Friday, 7 March 2014

Mostly-closed Doors T. M. Alexander

My first post on this site, Sliding Doors, told the tale of how I started writing, thanks to a poster in a bookshop. So for my World Book Week post, I’m going to describe the journey from winning a short story competition to my name on the spine of a paperback. It’s in shorthand, because it took some years! Along the way I got into the habit of collecting ‘ticks’ , because the odds against me seemed so huge it was the only way I could stay motivated. ‘Crosses’, I tried to bury.

I started writing a ‘book’ almost as soon as I heard that I was a PWA. (Prize-Wining Author – my family’s idea of a joke.) The idea was easy to come by because like all experienced marketers I ran a brainstorming session, inviting my kids, then 10, 8 and 6. (Interestingly I didn’t make a conscious decision to write for children, that was taken for granted somehow.) Two sides of scribbled-on sheet of A4 later I began my summer 2005 project. And loved it. I wrote every morning from about 6 to maybe 11, and the kids watched non-stop telly. Brill. Then we ate our bodyweight in three-course breakfasts. As the word count grew so did my determination for it not to languish on slush piles. (I’d bought the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook by then so knew the jargon.) Keen to speed up the learning curve, I applied for a place on the University of Bristol Creative Writing Diploma.
I shared my enthusiasm with a stranger at a party. The wrong person as it turned out. She said, ‘I’m a librarian and my husband works at Waterstones, but I can’t get a children’s novel published so you’ve got no chance.’
I shared my enthusiasm with a published children’s author. She said, ‘everyone thinks they can write.’
I submitted my first assignment at Uni.
‘Unvarying in prose style. No sense of time or place and some format problems.’
Sometime around then the marvellous Show of Strength – a Bristol theatre company, announced a competition to write a monologue for a show of rolling performances. Wonderful idea. My monologue, It’s My Party’ was brought to life by Lynda Rooke (most recognised from Casualty).  I stood in the audience and as the piece drew to a close I noticed the grey-haired man next to me was crying.
Excellent, because more crosses were on the way.
I sent the first three chapters of my finished children’s book to an agent.
‘I love it, rush me the rest,’ she said.
I could see my future – hardback, paperback, film, Oscar ceremony . . .
            ‘It’s got everything – drama, pathos . . . Can you come and see me in London?’
            She wanted a few changes. I obliged.
            Time passed.
I let it – not wanting to be annoying.
Eventually I chased her.
She appeared to have forgotten about me, sending an email the essence of which was - ‘I didn’t like it that much after all.’
(In retrospect, approaching several agents at once might have been sensible, but I was terribly optimistic, so only contacted one at a time.)
The next response was something like, ‘it’s a ludicrous idea . . .’
The next.
‘Too like Percy Jackson.’ (It really wasn’t.)
Surely time for some good news? Yes!
Bruce Hunter at David Higham invited me for a cup of tea and agreed to represent me.
Now, it would all fall into place.
The book was rejected by everyone.
Umpteen crosses over ten months (he too sent things sequentially).
In summer 2007 I wrote another book, which my agent loved. Was this the one?
The book was rejected by everyone.
Umpteen crosses over eight months.
Cue Piccadilly Press, inviting me for a meeting.
I didn’t know what to wear. What do authors look like? Stupid thought.
They loved my book.
But didn’t want to publish it – too quiet.
Did I have any other ideas?
That morning (just in case) I’d had another brainstorm with the getting-older kids (12, 10 and 8). I regurgitated the rough idea of a gang of children called Tribe – who they were, what they did.
I was dispatched to write a short synopsis.
‘A paragraph will do,’ the publisher said.
Three paragraphs later (I didn’t want to under deliver), I had a contract.

This October my fifth book will hit the fresh air. It’s about how one small act changes everything that follows. We’re back to Sliding Doors.

T. M. Alexander


Sue Purkiss said...

Very entertaining!

Heather Dyer said...

Blimey, it wears me out just thinking about it. And it doesn't stop once you're published either, does it?

Penny Dolan said...

Reads like a fulsome reply to the comment/question asked at parties etc. "Must be easy, being an author then?" :-)

Vera said...

Great blog!! So glad you didn't give up and let the crosses get in the way !!!
Really look forward to reading 'Mostly closed doors'.

Becca McCallum said...

Interesting post.