Let me tell you how my latest story came together.
As I type, I’m waiting to go and get my train to what will be the last wedding in a year of many great weddings. This particular marriage is that of one of my longest and closest friends. As part of the wedding day… frivolities… the bride and groom challenged their guests, via their website, to make the ‘Most Impressive Wedding Video Message’. They did so some time ago, to be fair.
In all honesty, I had skim read and forgotten about this challenge until another one of my close friends asked me what I was doing for it (with 4 days to go until submission)! I had no idea what to do, just as I hadn’t for the past however many months, but guilt and an impending deadline can be a powerful tool for creativity. I had a brainwave on the Wednesday to do the thing I do best — write. Presenting writing in video format though would be a challenge. That’s where brainwave two came in.
I used to draw A LOT. But I haven’t really done much in over a decade, as other interests and hobbies as well as working life, took over. After all that time, for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to draw as the perfect visual medium for my video message. All I can say is that I’m glad I did.
For a video just over two minutes long, it took maybe 10 to 12 hours in total to produce. This includes the sketching, shading, inking, cutting, story filming and editing down. It was such a rewarding process to create something that came straight from the soul. I’d almost forgotten about that trance-like feeling of settling into a rhythm to draw. It’s similar but yet much different from the state you find yourself in when in the creative flow with fiction. For one thing you can listen to music. (Most especially music with lyrics!)
Although most of the story is told through the visual aids, it’s the combination of images and words that create the emotional impact. This was the first time I’ve written a narrative in a little while, as well. That’s two reminders to make time to do what you love often. I guess we can definitely call this flash (non)fiction?
While updating my submission spreadsheet I noticed that it’s been just over a year since I started searching for an agent for my second novel manuscript. A year is a fair amount of time and, despite my mixed feelings, I decided to pour into the data to see exactly what the results of these past 12 months have been. Here is a candid window into the actual process I’ve been through over the past year, in submitting to different agents in the UK (and a handful in the US too). Here we go:
Rejections: 29 (of which, no response at all): 10
Full manuscript requests: 3; (of which rejected): 2
Outstanding replies: 7
Those are some pretty bad stats on the face of it, hey? It’s a sort of rites of passage – the #1 thing to expect as a writer trying to be published – to see the rejections stack up. It would be very easy to become disheartened, especially by the non-replies, if I didn’t fully understand how the industry works. And still, when actually looking at the stats more closely, I realised there were a few positive take-aways.
I’ve had just under 30 rejections but 3 requests to send in my full manuscript. That’s 1 manuscript request for every 10 submissions – not too bad going for a fledgling, as far as I’m concerned. So I can take heart from knowing that my cover letter and the ever-taxing synopsis are in good shape, and that my concept is subjectively good. After 2 full manuscripts were passed up I wanted to have some beta-reader feedback into whether there were more fundamental issues with the novel that I wasn’t aware of. It remains to be seen whether this feedback will pay off or not but I feel positive about it; I enjoy the story when I read it, and I believe in it. I also have to have faith that someone out there (in the wilderness of my spreadsheet…) will believe in it too.
It wasn’t my intention to make my first post of the year a moody one, but of the two pieces I’ve written, to start and end my day, this was actually the lighter one, believe it or not. This poem is called:
You wanted so badly to dance in the light,
to hold onto something familiar
but to step to a rhythm that’s new.
With all of that weight on your shoulders,
how, then, were you planning to move?
The timing was off as we circled the floor,
who would lead and who follow unclear.
There were two shadows underneath you that I saw,
and in that shade, mine disappeared.
Part of the skill of a writer is knowing in your gut what works and what doesn’t but also knowing who to take advice from and who not to. Over the last week I’ve revisited my initial manuscript chapter to make some tweaks based on beta-reader impressions. Feedback received has been very useful, and it’s become clear that you can always tighten up your work. You can usually tell when an opinion is a subjective one, but the best feedback is always clear cut. You know the suggestion makes sense and will improve some element of your work. To those beta-readers who have given me their time – I am extremely grateful.
It has been a good year for my writing, all in all, with two of my short pieces being published in digital and print. At the end of 2018 I’ve had some more positive news but I’m not getting ahead of myself, and am preparing to launch another wave of submissions in the new year. With the tweaks made to the first chapter for new submissions, I can only hope to get to that next stage in my writing journey. Maybe it will be next year, maybe not, but as long as I keep going and keep growing I believe it will come in time.
We’re almost three quarters of the way through 2018. That is a scary thought for the perpetual optimist.
In the first quarter of the year I finished another edit on my manuscript that I considered ready to send out to agents for representation. My preparations were as good as I could have hoped for: cover letter tailoring appeared to be cracked, and that ever-awkward synopsis was seemingly working for me this time around. Maybe that was also a sign that I’d just written a better story! So I’d already made solid progress since the very first novel I wrote. My writing was better, and it showed in responses I received from agents – even if they didn’t feel strongly enough to take things further.
I’ve also gotten past the submission milestone of just seeing rejections coming back. Two agents asked for the full manuscript, having read the initial chapters, which was another mental bonus. It’s an assurance that I’m at least on the right track. However, with both of those agents also deciding the novel wasn’t for them I’m now back to square one. I received a sentence of feedback from one of the two agents, and I’m left in a bit of an impasse as to what needs tweaking.
