A Novel Journey [Pt3] Agents of destiny…

Once I moved to Devon it was always going to be difficult keeping up with the demands of writing for tv. My bread and butter tv writing was for Family Affairs, which had come to an end, and pitching for further work would involve frequent and lengthy trips back to London. It felt like the right time to pursue another long held ambition and really get serious about writing my first novel. I’d been playing about with a couple of ideas for some time and wanted to finalise plots and characters for two books.

I will blog further about those soon. What others may find useful is the extraordinary journey I had in trying to get the books published the ‘old fashioned way’. I’m sure it’s a tale familiar to some fellow writers and I’ve learned a lot from it that I’m happy to share. The short version is this: I have had, at various times, three of London’s top literary agents supporting me, these being  Kate Jones of ICM, who, alas, is no longer with us, Peter Straus at RCW and Broo Doherty at Wade&Doherty. All have kindly endorsed my writing by making some much appreciated positive comments.

Kate, who I’d met by chance, was a champion of my book ‘Dead Gorgeous’. It’s an offbeat crime thriller with a dark side and an uncomfortably awkward protagonist, Jim Harwood. She ‘got it’ straight away, seeing that it was in effect both a ‘romp’ and a bitter swipe at our malleable criminal justice system. In fact Kate was determined to get the book published and would have done so I’m sure had she not fallen seriously ill a few years ago. Tragically the cancer she once seemed to have overcome returned with a vengeance.

For a while I wasn’t sure what to do with the book. Kate had been a keen supporter. She loved the dark humour in the narrative and had always said that some other agents and publishers would be ‘scared of it’. ‘I’ll get it sorted for you’ she said, but it would prove to be our final conversation. I was rocked by her death and decided to put the book on the back burner for a while. When I did sit down to write again it was to finish my other novel which is now called ‘Kiss and Tell’. This is an unashamedly more commercial piece. Not so much in its hard hitting storyline, because it has something serious to say about our current drug laws, but more due to its likeable lead…

Jill Shadow is the opposite of Jim Harwood. You can warm to her and root for her. She is also penned as a returning heroine, someone with a few more stories to tell, and someone who can hopefully develop a following. The book was sent to agent Peter Straus in a previous draft and titled form, and Peter immediately took to it, contacting me whilst on his holiday. I’ve still got his scribbled note on the back of the draft. ‘You’re the next Sophie Hannah’ he said and ‘Jill Shadow seems a most bankable franchise.’

To be honest I was fairly ignorant at the time. I hadn’t come across Sophie Hannah but immediately started to devour her books to see if I could spot the comparison. I wasn’t that up on Peter Straus either. I knew he was an agent at the prestigious RCW but hadn’t appreciated just how well respected he was in the industry. He had been a publisher at Picador and editor-in-chief at Macmillan. I remember thinking ‘wow’ if he likes it that much then I’m bound to get a deal.

By that time I’d decided to submit Dead Gorgeous to another agent Broo Doherty. I also received a favourable response from her and there were optimistic soundings about getting that book picked up too… but as many a fellow writer will know, things are rarely that simple… [TBC…]

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