Thursday, 25 February 2010
My Fairy Godmother
I have a fairy godmother. Or possibly a muse. Or a really good friend. Anyway, I’m very lucky to have her.
Twice now I have had life-changing experiences at her dining table. And at least twice she has made suggestions that have radically altered my literary output.
Anna wasn’t my friend to start with. When I first met the man who became my husband I was somewhat startled to find that most of his friends were attractive single women. Anna was one of them, tall, blonde and extremely bright. She worked in the civil service, and managed to make running the country look like child’s play.
Fast forward fifteen years, and we’d just arrived back in London after eight years in Amsterdam. We were all a bit lost and unsettled. She invited us for lunch with her family – very enjoyable - then dispatched the husbands and children for a walk, while we had a catch-up. I talked a bit about my career worries - should I look for a demanding full-time job in journalism? Or plunge into the competitive world of freelance writing? She sensed my lack of enthusiasm for either option. ‘I’ve just done an evening class in Writing for Children at City University’ she said. ‘Why don’t you sign up for the next one - it starts in a few weeks.’ I did, and that’s where I started writing When I Was Joe.
After the first writing course, Anna and I signed up for the second one - a workshop course for people working on a longer piece. I completely abused the parameters of the course, writing 60,000 words when 3,000 was expected. Anna read every word. In chapter two she suggested a tiny change which, she pointed out, would leave the door open for a potential sequel. I laughed when she said it, feeling it was unlikely that I’d actually manage to finish one book let alone embark on a follow-up. However, I made the change. Four months later I started work on the sequel. The change she’d suggested was absolutely crucial to the whole book. It’s being published in August.
Autumn 2008. Anna invited us to a dinner party. I’d finished the book, and had been busily and so far unsuccessfully querying agents. My husband was sitting next to a woman who turned out to be an agent for children’s writers. He spent the evening selling my book to her – what a liability it must be, being a literary agent at a dinner party. Worse than being a doctor.
Anyway, she kindly offered to talk to me on the phone. We spoke a few days later and she made helpful suggestions - had I thought of paying for advice from a literary consultancy like Cornerstones? Did I feel the book was finished? She offered to take a look and I sent her the manuscript. A week or so later she got back in touch – she’d sent it to a reader and had a good report. In that time my fortunes had been transformed - I had two great agents interested. She begged for time to read it too.
We met a week later, we talked, we got on really well. And so Anna’s dining table changed my life again, when her dinner guest became my agent.
Anna’s now a member of my writing group and today she did it again. Looked at the outline for my new book, identified what was missing, made a brilliant suggestion. I couldn’t be more grateful.
Anna was my friend, you’ve nicked her,’ my husband complained the other day. ‘You’re certainly not having her back,’ I replied, ‘I need her a lot more than you do.’ And I really can't thank her enough.