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The arduous art of novel writing

Posted on June 26th 2013

DA Colour Jan 2011Well it’s finished. In fact it was finished many months ago, in fact years ago, yet the temptation to continuously fiddle with the MS is obsessive. It might be called Compulsive-Altering-the-Script-Disorder (CASD).

As it is my first attempt at a full length book  I have sought advice and read endless articles on the web and even joined Bloomsbury Writers and Artists, the publishers of the definitive” Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook” and an organisation that does its best to encourage new writers with courses and seminars and endless books. I went to one of their events in London at some expense; a ‘Meet the Literary Agent’ day in a smart London square, appropriately located in Bloomsbury.

As I asked the taxi driver to take me to Bloomsbury I already felt like ‘a published author’ and adjusted my bow-tie and day-dreamed of endless drinks parties with the Good and the Great, interviews with Mark Lawson on the BBC’s ‘Front Row’, Guardian reviews, touring the country for book signings, Hay-on Wye here we come… and of course selling the film rights to Hollywood.

It was a quiet Saturday morning in London and the taxi had no problem pulling up outside the black front door of the elegant brass-plated offices. As I stepped onto the pavement dismissing the cab with a casual wave of the hand I was half-expecting to bump into Virginia Wolf. Alas, reality awaited.

Although I was five minutes early for the official coffee cum grip ‘n grin session and before the real workshops of the day got underway, I was surprised to see that the ground floor offices were already packed with chattering authors-in-waiting, Bloomsbury minders and those elusive creatures, literary agents. You can normally spot them; they are mostly female, unpublished authors themselves, who whilst friendly, give you a wary look that says, ‘Don’t tell me your bloody life-story of how you were sitting in a café in Bath and came up with an ABSOLUTELY brilliant idea for children’s book.’

I climbed the shallow wide steps and pressed the door bell, then the intercom and eventually I started hammering on the door with a large brass knocker. The front doors to the elegant Georgian house were resolutely locked. Nobody appeared. Despite more buzzing, shouting and waving through the window at the swollen, ground floor gathering inside, still I failed to gain anyone’s attention. Was I being politely ignored as if I was some well-dressed drunk returning from an all-night party? Meanwhile, ‘those in the know’ were busy networking like fury and not prepared to let anyone else crowd in on the small number of target literary agents present. Hearing the rising crescendo of voices inside and seeing the packed room of scribblers scoffing free coffee and biscuits was tormenting me as I boiled with frustration on the pavement. It was like a metaphor for my book, I could see the prize but it was just out of my deserved grasp; my Norman No-Mates feelings were compounded by my native Yorkshire economy in not getting my-moneys-worth. It was only fortuitous that one of the delegates, clearly exhausted by their sales pitch to some literary glitterati, decided to step outside for a fag and I managed to shove past the needy smoker and bolt through the open door to secure my place.

In Bloomsbury’s favour it was great to meet other would-be writers and share our collective angst on getting published for the first time; however, it was somewhat discouraging when one lady literary agent, representing a major agency, informed the twenty or so eager JK Rowling wannabies that she received over 12,000 submissions every year and accepted, at best, only one or two new writers. Another agent suggested my novel was wrongly titled and was ‘difficult to place’ because it was both murder/mystery and a black comedy. Whilst learning some interesting tips about the importance of a concise introductory letter (more important than the synopsis) when submitting your MS, I returned to Yorkshire looking moodily out from the train window at the rolling countryside in dispirited mood.

About six years previously, when I had written the first draft of my book, I was introduced to an ex-director of Penguin Books who had set up a small literary agency. She loved the MS but failed to get it placed. She eventually went back into educational publishing and my contact dried up. Looking back the novel was still a shambles: it was littered with typos and the chronology was all over the place. However, her acceptance of the script’s basic merits was a great boost and spurred me on to really get it finished. Fortunately, another friend, a celebrated poet, playwright and children’s book author, introduced me to Dennis Hamley, an author of sixty or so young people’s adventure stories. He gave me many invaluable lessons on the structure of the book and corrected my questionable grammar. More importantly, he told me to cut the MS length down by a third and remove my tendency to go off on tangents which, whilst amusing, did not enhance the storyline.

Before my more recent Bloomsbury visit I had submitted the MS to eight literary agencies. All were rejected, some within a couple of weeks, some after three months or more – quite par for the course. No explanations but I was forewarned about this. ‘Doesn’t match our requirements or lists’ was about the most feedback I received. I decided to take the bull by the metaphorical horns and submit the MS to five good friends, all avid readers, I asked them for HONEST CRITICAL feedback. Somewhat to my astonishment they enjoyed what they had read and thought the characters were well drawn if a little eccentric. Taking on board the various helpful comments from my ‘real readers’ and armed with the knowledge of my Bloomsbury adventure I decided to publish the book on Amazon as a Kindle download or an e-book. My theory being that if ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, which started as an e-book, could sell millions of copies despite typing and punctuation errors, then why couldn’t mine sell a few hundred copies? Time will tell but as every good marketing man knows, sex sells, and my offering whilst having a few risqué moments is tame by comparison.

Currently the book cover is being designed and It should be available within the next few weeks. Please have a browse as sample chapters and a brief preview will be available free of charge; the book will be modestly priced. So please look out for:’ HIDDEN LIVES’ by Douglas Adamson. It has only taken eight years to complete so your reviews and comments (good, bad and plain rude) will be very welcome!

Every advertising copy writer has a half completed book in his or her top right-hand office drawer. ‘Hidden Lives’ is mine. I hope the sequel (already five chapters in) takes less time to complete. In the interim please tell your friends.