Journey of a Novel

Everyone knows about the tortuous path to publication. You've written a book, you hope to see it published. Simple. Yet the destination remains tantalizingly out of reach. This is one mystery tour which may well wind up at a dead end. No matter how much you study the map you can never be sure if you'll reach your goal. And you can't rely on a Sat Nav to get you there.

The journey of this novel was let's say circuitous. Imagine taking the wrong exit at the Welcome Break and heading hopelessly down the motorway in the opposite direction for hundreds of miles. It's dark, it's raining, you run out of petrol and end up in tears on the hard shoulder.

How could this be? You'd think someone who'd had three novels out with a mainstream publisher and had been writing since she was knee-high to a daisy would have no problem. Not so.

In fact, I began writing Vida's story back in the autumn of 2005. It was in the wake of a rocky time with my publishers. The Y/A market was shrinking. My confidence was at an all-time low. I doubted I'd ever write another novel again. Having turned editor I spent my time advising on other peoples' manuscripts.

As for my own writing, I wasn't sure I had a novel at all. Vida's story came in fragments, scribbled almost in a dream-like state over a period of months. The story began to go in wild directions. A character turned up uninvited; events took a distinctly weird turn. So weird in fact that on completing a first draft, I decided it was too bizarre ever to see daylight, and shoved it in a box-file. I went on to write another novel, which still lies in the drawer to this day. I forgot about Vida.

Around a year or so later, Cornerstones, one of the literary consultancies I work for, were giving a party for their editors. Kathryn Price the then managing editor got me into a corner.

'So, what are you writing these days?'

'Nothing,' I said.

'Nothing? What about your short stories?'

I assured her my writing days were over. I was happy enough helping others over the hurdles to publication. End of story. Kathryn wasn't convinced. Well, she said, I must get back to writing. When I'd written my next novel, she'd read it.

We left it at that. I gave it no further thought for the next year. About that time we decided to convert the falling down coal shed at the back of the house into a small office. The move from the box room was the chance for a clear-out. All those ancient files of manuscripts, my own and those of past clients, all went in the recycling pile. Or most of them did. Among them I found Vida's story in a battered folder. I dusted off the cobwebs. Might be worth reading I thought before consigning to the bin. And so I did. I read all that evening, unable to put it down. Did it have something? Why on earth had I hidden it for so many years? This shows how the mood of the moment can affect our judgement.

Installed in my new coal shed office, I set to work on a revision. There was much work to be done, and still when I'd finished, I wasn't sure. Something wasn't right. Something I couldn't quite put my finger on.

It seemed ludicrous. I could pinpoint the pitfalls in my clients' work no problem, but when it came to my own I was fumbling in the dark. Meanwhile my agent having lost interest during my decade of silence, declined even to read. We parted company. Back to the box file then. Or was it? Then I remembered Kathryn's offer.

The value of a good editor should never be underestimated. Kathryn has a rare ability to get the best out of writers, drawing on strengths you barely know you have. In my case, her expert eye uncovered a central flow with the structure. It's no exaggeration to say, this turned the book around.

A further year of hard work followed. Any novelist knows that endless re-drafting goes with the job. How many drafts is enough? There are no rules. I know of successful authors who swear by seven: others might get away with three or four. By this time I'd lost of count the drafts 'Testament' had been through. Enough to say that the first revision with Kathryn was the transformative draft which moved the story to a new level.

A further polish and Helen at Cornerstones was ready to read. Her enthusiastic reception was heartening. Within a week, she had found me representation. Every editor has their own vision for a book. Nelle Andrew made some brilliant suggestions which added much to Vida's testament. The book was ready to go out into the world.

There followed a nail-biting period of rejection and close-runs. My epic journey appeared to have hit the buffers. Just as I was contemplating the box file, rescue appeared from an unexpected quarter in the form of new independent, Three Hares Publishing. Helen's wholehearted support for the book had never faltered. She introduced me to Yasmin Standen of Three Hares.

'You know,' Helen said, 'I think Vida has finally found her home.'

I think so too.