I’ve been meaning to write this post for ages, ever since just after Easter, in fact, but real life just keeps intruding and dragging my mind and hands away from what I really want to be doing. At least the heavy lifting’s over (we’ve just moved and did it all ourselves with the help of some friends, he says in explanation).
Those of you reading this who are writers can probably empathise with what I’m going to say. Writers are a shy bunch, often afraid of being criticised publicly, often convinced that what they write is awful, too easily persuaded that someone else could do a much better job with much better words, and much better plots, too. And we hate the sound of our own voices.
So this is my story, severely shortened. As a kid, wanted to be a journalist and writer, and my father duly indulged me by buying me an Olivetti portable typewriter (remember those, kids?) for my seventh birthday, a machine I dragged round Europe with me till I was in my late twenties. When at home, I used Dad’s heavy-duty Adler. Then, almost thirty, I got an IBM electric typewriter, one of those with the golfball typehead. I wrote over 500 poems on that one. And then my first PC with five and a quarter inch floppy disks, MS-DOS and WordStar.
On my second novel by now (and courting), I still refused to show anyone I didn’t know any of my words. And so it goes on, until 6 years ago, when I wrote 76,000 words in 23 days as part of nanowrimo while living in Norway, a book (Bee Bones) which ended up as Number One on authonomy in October 2008, two years after we’d moved back to England. Slowly, I began to believe that maybe I could actually write, and write well, so started sending out queries to agents, without much luck (although I still think the book’s almost perfect women’s fiction, and it will get a publisher one of these days). I should mention that none of my books are on there anymore.
In the meantime, I’d been lucky enough to go to the Antarctic with work, a trip which (along with the encouragement of new writer friends on fb and authonomy) spurred me on to write a book about the mystery of Robert Falcon Scott’s last ten days alive. Dead Men took 8 months to write (108k words), and then some more months to edit. And I did get an agent, a very good one, the first one I approached, who helped me edit Dead Men down to 88k words. I still cannot believe how lucky that was. And then the waiting began, because publishers aren’t exactly throwing money at writers.
For some odd reason, the lovely people at Radio Stradbroke had given me my own shows by now, which seemed to be quite popular around the world (Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, the US, even England), and, on Good Friday this year, I decided I’d read live from Dead Men as part of my show (podcast to be up later this month – late, I know, but real life … – refer to openening paragraph). This is where SJ comes in, the wonderful SJ Heckscher-Marquis, one of the best friend I made on authonomy. SJ listens to me regularly (again, I don’t know why), and donates money to the charities Radio Stradbroke raises money for. On Good Friday, she decides to call Mel Hagopian, and asks her to listen to me reading. Well, Mel does, and an hour after I finish my broadcast, there’s an email in my inbox asking for an interview to be turned into a blogpost. Me, gobsmacked and flattered.
One week’s emails later, and Mel has completed a blogpost that still makes me come out in goosebumps – because it makes me sound like a writer, makes me look at myself from the outside and reckon this bloke knows what he’s talking about, what he’s writing about, and he writes good words, all in the right order, with proper commas in the right place, and all that. She posted the article on 10th May. On 12th May, I got an email from my agent telling me that Duckworth had picked up the book, and would be publishing it in 2012.
I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe in serendipitous circumstance, series of fortuitous events, brought about by decisions we make of our own free will, and I believe in the power of friends’ prayers and faith. So, thank you, SJ and Mel, for believing in me.
Mel and SJ are co-writers on My Ink Project. It’s more than a blog, it’s a way of life. Go check it out at myinkproject.com.