Agent A

Ten years ago I wrote my first novel. Up to that point I’d never thought I could do such a thing; reading had always been my passion, and making up stories my hobby, but only in my head. I’d never imagined I’d ever have the discipline to actually sit down and put those stories to paper. The very thought of planning a full-length novel gave me a headache, and short stories just didn’t interest me.
But one day I sat down and started, and from that moment I never looked back. The words simply flowed out; characters leaped into life, and even without plotting, all kinds of twists and turns arose unbidden from my imagination. I loved it.
I ended up with 700 pages, a monster of a book, wild and passionate. Let’s call that Book A.
At the time I was living in Germany, in a little village miles from anywhere. I had no computer; I wrote on a Brother Word Processor, a thing like a typewriter with a separate monitor. It had no hard disk, but I could store my writing on floppy disks, which held only a few chapters at a time. To print out a whole novel I had to print one chapter at a time, one disk at a time, and add the page numbers manually. But that was good enough for me.
Once my book was finished I wondered what to do with it. I had no idea about the publishing world. I knew no writers and had read few books. And of course, I had no internet, no Google. What I did have was a big book called The Writers Handbook, but that was more about publishing in America, which seems a little out of the way. Somehow I found out about a British writers’ magazine called Writers News, and subscribed to that. In the very first issue I read a short article about a literary agent who was just starting out. Let’s call her Agent A.
I wrote to her about my book, and eventually sent her the full manuscript.
A few weeks later I got a phone call. “Can you visit me in London?”
Rookie as I was, I had no idea what this phone call meant, I only knew I had to go,. So I said yes immediately.
Nervous as a schoolgirl called to the Head, I went to her home-office in North London. I was convinced she’d called me all that way only to say my manuscript was absolute rubbish and to forget writing for the rest of my life.
The first words she said was: “I think it’s terrific…”
I was so excited I almost missed the end of that sentence: “…but it needs a lot of work.”
Right there and then she went through the manuscript with me. Pages and pages were dismissed with a stroke of her red pen: “That’s rubbish.” Hundreds of pages got that treatment. UI ended up with 430 pages (I didn’t have a word counting facility in those days, I didn’t even know I was supposed to count words!).

She sent me home with some wise advice: take what’s left and rebuild the whole thing from scratch.
That’s what I did, but it still wasn’t good enough.

Another draft, another submission later, she was satisfied enough to start submitting.
Nothing came of it. One or two editors, she said, would be happy to see a revised draft. So back to the drawing board it went. Back to the agent. Back to the editors.
And then a long, long silence.
When I could no longer bear the silence I rang her up.
She told me she’d had no answer up to now, and it didn’t look very hopeful. I burst into tears. I was utterly and completely devastated. I knew it was over. I had put all I had into that book, blood, sweat and tears. It had kept me going through a desperate time. It had been my lifeline… and it was a failure!

But the word failure just isn’t in my vocabulary. I’m a lemons to lemonade type.

But then I dried my tears, returned to my Brother, and started Book B.

…to be continued….

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