This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
The year was 1998. The place was Trinidad, a Caribbean island. I was staying with my cousin Reggie on my way to Guyana to visit my mother – and taking my two children to visit their grandparents there for the first time. We had arrived the night before, and I was sleeping off my jet-lag when my cousin’s wife woke me.
There’s a phone call for you, she said. From England.
Still groggy with sleep, I made my way downstairs – no cordless phones in those days. It was my agent.
I took the book to auction, she said, her voice high with excitement, and we’ve had two offers already!
That was the defining moment. The rest of that holiday was spent in a cloud of elation. It was happening, finally! It was the culmination of years of hard work, frustration, disappointment, creative fervour, blood, sweat and tears.
The journey had started many years previously, when I finished my first novel. Written on a manual typewriter, it was over 700 pages long. I was living in Germany at the time, and had no idea of the publishing process – and of course there was no Internet, no email. Somehow, I got hold of a copy of Writers News, and read an article about a brand new agent in London who was just starting out. I’ll call her agent A. I wrote her about my book, and she asked me to send it. Sending it, of course, in those days, meant sending a massive manuscript by post, and waiting. A few weeks later she called again. Can you come to London? She asked. No word about representation, but I said yes right away. I was convinced she'd summoned me just to say the novel was terrible, and so I was completely bowled over when her first words were, It’s terrific! Her second words were … but it needs a lot of work.
Right there and then we got down to work. She went through the entire manuscript with me. This needs to go, and this and this, she said, crossing through pages and pages of the work. I simply nodded and agreed to everything.
I returned to Germany, and the real work began: revising. I cut the bits she’d told me to; restructured the whole work; changed this and that. Each draft typed out on a manual typewriter. Sent it back to her again and again until, after about a year, she said it was ready to submit. We now had a trim 450 page manuscript, I had learned a hellofalot about writing, and my career was just about to take off. At last.
But then I read Dorothea Brande's wonderful book, Becoming a Writer. And all of a sudden I knew. I set to work, and Women of Mixed Blood, the novel now going out on submission to British publishers, was the result. I was going to be a Published Author! An impossible dream come true!
Except it didn’t. Publisher after publisher rejected the novel. We like it, we don’t love it; it just isn’t right for us. They echoed each other in depressing platitudes. This went on for a year. My morale fell to the depths, and ended in one telephone call to my agent in which I broke down in blubbering tears. All that work, for nothing!
And then I woke up. OK, I said to myself, back to the drawing board. I started a new novel. This time I had a Brother Word Processor, one without a hard drive but with a floppy drive, on which I could store three or four chapters at a time. I began a new novel, a completely different one.
I dropped every idea of publication. I simply wrote. This new story grew as I wrote, and I was as excited at writing it as I would be when reading a spellbinding novel: what would come next? At the time we were living in a draughty farmhouse in a German village. We had no central heating: each room had to be heated be a wood burning stove, and some rooms stayed cold, including my writing room. I wrote through the winter wearing a coat, hat, boots and fingerless gloves. But I was warmed from inside by the story unfolding through my fingers. A story that came straight from the heart. Which sounds incredibly twee and sentimental, but I have no other way to describe what happened.
I submitted it to Agent A, but she must have been fed up with me by this time since she didn’t write back. I needed feedback, so I submitted it to Hilary Johnson's manuscript assessment agency. She read it, said it was great, but needed work. I cut, restructured, changed, made it as good as I could. Returned it to Hilary.
Next thing I knew, Hilary had sent it to an agent for which she was a scout. This was Agent B, from one of the most prestigious of UK agencies.
Agent B called me: I love it. Can you come?
Yes, I could. I travelled back to London, stayed at her house, and she told me over and over again how much she loved it. It was ready to submit, she said. She might even put it to auction.
One day a week later I was sleeping off my jetlag in Trinidad when my cousin-in-law woke me to receive The Call.
A short time later I signed a contract for with HarperCollins, followed by contracts from four European publishers. Of Marriageable Age was published in 1999. It went out of print, and was republished in digital format by Bookouture in 2014.
The Secret Life of Winnie Cox by Sharon Maas is out now.