I’ve Found an Agent…Ish!

How I’ve dreamed of writing that first sentence (without the ‘ish’)! And now I can finally type the words and share my exciting news…ish.

Last week, a literary agent contacted me to ask if I could get in touch re my ‘funny’ and ‘witty’ head lice story. Jubilations! A real agent from a real literary agency wanted me to give him a call. Cripes!

Once the appointment was made, I spent the weekend fretting over what he might say. I feared he’d made an embarrassing mistake and had contacted the wrong Victoria Twigg. I expected an apologetic email to say, ‘Terribly sorry, Victoria. Hope I haven’t built your hopes up monumentally; as high as the moon and as deep as your soul. I meant to contact Victoria Twig, with the one ‘g’. The woman with the really funny and witty head lice story. No hard feelings…’

I then wondered whether he was a rogue agent (not in a Russian spy way); a charlatan praying on gullible clueless picture book writers who may be tempted to part with £10,000 in exchange for representation.

What I found hard to believe was that he was genuinely interested in my work. I had made the sift and had roused someone’s interest enough to be contacted at 11.30pm on a Friday night. Underneath the predictable and tiresome self-doubt, lies a twinkle of something; a microscope sparkle atop a minute particle of dust which had been spotted by someone wearing just the right spectacles. Actually, it was the agent’s reader who first saw my sparkle, so a big thank you to him for shoving my manuscript under the agent’s nose.

About that manuscript. It’s not a picture book. It’s not even a story. It’s a comedy sketch apparently. And a comedy sketch that won’t translate into foreign markets and deals with a subject that some countries, particularly America, prefer not to discuss. Sssshh, American kids don’t have lice, just our dirty European ones.

Therefore, whilst the writing was promising, the story needs to be ripped up and popped in my blue recycling bag. Well, that’s a huge blow. I’ve been tinkering with my lice for about a year. Now I’ve been advised to let them go; move on; no one cares for my nits.

Joining the ripped up pages, will be the majority of my other stories, for they don’t make the grade either. Some are too moral and finger-pointy, some will not translate internationally and the rest are just disgusting and/or creepy. I must remember I am writing for young children and not simply for my own amusement.

Having an agent who vets your ideas is a wonderful privilege, and comes with plenty of chances to add another layer of skin to your bones. I’m a bit thin-skinned, so I’m appreciating the ‘this idea is rubbish’ working relationship.

And I mean that. I have found someone who wants to hear my ideas and will tell me when they’re rotten, which most have been so far.

So, I’ve gone from relentless agent hunting to catching a good’un, but with that victory comes a new bag of problems. I now have to live up to another person’s expectations. I need to deliver the cakes; super-fantastical cakes; with original ingredients or at least a new topping. That adds pressure to a person.

This is just the next stage of my writing voyage though. I’ve finally left the harbour behind and now I need to drop anchor for a good think. I can’t afford to mess up such an opportunity with mediocre stories. My ideas must compete with every picture book writer topping up the shelves in Waterstones.

Can I do it? Yeeees? Yes, I can. And I will. Which means I best stop blogging and get on with my day-dreaming/meditation. I’m off to catch some big story fish. Adieu, adieu!

Goodbye Afternoon Naps, Hello Primary School.

Dear Max,

4th September 2014 will mark the closing of the most spectacularly rewarding and contented chapter in my life. It signifies the end of our sacrosanct ‘Maxa-Mumma’ days; dozy, snuggly afternoons on the sofa, and rain-dodging, ‘weeeeeeeee‘ inducing bus journeys. No more, ‘What shall we do today?’ Or, ‘Can we go to the train cafe, Mumma?’

The high-speed 0-5 train is about to make its final stop. The station: Padstow Primary School. And whilst I’d willingly sit with you on this train for ever, you are ready to disembark and start the next stage of your journey without me by your side.

Will you boldly walk into class in your over-sized grey shorts and too-long school shirt, or will you cling to my leg in terror? Will you manage to carry your dinner tray without losing your peas? Will you make friends? And will you manage to do a poo without shouting, ‘I’M FIIIINIIIISHED!’?

