The Publication Of My Favourite Novel: Once Upon A Place.
My novel, Once Upon A Place was originally written after the success of the Quicksand stage play. I felt there was more to say about the characters and more I could do with the sense of place. An Arts Council Grant allowed me 6 months to write a first draft. That support, not just the money but the belief in my project was invaluable, but I couldn't get an agent to take it on.
Novel edited and written, I sent it out to a couple of agents without success and decided to pull it back. I just had a sense it wasn’t working yet. Things were progressing at that time with a big commission for the Williamson Park show in collaboration with the Dukes in Lancaster (Hansel and Gretel and Other Tales From The Forest) and the commission for the 5 part drama, The Treehouse for Radio 4. I could come back this project.
I did come back to it, years later, after another set back. My two psychological thrillers had received very good reviews and sold well but not well enough for my publisher. My books had failed to sell to supermarkets. My contract was not renewed.
Was my publishing career over? I had been looking into self-publishing and had a friend who had gone through it locally and enjoyed the process. I didn’t think I could face the burden of managing my own marketing. Then, another friend said she was thinking of self-publishing her novel because “it’s better than it sitting in a drawer. At least. My friends and family can read it.” And I thought, why not? What have I got to lose?
I went back to the Quicksand novel. I needed to find a better way to tell that story. My plan was ambitious, but I was now a much more experienced writer. Through trial and error (and feedback from some very patient writer and reader friends) I found the right narrative voice. An all-seeing narrator that was not pompous or overblown, but just playful enough to pull it off. I thank Kate Atkinson for the inspiration. She manages to be clever and witty and draw the reader in to a compelling story that is fun to read. She showed me it is possible to be ambitious and literary while remaining entertaining. That novel is the most adventurous, beautiful piece of work I have ever written. With it I have begun to find my voice. I wrote it for myself, to prove to myself that I could do it, and in being true to myself I have produced something which is resonating with readers. I am unashamedly proud of this book and the warm responses I have had, from all over the world, validate my decision to break out independently.
This is my advice to you, whether you are seeking a main stream publisher or publishing yourself: write the book you want to write with all your passion. Craft it well. Give it the time it needs.
Ten years after I wrote that first draft, Once Upon A Place was finally realised and published. Had I continued to work with my publisher I would still be writing psychological thrillers and had no time to explore anything else. Through this novel I have begun a new writing journey into stories that are more ambitious, tapping into something deeper and more authentically me. I can't articulate what that is yet, but it feels right. The end of the deal with the publisher was not the end of the road. It was a moment to pause and consider a different path. I have no map, but I have stories and through those stories I'll find my way.