The email from my agent came hella late on April 7th, after I’d come back from viewing Furious 7 with my spawn (it was a touch magical realism, but we dug the hell out of it). I thought nothing at first, maybe just an update on subbing process, probably another lovely pass (I’d had two at that point). But it wasn’t. Jen (my super agent, Jennifer Udden) was checking to see if I was available to skype. HOLY SHIT!
Anyone who knows this merry-go-round of submission, knows a phone call is a GOOD THING. And it was. We had an offer (holy shit). Another editor taking it to second reads. I barely slept. I was walking around the next day on clouds. All I could think was ‘holyshitholyshitholyshit‘. Those days man, they’re incredible. Unreal.
April 8th in Birmingham saw a glorious afternoon of perfect sun. After I fetched the spawn from school my daughter and I hit the garden to chill and hang out. Roll on half four, we’re out there baking and my phone rings. New York number. Jen. She’s HELLA excited.
WE HAVE ANOTHER OFFER.
At this point I call my dad and my mum. You can’t keep that level of joy, of sheer, overwhelming excitement in. You want to shout it from the rooftops but you can’t breathe a word in public. You hug it to yourself, to your family, maybe a couple of close friends. You float everywhere. You believe then disbelieve. You pinch yourself. You find yourself grinning deliriously into the middle distance and always, always in the background of your mind…
Let’s step back from cloud nine. Three years back. I’ve just been offered representation by Jen. High on that success, I work on edits to the book we were planning to sub: Coil. It goes out to something like fifteen editors. I’m hopeful and trying not to hope. You know how it is when you really want something and you’re both terrified of failing and of succeeding? That.
There follows two years of diminishing returns, gradually fading to radio silence and static.
Don’t get me wrong, I expected nothing, felt entitled to nothing, but you see I loved (and still love) that book, those characters. I wanted everyone to meet them. Get to know them. Love them like I do. I still want that.
But I digress.
Hope dribbles away. Progress on book two halts in favour of writing a new book. A standalone. I send Jen ideas, she points out the ones she likes best. From those I choose Escapology. Originally a story, it had morphed to novel size in my head over time. I write that as hope fades, as my mood falls bit by bit. I get very, very low, especially at one point after a close call that shakes my faith in everything.
Escapology finally finished, I send it to Jen. She isn’t convinced and I’m devastated. Of course she’s absolutely right to question that first draft, but the changes suggested are so huge they feel impossible and wrong. In the end I take time to think, strap on my big girl pants and email my concerns. Jen rings. We discuss Escapology. Plan edits both of us feel good about (the best agents do this, they trust your knowledge of your story, but they’ll always tell you what works and doesn’t).
The new draft wins Jen’s approval and it feels huge. Like a victory already. We’re ON again. A couple more edit passes for inconsistencies/spelling errors etc and off Escapology goes, out into the world, at the end of February this year. I know the score this time around and get on with the YA I want to sort, trying to tune out the fact that I have a novel on sub. Under the bonnet though, all is chaos.
Then at the end of March I get a pass from an editor who’d loved Coil.
I’ve been worried Escapology might be as uncommercial and difficult as Coil. This pass seems to confirm it, true or not. In defeat or fear of it, my head does two things. First, it becomes convinced nothing can go right and wants to give up. Second, it tries to find a way to stay on its feet. I expect the usual, months of phase one, followed by a slow, painful transition to phase two. Instead, I get a few intense days of phase one and then experience a total 180 flip: despair to determination.
I make a plan.
It goes thus: I’ll finish the YA, write the novella, write the big, scary, high concept idea I have for after those, then finish the Coil trilogy with a view to self publish. Then, if Escapology does nothing, I’ll write the follow up (Virology) that sort of dropped into my head wholesale one day in March and self pub those after the Coil books, all whilst subbing the YA, the novella and the high concept novel with Jen (if she approves them).
This plan is solid. I know it’s a good plan. I am energised and empowered. Happy.
Then comes April 7th. Then comes April 8th. And everything changes. I have two offers on the table. We eventually accept one, and that’s it. I am a professional author. I am a professional author.
You know, there have been many hard years. Impossibly hard. Over a decade and a half of years wherein I could not bear to look any further ahead than the current moment as the pain was too frightening, the urge to give up too profound. Years when I would read those letters people write to their 14/15/16 year old selves and despair, because I couldn’t write those letters. I couldn’t lie and say ‘it gets better’, because it hadn’t.
It gets better.
Recovery has changed so much, is still changing so much more. And always, it seems, for the better. I feel so much stronger, so much more capable. I believe in a future now, however it turns out. I believe I can own it. That I can make it happen one way or another. One of these days I’ll write a letter to my 15 year old self, my 8 year old self, all the selves between and after, and tell them all about it.
In the meantime, I look forward with great delight to introducing you to the world of Escapology in Autumn 2016, when it will be unleashed upon bookshelves by the magnificent Titan Books.
It’s been a long time getting here and oh so very hard, but the view is every bit as magnificent as I’d imagined.