Thursday, June 5, 2014

Funny Old World

by Catriona

"How did your first novel come about and how long did it take to get published?"

Depends when you start counting from. I was forty and I'd always wanted to be a writer, so you could say it was forty years, minus a few early ones mostly spent drooling.

Or sixteenth months, which is how long it took from my agent accepting an offer to the book hitting the shelves.

The most honest answer lies somewhere in between, of course.

For a start, my first book was actually my second. In 2001 I wrote a heart-felt stinker of a story and started collecting rejections including the crucial one which went:"I don't like this but I quite like you - show me something else when you have it".  (Sidebar: imagine if an agent said "I quite like this but I don't like you - never approach me again".)

After eighty rejections, I listened to what I being told - sometimes that's a great idea.

By the end of 2002 I had my something else and sent it to that one agent, who liked it.  She took me on in 2003, sold the book to Constable and Robinson in early 2004 and AFTER THE ARMNISTICE BALL was published in June 2005.

Meantime I wrote another something else, which the agent thought was Stinker No. 2 and advised me to put in a drawer. This time I didn't listen - sometimes that's a great idea too. I stuck with the book but changed agents and I've been with the magnificent Lisa Moylett ever since, through thick and thin, booms and busts, across continents, oceans and forever.

That first book was Dandy Gilver No.1. Now, more than ten years later, I've just finished the first draft of Dandy Gilver No. 10, (w/t DANDY GILVER AND THE DANSE RATHER MACABRE). Not bad for a story that was supposed to be a confidence booster between proper projects.

It went like this: Neil, the undergardener, and I were sitting on the beach one evening in summer (a Scottish beach, so well-wrapped up and still blue with cold), and I was facing with some dismay the stark reality that my brilliant idea to pack it all in and be a writer wasn't working.  I was wondering what to try next, when Neil spoke some pretty fateful words.

"What do you love?" he said.
"Crime," I said. "But that's no use, because the kind of crime I love most is Sayers and Allingham and Innes and Marsh and Christie and they're all dead. No one writes that kind of crime anymore."

Yup, I am that dumb. "No one is writing the kind of books I love" struck me as a problem. But I need to say two things. 

1. Of course people were writing them: Carola Dunn was and Jacqueline Winspear was just about to start. Charles and Caroline Todd were gearing up and Laurie King was well away.  Of course, if I had known that I might have been too intimidated even to try. But because I saw this as a kind of private treat I just went for it.
2. Neil's pretty dumb too. He encouraged me to take time out to write this daft 1920s story and then go back to trying to think of something I could sell.

We deserve each other really.


Paul D. Marks said...

Catriona, I guess the moral of the story is to not give up and write what you want. Good piece.

Meredith Cole said...

Writing what you love to read is always great advice! And following your gut (rather than just blindly following everyone's advice) is also wise. Thanks for sharing your story, Catriona!

Kristopher said...

And chances are if you are writing something YOU want to read, there are others who would like to read something like that as well.

Katherine Hyde said...

Hooray! I love Sayers, Allingham, et. al. also. I chose to write something that reflected their sensibility in a modern setting.

I suppose you mean Michael Innes? I hadn't heard of him but just found him on my library's website. Thanks for the tip!

Catriona McPherson said...

Yes, Katherine, Michael Innes. I recommend Appleby's End - it's completely bonkers and one of my favourites. He's like Allingham at her most playful/grotesque/oblique.

Lori Rader-Day said...

Well, I'm glad you figured it out, in any case. Danse Macabre!

Susan C Shea said...

What we don't know is sometimes the biggest help. If we understood the hard parts, would that put us off trying? Thank the fates for your Neil and my Tim, whose advice is to go for it!

Holly West said...

Ha! Love this story. You and Neil kind of remind me of Mick and I. Sounds like the type of conversation we have regularly.