Thursday, 28 November 2013

Thanksgiving post: thank you, 2013

The beautiful SCBWI launch party cake
Last weekend I went to the SCBWI conference in Winchester. I met (and re-met) a lot of amazing authors and illustrators, and fell in love all over again with children’s literature and the people involved in creating it. The great thing about SCBWI (and here’s my unashamed plug for it – it’s a wonderful support network and anyone interested in children’s books should join it) is that its membership is open to both published and aspiring authors, and so there’s an amazing mix of people at every stage of the writing journey. And talking to all of those different people reminded me of two things that seem particularly relevant today.

The first is how much can change in a very short space of time. Last year I wasn’t at the SCBWI conference. I wasn’t even a member. I was sitting on my couch, jealously reading the tweets from Winchester and feeling light-years away from that world. I couldn’t possibly have imagined that this year I’d not only go, but go as a soon-to-be-published author.

I am so lucky – I am so so lucky that I spend quite a lot of time these days walking around in a state of intense, surreal wonder at what has happened to me – but what being at the conference really brought home to me is that the dream I’m living isn’t just mine. It belongs to every single one of the conference attendees, and for some of them that dream feels just as far away as it did for me a year ago.

I’ve had a lot of good news to post on the blog this year, and I have an astronomical amount to be thankful for today. But part of why this feels so wonderful is that it’s such a contrast to where I was a year ago.

Last autumn – and this is hard to write about, but I feel that it’s important that I do – I was lost. I was applying for a lot of jobs, and being rejected from every one. To distract myself from the relentless soul-sucking process, I began to query the manuscript of Murder Most Unladylike with agents – and again, I was rejected, a lot. In retrospect, this was not the smartest plan, because it made me really start to question my writing ability. I saw those rejections as proof that I just wasn’t good enough. I distinctly remember one particular phone call I made to my mother, in which I stood in the middle of that wobbly bridge outside the Tate Modern and shouted, “MY ENTIRE LIFE IS A LIE! MY WRITING IS AWFUL! I WILL NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING! I MIGHT AS WELL JUST GIVE UP AND BECOME A VAGRANT!”

I was not in a good place. By the time December rolled around, I felt profoundly that I had failed. My boyfriend drove us to my parents’ house for Christmas (he had a really hard time getting me in the car, actually, because I kept trying to persuade him to let me get on a train and spend Christmas in a Travelodge in York. No, I don’t understand it either), and when he parked I sat in the car for an hour, refusing to get out, because I was so deeply ashamed of myself.

In fact, I had not failed in the slightest. I just hadn’t succeeded yet. Because what I didn’t know (obviously), was this: at that moment, at literally the lowest point of my adult life, my future was right there in front of me. Nineteen days after my weird sit-in protest in the car, Gemma Cooper (the woman who is now my wonderful agent) sent me an email to say that she loved my book and she wanted to meet me. And that book, the one that I was pretty close to giving up on is, er, about to be published in May.

What I want to say to other writers is this: publishing is a game with crazily bad odds. Writing is a tough dream to have. But that’s true for everyone. Everyone goes through the same rejections, and low times, and self-doubt. I’m realising now that published authors have everything in common with that person scribbling alone in their room and dreaming of getting their books read by someone who isn’t their mother or their dog. They’re just a few steps further along the same road.

Here, have some cranberry sauce!
If you don’t have an agent yet, or if you’ve been on submission for approximately 23,345,210 years without a bite from publishers, please don’t give up. You never know what might be just around the corner. If I had decided to chuck it all in that day in December 2012, this year would never have happened. You just never know when your work is going to pay off. For me, it was this year. For a lot of the SCWBI conference attendees I met, it’s still in the future. But it will happen.

I have had the most wonderful year. I can’t say it enough. But part of why it's so special is because of what came before it. What I've learnt is that you never know when you're about to be happy.

Have a fantastic Thanksgiving.

1 comment:

  1. Love your honesty. Thanks Robin. A salutary post for all of us in the query trenches.