It’s a bit of a struggle this writing business. How many people have said ‘you might be the next J K Rowling’ – bless them. I love them for saying that but I’m beginning to realise that becoming the next JK Rowling is highly unlikely! As a sort of cathartic process, I thought I’d run you through the past year or of my non existent writing career. Not that you are particularly interested but because it may help if you are struggling as much as I am. (plus of course it’s a great help to me to spew and spill and share in true blog style).
Summer 2007 Contacted a company called ‘The Friday Project’ who specialise in publishing books by authors who they have discovered on the web (including but not only blog books). They said they liked my blog, they said it was fab. We even met in their offices. They said ‘prepare a sample chapter’ and suggested, after a little exchanging emails that the ‘memoir’ genre sells best. In the following months I did this, but it (admittedly) wasn’t very good so they said ‘try again with more of a story arc’.
Bearing in mind that up until this point I had no idea what a sample chapter should comprise or what a story arc was so I did a bit of googling on exactly how to write a book and a book proposal.
January 2008 By some miracle my blog was picked up by The Times newspaper in UK. They quoted the blog for three consecutive days in relation to their coverage of the flawed Kenya election, then followed it up with an interview. They donated some money to the Kenya Red Cross after some persuasion. These were heady times when radio stations, television networks and yes, even a literary agent got in touch. The stuff of dreams for a blogger hoping to be discovered!
The literary agent (there was only one - not as many as I’d hoped), was from a 100 year old, very big/established firm in London. She suggested I write a commercial fiction novel called ‘The Africa Expat Wives Club’ the backdrop being expat life and possibly the election crisis but with a strong story thread. At this point I did not know what ‘commercial fiction’ meant and I had never considered tackling fiction. However, after reading books about writing books and undeterred by lack of experience or training I put a storyline together. She said, ‘think big story, cross colour love affair, best friends making a pact’. I thought, oh god – I am SO not Danielle Steel but I’ll see what I can do. I couldn’t bring myself to do love affairs. The agent said my story line was ‘episodic and lacked a narrative thread’. I begged to try again and submitted a second story idea. At this point she said politely but firmly, ‘I think I will bow out at this stage’ So there it was, chance of a lifetime – gone!!
August 2008 Picking myself up off the floor, I joined a writing course here in Nairobi to learn more about fiction writing. It was tricky (see previous posts), my tutor was a diva but I learned tons, made friends and felt a better person for doing it.
I thought, just because this literary agent doesn’t want my story, I’ll try to use my new found skills to think of a better one. By coincidence, The Friday Project got in touch again and said how was my story going? I told the agent of my plan and she said, sounds great – I’ll give you until November to write a really good proposal and sample chapters. So, I did this. Asked/persuaded my new writing group friends if we could ‘workshop’ one another’s writing – which we did/are doing.
November 2008 To cut a long story short, I sent the smoking hot proposal for a book to be written from the point of view of an expat wife and of her housekeeper. It was going to be funny and it was going to transport credit crunch readers into a different world. I said to the editor ‘sample chapters coming tomorrow’ but before I had a chance to send them I got a response, ‘Thanks but my bosses say we are not accepting anything in this genre, we think the market is already too saturated with this sort of thing. Sorry.’
So here I am, back on the floor again. All I really wanted to do when starting the blog was accurately describe 21st century expat life in Africa in an amusing/not too moralising or over romanticising way. Instead I am stuck in a loop, putting in endless hours on my computer, achieving nothing and more to the point, earning nothing. (I know, poor, poor me!!). It is hard treading water like this and you wonder why the hell you are doing it. I was never going to be a brilliant artist willing to suffer for my craft – commercial success was always my goal! It's now feeling oh so out of reach.
In order to try and keep positive, I’ve joined a website called http://www.youwriteon.com/. Set up by major publishing houses Random House, Orion and one other, I forget which. (There’s a Harper Collins equivalent called ‘Authonomy’). Aspiring readers upload their first 6,000 to 10,000 words of their novel. Fellow members review it and in turn you review other people’s work. The idea is that after at least five reviews you might make it into the 'youwriteon' ‘top ten’ then get reviewed by professional editors from major publishing houses. If they like your work, they might give you a contract. It’s all a bit of fun really. My expectations have lowered dramatically since I learned a little bit about how damn hard the industry is – not to mention how hard it is to actually write well!
Oh JK Rowling – you are clever! Well done, well done, you are certainly one in a million! Suggestions for 'Africa Expat Wives Club' the novel please!!