Having flapped around like a pair of easily distracted pigeons for the last few months, Elizabeth and I decided enough was enough. There are only so many emails you can bully each other with, along the lines of “WRITE, YOU FUCKER” and *points accusingly*, and so we signed up for Discovery Day at Foyles, to spur ourselves on to paying more attention to our writing, and to a potential nervous breakdown.
Discovery Day is a free-for-all. Literary agencies Curtis Brown and Conville Walsh join forces, and let any sucker with a (free) ticket pitch an agent their book (divided into for adults or for children), and get feedback on the first page. Then there’s a quick ‘ask an agent’ round table after that, then in the afternoon there’s a panel with more agents, a publisher, and an actual author – SJ Watson, in this case. Fantastic idea, and again, free.
I met Elizabeth for lunch this week and we read each others’ pages. Elizabeth was angsting between two. I loved one as a first page. Our third Write Clubbian unhelpfully loved the other one. Elizabeth looked a bit sad. We ordered a large lunch. Meanwhile, I had got so angst-ridden about having only one page to prove that my idea was going to be the funniest and most wonderful thing in Christendom, that I had basically created an absolute monster of overwriting.
“Um – it’s a bit….” said Elizabeth, politely flailing around for the right way of saying I had created an absolute monster of overwriting.
“Oh God, I know,” I said, and plunged into a slough of despond, and my salad.
“Just remove the adverbs.”
I peered at my first page. It was 45% adverbs.
After this, I went back to the original page I’d had before I’d gussied the poor thing up with every writing crime imaginable. It was fine. It wasn’t trying as hard to be loved. That would do.
Saturday morning, I allowed a frankly ridiculous amount of time to get to Foyles and ended up first in the queue with half an hour until the day was even due to start. I stared at my 30 second pitch. I had just about mastered the bit where I talk about myself for five seconds, and then the bit spieling what the book was actually about, but all I really wanted to say was “I…just want to write something that makes people happy and laugh a bit. And that has books in it.”
I tweeted a picture of my place in the adults’ queue. Helpful responses from friends came back asking if I was in fact in the right queue.
And then it started and I was wheeled round to table one, which only had bloody Jonny Geller on it. If you don’t know who he is, he is Ross’s literary cousin. (He is not). He is the co-head of Curtis Brown and also a Thing on Twitter.
“So don’t panic. Let’s have a chat about your idea, and then I’ll look over your page,” he said. I sadly thought of my impeccable “introducing me” section, now completely unnecessary, and then manned up and enthused about the idea behind the book and who I was inspired by.
“Jilly Cooper, Richmal Crompton, Katherine Mansfield and Angela Carter,” I said.
“Great. They’re very different.”
“Yes, but the thing they have in common is that even writing about children, they appeal to adults,” I said.
He liked the concept for the book, which is good. The first page, he did not like so much. My poor, scratched about with, small infant widdling itself under the spotlight at a ballet recital, first page. It was cluttered, and I needed to work out whether I was going YA or adults. I left with some extremely useful structural advice, and a flyer for the Curtis Brown writing academy, which I had already checked out, and will continue to check out until I find the £3000 necessary to do anything more.
I met Elizabeth in the afternoon – she had some tremendous news, which is not mine to share here. We toasted our mornings with gin from Damson & Co, and ice cream from Gelupo, which we gulped on the way back to Foyles for the panel.
“Seventy five per cent of writers keep it as a hobby,” Jonny Geller said. “Which is great. Because that’s a large chunk of people I don’t have to bother with. I only want to hear from people who can’t not write, who want to make it a career.”
The book is in a miserable state. I know this. But I know that, while it might suck balls now, I love it and I love the people, and eventually I’ll finish it, put it in the bottom drawer, and write the second idea out. I’ll put that in the bottom drawer, and write the third idea out. And they’ll all suck balls. But eventually, I’ll have learned what I’m doing. Eventually, I’ll write a book that has structure, and a consistent tone, and does all the things that I want it to.
And then I’ll go back and speak to Mr Geller again.