Receiving one of those letters from an agent, or publisher, full of positive comments about my novel, at the same time as saying it’s ‘too quiet’ for today’s market, always leaves me thinking.
Agents, publishers, and writers alike – we know that the market is very ruthless these days, and there aren’t many publishers prepared to take the risk, so unknown writers of literary fiction barely stand a chance. That is unless we can produce a ‘high concept’ novel, or a page turner. Well ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is just not my cup of tea, and I couldn’t write a convincing ‘bodice ripper’ or ‘psychological thriller’ if a publisher dangled a six figure sum in front of me. I don’t even want to. I’ll leave that to people who make a readable job of it. The thing is, if the voice is quiet, it has to be very clear to be heard, never mind listened to. I realise I’m not yet that good. Not as good as I want to be. Criticism is always helpful, even if in the end I reject it. There’s food for thought. It’s almost more difficult to receive rejection when there is no negative criticism, when I’m left with nothing to edit or develop or change. Just a ‘quietly controlled, slow burn’ novel, that won’t sell.
Last week four of us who’ve recently completed the MA Writing at Sheffield Hallam University, met in a bar and ended up talking about why we write. We’re all pretty dedicated – it’s a way of life, fitted around earning a living and bringing up children. For some of us it began in childhood – my friend, Suzanne, wrote her first novel aged 9, and her old school teacher returned it to her after many years. She’d forgotten it even existed. We’ve all had stuff published, but no full length novels – yet. The days we don’t write are similar to days when we eat junk food – we just don’t feel nourished. In one way or another writing feels essential to our well-being, which is not to say we write as therapy.
When I was younger the need to find an agent, and then a publisher, was a kind of obsession. I felt stuck, miserable with frustration when it didn’t all run smoothly – when I worked with two agents and still didn’t quite make it beyond the marketing department of two reputable publishers. I remember my friend Claire saying I’d feel all right about it in the end. I didn’t know then what she meant, but now, years later, I find that I do – absolutely, despite the ups and downs. I’m in it for the duration – as far as I can see. I’m never satisfied with my work, always the next novel will be better, and I’m endlessly curious and fascinated by the imagination – the way characters and situations sometimes write themselves. I want to communicate through story, perhaps to enchant as much as I have been enchanted as a reader, or illuminated, entertained…all of that, and more. There are so many possibilities open to writers now, and I feel open to anything, as long as I can keep on working, keep on writing better and better.
I am cetain too, that, like water, creativity will find a way.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.