love long novels. One of my favourites is A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth, which is 1500 pages long. So it was no surprise that when I started writing myself, my books turned out to be – well, a bit on the long side.
Early drafts of Book A were over 700 ms pages ( I did’t have word counting softwate in those days, and didn’t even know I was supposed to count words!)
Book B was another epic; it was also very complex. Book B had three main characters, each with their own quite separate story thread. They lived in different continents, different decades. The point of the book was that the reader should slowly grow aware of the connection between them. It was full of hidden clues and red herrings, and dropped hints as to the outcome, and a had a big surprise ending. Yet it wasn’t a mystery; it was a novel of relationships. Forbidden love, culture clash, religion and bigotry were some of the themes, and when I was finished I had a wild beast of a story and no idea what to do with it.
Agent A had stopped answering my letters (I stil didn’t have email) and I was too scared to phone her; I’m a phonephobe myself, and didn’t want to annoy her. I waited and waited for her response. Basically, I wanted some help organising it. She had helped so much with my first book – why was she taking so long?
I still was not thinking in terms of publishers. I had no dreams of huge advances and a movie deal. All I wanted, at this stage, was to get the book right. I knew I needed advice. But all I got was – silence. I couldn’t really blame her. She’s spent so much time on my first book, and it had led to nothing. Probably she’d given up on me.
So I began to think beyond her. In my Writers News magazine I saw several ads for “Literary Consultancies” – freelance editors who would read manuscripts for a fee and work with the author to make them publishable – if possible. I decided to try one out.
I sent this company a partial. A couple weeks later I got an extensive report, a full critique with many suggestions on how I could improve the story – mostly, as I knew myself, through restructuring it. I was welcome, they told me, to resend the full when I was ready. Even though they’d only read a partial, the advice there was so solid I at once knew what to do with the whole manuscript.
When I was finished I sent it back.
I refer to them as “they” becuase it really was two people: Hillary Johnson ran the company, but she had been ill at the time of my first submission. My partial had been read by a published author – now a bestselling one – Linda Taylor. Linda had liked the partial so much she recommended the full, revised ms to Hillary.
And I still had not heard from Agent A.