It was a girl who started it. Isn’t it always? I’d been writing since my teens — bad superhero parodies — but it was a bid to exorcise the demons of a relationship that never was that inspired me to write my first serious novel. It was your usual story — boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy goes insane trying to find girl, boy meets girl again during a drug bust at a student party, boy realises he and girl were better of apart — and it was kind of boring. So boring it was almost literary. Not surprisingly, no one was interested.
This was in my early twenties, while I was doing my PhD. As time moved on, as it is wont to do, and I moved from academia to industry, I kept writing and experimenting with different forms: novels, novellas, short stories, screen plays, radio plays (never poetry, though, I never sunk that low). Sometimes this was with the intention of being published, sometimes not. The result was the same. No one saw them. Just as well, with their dullness and clunkiness and general unreadability. But occasionally, very occasionally, I received something more than a form rejection, something that persuaded me, or conned me, into thinking I might have something.
Come my mid thirties, I settled into a pattern. Every winter I’d write a novel, rewrite it over the spring, try to sell it in the summer, brood over the rejections in the autumn. Still, I felt I was getting better. I no longer had to read my own stuff through my fingers. An agent asked for a full manuscript (wouldn’t sell to women, apparently). A diversion into romance yielded the sale of a novella, though calling it a ‘sale’ is possibly optimistic, (I still have a pile of uncashed royalty cheques for embarrassingly low amounts in US dollars). I sold an adult thriller about a mentally disturbed supermodel terrorist (to a fuckwit of a publisher, from whom I had to wrestle back the rights). Then I had the idea for True Fire (née The Witch Mothers). It was a fantasy without the fantasy, with two strong female leads. It explored ideas about politics and religion and abortion and the nature of truth. It had excitement, emotion, some half-decent jokes. It couldn’t fail to garner attention.
Of course it could fail.
Then, as I was kicking my heels amidst the literary tumbleweeds, an agent requested the full manuscript. A nervous six weeks followed. A weekend in London had me wondering whether I should stalk her offices (note, this will lead to instant rejection and court orders). Not a yes, but not a no. Revisions were suggested: more description and flavour to the world I’d created; smooth out the plot; get more into Megan’s head; stop being lazy and name things. We hammered it into a sellable book, I was taken on as a client, and The Witch Mothers sent out to editors. I was unprepared for the response. I was in the unprecedented, for me, position of having to reject publishers. And after two decades of rejection I felt awfully guilty about that.