I don’t know, Max. I have no idea what school has in store for you. I tell you that you’ve nothing to fear when you say you’re ‘fwightened‘. I reassure you that you’re going to have a fantastic time and you’ll make the bestest ever friends. But I can’t guarantee a smooth passage for you; I won’t be there to protect you. I’m handing over my most precious being and simply hoping that all will be ok.

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Of course, don’t get the wrong impression, Max. I haven’t spent the past few weeks sobbing in distress, nor having nightmares about letting go, nope, that’s only happened once or twice. Actually, I did have a horrifying dream last night. Your sister shot you dead! Make of that what you will. It could be a ‘closing of a chapter’ thing, or it might be because I watched The Godfather before bed.

Anyway, back to your mother’s open letter, which you’re probably finding a touch theatrical. After all, you’re going to a very good primary school, with a class of just fifteen; where Rick Stein’s fish pie is served, and where your sister has been incredibly happy this last year.

But, and I have lots of these, what if you don’t make any friends? What if no one lets you join in? What if they laugh at your hummus sandwiches? And worst of all, what if you’re BULLIED? Argh! What if! What if!

For five years, we’ve been inseparable; literally, during the first few months. You stuck to me like a, well, like a baby stuck to his mother’s breast. We spent every night together on the sofa, you suckling like a starved piglet (sorry, I’m sure that’s a hideous thing to picture), and me, eating digestives whilst watching Michael Portillo travel the length and breadth of Europe via train. You too, must have been listening to Michael’s informative words, as your love of trains remains unchallenged.

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My greatest hope for you is that you’re happy. Above all else, I want you to have a happy time at school. Unfortunately for you, you’re yet to realise that a fair amount of school life sucks. There will be the annoying kid, the stinky kid, the nasty shit, the bogey eater, the best looking kid, the bore, the gyp, the incessant liar, the perpetual show-off, and the kid who steals your girlfriend. I wish I could assure you that such kids only exist in childhood but you will meet them all again, even the bogey eater, and especially the show-off.

My greatest piece of advice for you is to be nice. Yes, I realise that’s an incredibly bland thing to say, but the world has a dearth of nice people. And whilst I’d be delighted if you passed your GCSEs (ridiculously outdated means of academic assessment) at age seven, your A levels at age ten, and your PhD in your early teens, I really won’t give a toss if you’re not a nice lad. For being nice, kind, tolerant and moral is worth a million A star star double triple stars. Although this doesn’t mean you can bum. Even if you’re as nice as Jesus, you’ll still need a job. And judging by how long I’ve had to wait to get a quote for a building a garden wall, I’d suggest a career in the trades.

I’m probably getting ahead of myself. I don’t need to worry about career choices just yet. Unless you fall into a bad crowd by Christmas and I catch you on the roof of the social club shouting, ‘We don’t need no eduction!’ Perhaps I need to consider home-schooling.

So, farewell my little Maxa. You won’t remember our special days together, but I will remember them for ever. In no time at all, you’ll stop holding my hand, deny my very existence and start smelling of BO. Nevertheless, thank you, my beautiful boy. It’s been a blast.

And remember, just say NO!

Your ever-loving, slightly embarrassing,

Mumma. Xx

I want to write the Mighty Boosh of picture books!

If the objective of going to the Winchester Writers’ Festival was to catch an agent, I failed; my net is miserably empty.  If the objective was to confidently mingle and shamelessly promote my work, I failed that too; there was a fair amount of checking my phone for urgent messages. However, if I’d set out to exchange £300 for some nuggets of golden feedback and a slither of hope, I achieved that wholeheartedly.

It seems everyone agrees, my two picture books are, ‘hilarious’, ‘quirky’, ‘unique’, ‘original’, and ‘bonkers’.  What outstanding feedback to receive from industry big-wigs. However, and it’s a fairly monumental ‘however’, my stories lack er, a story. They’re too ‘clunky’ without that most fundamental of story-book ingredients – a story arc; an obvious beginning, middle and end.  Ah yes, I see that now.

The agent I met for my one-to-one chat laughed at ‘Lola’s Lice Line’. She laughed a lot. Even threw her head back and laughed. A good sign? She also called it ‘bonkers’. Several times in fact. Too many times.  I started to wonder whether she thought I was bonkers for presenting her with such outlandishly ridiculous material. Was she laughing with incredulity?

