champion my work?
Watch this space.
PS If you want to learn more about Cervical Myelopathy check out http://www.myelopathy.org/ and if you or a family member or friend suffer from Cervical Myelopathy visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/myelopathy.support/ If you need support regarding surgury visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/MYACDF/