I decided to take some radical steps. I chatted to my agent, who had been fantastic at mentoring me through three years of writing, improving, learning, polishing, submitting – and, despite some lovely comments from publishers, getting no offers. We agreed that our relationship had run its course and parted amicably. I took a long hard look at my most recent book, honed it, added another layer, pruned it, sent it out to three new agents. One responded immediately and sent the book out within the week!
Very good. Great. But the market is – as everyone knows – very depressed right now. A combination of economic recession and the advent of e-publishing has got publishers running scared. They're looking for best-sellers, the blockbuster novel and although I'm proud of my writing, I wouldn't make any claim that it's going to catapult into the Joan Collins or Barbara Taylor Bradford league. My book is out there looking for a home and I'm keeping my fingers tightly crossed that it will exactly fit what one editor in one publishing house is looking for.
Nevertheless, it's really hard keeping upbeat and motivated and believing in yourself in the face of rejection. So after a brief period of elation, it was back to thinking about the next book. What are 'they' looking for? What's the next thing that will catch the reading public's imagination? What should I be writing?
My friend Jo, with whom I share the peaks and troughs, persuaded me to take a trip to Castillon, in the Bordeaux region of France, to do a week's course with best-selling writer Veronica Henry. I didn't think I needed a course. After all, I've got an agent, and very nearly a publisher, so what else is there to learn? But I agreed, partly because I have been to Castillon a couple of times and Mickey and Janie Wilson are great friends of ours and the best hosts in the world – and partly because I thought well, it's always stimulating being in the company of other writers.
Well. Not only did I have a ball and come back really excited about my next book, but I couldn't believe how much I learned in a few short days. Veronica 'deconstructed' her forthcoming book The Long Weekend, published on 5 July by Orion, so that we could see how she had set about plotting it. In an hour I felt I had learned more than I had in four years of writing. Then there were her 'Ten Questions'. I'd seen these before, but under her guidance I began to understand how I could really use them to my advantage in both plotting and character work. And in a one-to-one session we looked at my current book and identified its weak spots and areas I could develop. Plus, of course, I had a great time with the other course delegates and Veronica, Janie and Mickey and my husband Robin, who joined us on outings and meals.
I can thoroughly recommend Chez Castillon, either for courses or for writing retreats, which can be arranged for small groups at http://chez-castillon.com/
I've certainly come back inspired.
PS My liver is also recovering...