I pitched my second picture book to her, which she said she’d look at over the weekend. Last night, she emailed to say, ‘As I expected, it was fun, but not one for me.’ Oh balls.

However, she also said picture books aren’t her ‘thing’ and her list is full anyway. That made me feel a little less winded.

Today, I am reflecting on the weekend and focusing on the rays of sunshine I glimpsed. My books are funny, but lacking in story; I can work on that. I certainly couldn’t fix an elegantly crafted, supposedly humorous, picture-book lacking in humour.

I must also remember how utterly subjective taste is. I’m not a fan of Friends, Miranda or Sex in the City. I’d actually go as far in saying I loathe them and their feeble, lazy and obvious humour. But I understand I’m probably alone here; I know they are all enormously popular. I like my humour a little darker; alternative, skilful and witty, as seen in a League of Gentlemen or The Mighty Boosh; programmes which have a sizeable minority following.

If I was asked to commission Miranda or The Mighty Boosh, I’d opt for the former. Obviously. It has a broader appeal and will ultimately make more money than the latter.  Actually, scrap that. I’d choose The Mighty Boosh and stand by my conviction!

What I’m trying to say, as elegantly as a hippo in skinny jeans and stilettoes, is that I need to find the agent who wants to take a gamble on head-lice and vomiting cats; the agent who doesn’t just think the books are ‘hilarious’ but who knows other people will find them hilarious too. So hilarious, Waterstones will buy one million copies and Aardman will start making little head-louse figurines.

Until then, I’m going to my cave (kitchen table) to revisit the manuscripts and sculpt the stories. The agent hunting can wait….

Networking? I’ll be in the toilet.

Browsing through the schedule for the forthcoming Winchester Writers’ Festival, I can see four opportunities for networking. That’s four occasions I’ll need to take an urgent call, visit the bathroom or pretend I’m reading a book; such is my fear of ‘networking’.

I HATE networking. Even the word irritates me. What does it mean?  Yes, I understand it’s meant to be an ‘opportunity to expand one’s network of comrades’ but my experiences have been rather disappointing.

When I attend networking events, I become the ‘listener’, the friendly face people turn to to tell me ALL about themselves. Perhaps I am the warm-up before they have the chance to meet someone they’d actually like to add to their network, such as a publisher or literary agent.

This could be my own fault as I’ll happily stand there nodding, humming and laughing in the right places, rather than getting out my trumpet for a loud blow.

I’m not comfortable with trumpeting. I’d much rather discover someone’s achievements by accident, than listen to their accomplishments being shamelessly paraded in front of me.

The other reason you’ll find me at the buffet table instead of talking bollocks is that I find networking incredibly self-serving and insincere.  Nobody’s really interested in you, they just want to find out whether you’re worth talking to, i.e. can you offer them something – ‘Oh, so you’re not an agent. Oh I see. Well, good luck with er, whatever…’

My reluctance to mingle will make next weekend a bit of a challenge. Whilst others will be enjoying the 10 o’clock lecture, I’ll be counting down the minutes to ‘coffee break and chat’ time. It’ll be especially hard if the other attendees have brought their buddies along. No networking for them, they can turn their backs to everyone, un-self-consciously eat croissants, and discuss who killed Lucy Beale.

Ironic, my loathing of networking, considering I spent many years working in public relations which is probably the most vacuous profession a person could have. Many a time I have stood, quite comfortably, amongst a room of strangers and hosted a seminar or given a presentation.  No troubles there. It is the one-on-one exchange of chittery-chatter that I dread; the ping-pong of meaningless banality; the opportunity to let myself down with an unintentionally offensive remark.

I am never myself when engaged in small-talk. I am more concerned in how I’m faring rather than concentrating on what I’m actually saying. I can have a conversation with someone and walk away having no idea of what I said.  The weather was probably mentioned and how tiring the kids are. They’re safe bets in club chit-chat.

So,  if you’re attending the Winchester Writers’ Festival and you feel the need to make a very important phone call during morning coffee and biscuits,  don’t. Come and find me. I’ll be in the toilet reading my book.