I’m fortunate to have a network of other up-and-coming writers, and some agents, from my involvement in Penguin Random House’s Write-Now programme a couple of years ago. My next step has been to reach out to them for volunteer beta-readers in the hope that maybe things that aren’t obvious to me (who has written the work and knows it inside out) will come out in their feedback. Four of my peers offered to read for me so I have my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to improve things based on the comments that come back.
I have a finished manuscript, which I’m happy with, but any author always has to be flexible and open to criticism in order to improve it. That will be my focus in this last quarter of the year before starting all over again with my agent hunt.
My writing has been sporadic of late rather than routine. Yet when it has come it hasn’t been stories that have leapt onto my pages but poems. I don’t think of myself as a poet; it isn’t my go-to form. But when I do write it’s because I strongly feel something that I have to express right there in that moment – usually something personal. So it was today. I wrote this in a few minutes while waiting for a friend, also a writer, to join me for lunch. We discussed the fact that poetry seems to come as the purest projection of self.
There is no beginning, so no new beginnings;
Just streams and flows of being.
I will not start over.
I will not leave behind.
I will not reinvent what I am.
Everything I have done matters.
Nothing that I do will erase.
All that I am – I am.
As a shortlistee on the Penguin Random House 2016/2017 Write-Now scheme, allow me to share this open letter, in response to Lionel Shriver’s Spectator article, to express the thoughts my blog otherwise would: https://www.thebookseller.com/blogs/open-letter-lionel-shriver-805091
Aside from agent hunting, one of my goals for 2018 was to write more short fiction and enter competitions to get my name out there and stay sharp. While I’ve probably done more flash fiction than short stories I have entered competitions and was proud to have been shortlisted for the University of Sunderland (and Waterstones) Short Story Award. If I’m honest I didn’t even realise I’d been longlisted as I hadn’t checked the site or made a record in my diary! Perhaps for the best as the email that came through was a pleasant surprise.
To be part of the final 10 was great enough but the email explained that the award was done in partnership with Bandit Fiction who would be putting together print and digital editions of the shortlisted entries. Look how pretty they are!
These editions are available to purchase here. There’s some stunning work here and I’m really happy to be a part of it – winning wasn’t important. Seeing my second published piece in the space of three or four months has spurred me on even more 🙂
On the day of the Royal Wedding one of the words I saw appear again and again in news outlets and social media feeds was ‘inclusive’. In a racial context what does this term actually mean? To me it emphasises the idea that everything white/European is desirable and everyone outside of that norm requires special permission to get a seat at the table. If even the terminology used in discussions on ‘race’ is decisively Euro-centric, how can we ever have the balance needed to end racism? Despite the general sentiment across the country this weekend, a handful of guests of colour, carefully placed at a globally broadcasted wedding, does nothing to change fundamental issues of race and class in Britain.
Some folks reading this might be thinking that the Royals were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t try to widen their demographic but this wasn’t the leap into the 21st century that many commentators have made it out to be. The Royals had the opportunity to do that seven years ago with William and Kate. They could have had Michael Curry or anyone else they desired there had they wanted to. The difference between that wedding and Harry and Meghan’s is that there has been a clear media narrative centred around Meghan’s mixed heritage from the start. The token appearance of people of colour at the wedding fed directly into that narrative, and the nation promptly lauded it for its apparent progressiveness. But in praising the Royal Wedding for its diversity what we are actually doing is recognising that our country has an inherent problem with prejudice and privilege, stemming from our imperialist history, but not challenging this truth in any way. People of colour have been in the country for hundreds of years. In 2018 we shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back for finally having some ethnic minorities feature in a royal event.
I have no issue with two people in love committing to each other, and the Royal Wedding as a celebration has no bearing on any of our lives. I appreciate the global spectacle and appeal of Britain’s Royal family as well as the fact that, in Meghan Markle, we have many firsts when it comes to a Royal union. What concerns me is the pervading absence of any real platform for discussions on race and class relations in the country. Instead we seem to favour disposable snapshots such as this that are beamed across the globe – portraying the image of diversity and progressiveness we want the world to see.
Genuine firsts in history will always draw attention and, through one lens, it’s easy to understand why public imagination was captured by a mixed-heritage divorcee from another country marrying into the most exclusive of English institutions. But In the same way that Barack Obama’s presidency didn’t stop the shootings and institutional brutality that ended the lives of Erica Garner, of Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, and numerous others, the union of Prince Harry to someone who happens to have a more visible non-European link than the last woman to marry into the family doesn’t ease the pain of individuals and families torn apart by the Windrush scandal or mask the rise and rise of Islamophobia. It will take more than this wedding to erase the stereotypes and prejudices that people of colour encounter, both overtly and as micro-aggressions, in their day to day lives.We need long-term education in any dialogue on equality, not short-term hopefulness.
A part of me died
in the fire of your eyes.
But something in you still lived.
Those eyes that had seen
across oceans and made
the most of what you’d been given.
A part of me sighed
at the touch of your hand
which faded like webs in light.
Those hands that had forged
their own lot in this land.
A life that had left you tired.
A part of me cried
when your ears heard the truth
cos something in you still lived.
This last journey home
is not your own choice.
We’re here but you sail alone.