How to screw up with a literary agent.

There’s no eloquent way to write this; I’ve screwed up. In the top ten things not to do when submitting work to a literary agent, I have naively committed at least three. That’s three screw-ups I may never get the opportunity to remedy. Like turning up late to a first date and smelling of BO.

Literary agents, with their 300+ submissions a week, do not have time for amateur cock-ups. Neither do they take too kindly to the author who is clearly inept and incapable of adhering to the very simplest of instructions. Such people are just irritants; like the incessant buzzing of an office fly.

So, how have I committed submission suicide? Here’s a list:

Firstly, my debut picture book is 800 words. It is 800 words as I clearly lack the ability to self-edit; to cut out the waffly crap that neither enhances the story nor keeps it trotting along at a racy pace.

800 words is far too long for a picture book. Everyone knows that, right? Nope, not this novice. This novice read somewhere that anywhere south of 1000 words is entirely acceptable. It isn’t. Whilst some freaky exceptions to this rule occur once every 750 years, picture books are usually 32 pages long and approximately 500 words. Generally. First screw-up in the bag.

Secondly, the manuscript I sent out to a sizeable clutch of literary agents was sent too early. Ignoring the advice of my writing mentor to, ‘put your story in a drawer for a month and come back to it with fresh eyes’, I earnestly sent out my work into the world prematurely.

I have since re-read the manuscript numerous times, and not only have I reduced the word count by half, but I have improved the entire story. Markedly. I thought it was fantastically hilarious initially, now I realise my first attempt was only a slight nudge away from mediocre.

I blame other people. My husband loved it. And my mum. And my most trusted friend in all matters wordy. Next time the naked manuscript sees no one until it is fully dressed in a beautifully bound and illustrated hardback. Darn you all and your loving words of encouragement.

Lastly, I have used language that is more appropriate for a Victorian child and not one enjoying the bedtime stories of 2014.

I was trying to be all high-brow and C.S Lewisy, who believed language should not be ‘dumbed down’ for children. Hell, that’s what a dictionary is for. But, with the number of parents reading to children at night in spiralling decline, it was plain stupid of me to include words such as ‘surreptitiously’ in a 5-7 years picture book. Who has the time to explain what that means? Sadly, not as many as I’d like.

So there it is. My mistakes laid bare in the hope others don’t make the same dumb errors. But what to do now? I’m in a awkward situation. Do I re-submit my work to the agents I initially contacted? Or, let it slide and send them my next picture book text? Do I send them my new book and mention the last one? Or, is it best to forget the first cock-up entirely?

Embarrassingly, an agent who rejected my manuscript will be meeting me for a 1-1 chat at the looming Winchester Writers’ Festival.

I booked an appointment with her before I’d sent her my work. Now I need to sit there for 15 minutes whilst she tells me my book is shite and I clearly know nothing about the children’s picture book market. Should I begin by telling her I messed up? Show her my new book? Or, take the inevitable feedback and slink away to a gloomy corner with the other no-hopers?

My latest picture book is 500 words, on the nose. It is going to stay resting on my hard drive for at least 30 days. Then I will re-read it 100 times, re-write it 100 times more and then, I may, just may, send it to an agent.

Making friends with rejection.

As the second week of my agent hunting comes to an end, bringing with it three sensitively written rejection letters, how am I feeling? Surprisingly bouncy and evermore resolute!

I fully expect to have my work rejected countless times. And I fully expect to wait many years before having any book published. Years. There are no overnight successes in any form of art, whether this is writing, painting, acting or dancing. The road is a long one and the kerb is peppered with the weary bodies of those with great aspirations; with sufficient talent but insufficient tenacity. And often those who reach the end aren’t the most talented but the most determined. Take Chico for example.

I want to be rejected, for the lessons learned will be far more valuable to me than the instant gratification of being snapped up in two weeks. What would a ‘yes’ teach me? What more could I learn if my debut picture book was published by the first house to read it?

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of announcing my agent hunting duties on Facebook to an audience with no understanding of the perplexities of publishing. Now I am asked daily whether I have an agent yet or when’s the book coming out. Hmm, ask me in at least two years and I may have an answer.

I hope this post isn’t sounding disingenuous. If an agent offers me representation this afternoon, I’m not going to turn them away whilst I work on my self-development – “Sorry, I’d love to work with you but I was really rather hoping to get kicked in the crotch a few more times. I’ll call you when I can no longer get myself dressed.”

Rejection is good for me; for all of us. It tells me that I’m living the life I dreamed of. I’ve written a book, a synopsis and the feared submission letter. I am further along the path than I was a year ago. I had always wanted to write children’s books, but I never fully committed; perhaps I feared rejection. I have overcome that irrational fear and ploughed on regardless.

Furthermore, rejection can focus the mind brilliantly and make you more determined. At least it should do. There are bound to be times when a ‘no’ feels like a slap in the face and the only way to take comfort from the pain is to eat biscuits and watch daytime TV. I’m a big fan of the temporary pity-party, just as long as it doesn’t drag on too long. A day or two of not brushing your teeth is entirely allowable but, by day three, you really should at least swill around a bit of mouth-wash and put on some deodorant.

There is a big BUT in this jolly-in-the-face-of-adversity post. What if your manuscript just isn’t good enough? How can you tell? We’ve all heard the millions of examples of enormously successful writers who were turned down by 7000 publishers before getting an offer. Dr. Seuss was ‘too different’; Wind in the Willows: ‘boring’; Lord of the Flies: ‘rubbish and dull’; Watership Down – ‘language is too difficult.’ Etc etc etc.

Luckily they all persevered and refused to believe their work was drivel. How confident are you that your work isn’t? I’m fairly assured. I read several picture books a night to my children and I genuinely believe my book outperforms most of them in terms of humour and originality. But will I still feel this way if every literary agent dismisses my manuscript? Should I doggedly plough on or accept their feedback and set to work on a re-write?

I don’t know. I have not been doing this long enough to have the answer. But I would love to hear the thoughts of my fellow writers. Quit or carry on? Stick or twist?

I’m only two weeks into the process and three rejections is hardly cause for any towel throwing. And besides, I really should be getting on with my second book. And the third. And the fourth. I know my ‘yes’ is out there, we just need to find one another.

Happy writing everyone. x

Let the Agent Hunting Begin!

Delete. Re-write. Delete. Re-write. Delete. Check thesaurus. Re-format. Adjust margins. Check thesaurus. Re-write. Choose new title. Stick with original title. Bite nails. Drink tea. Eat cakes.

Such are the repetitious tasks which have taken-over my life since I typed the last sentence in my first picture book, Lola Louselove’s Lice Line.

After six months of tirelessly patting my keyboard and chewing a Biro lid ‘til it curls, I have a polished manuscript ready to send to a literary agent in the desperate hope of acquiring their representation. This is just the first stage of a very long journey; the packing of the suitcase before the exhausting road-trip even begins.

Should I strike gold with an offer from an agent, which is apparently as rare as finding diamonds in the English Channel, they will then need to find a publisher. The publisher will need to find a buyer (I’m favouring Waterstones and Barnes & Noble). And the bookshops will need to find customers. The customers will need to physically buy the book and their children will need to love the book so much they force their friends to buy copies too. At this point, I imagine Pixar will want a piece of the action and invite me in to write the screen adaptation.

So you see, finding the right agent is imperative to my plan. But who to choose? I have circled with my topless Biro, sixteen potential partners. I say partners, as I’m hoping the agent/author relationship will be matched in heaven. I want to like my agent and for they to like me.

I have learned that it is acceptable to approach more than one agent simultaneously, but just in case I get a sudden rush of interest, I thought it wise to send my manuscript to my top five pics. Each agents’ website advises waiting up to eight weeks for a response. Should the ninth week arrive without good news, I will contact the ‘maybe’s’ on my list.

What if no one likes my book? What if, despite my countless proof-reads, the manuscript is littered with errors? And, what if I forgot to remove the line which I jokingly sent to an editor friend of mine, ‘please be my agent or I’ll send you my pubic lice’?

To resist checking my voicemail, answerphone and emails every thirty seconds, I have started work on my second picture book. This should keep my mind occupied for the next few months. Best go, I’ve got to check my inbox….

Wish me luuuuuuuck!

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