Lost in Publishing

Nicola Ann Roberts

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I have always been drawn to graveyards for ideas. Not to the wooden crosses and molehills of the recent dead or to the neat lines of gravestones that stand like polished teeth, but to the crooked, the broken and the long-forgotten. I like my graveyards overgrown and weed-filled and suffused with life. I don’t want to see recent, devastating grief or watch freshly laid flowers wilt and die. Where I go, there are only the stone-eyed angels and the subsumed dead to disturb. These are the places where stories are unearthed. Continue reading

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I’m writing this post from a cloistered corner of the magnificent Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, Flintshire. After former prime minister William Ewart Gladstone’s fourth premiership ended in 1894, he bequeathed £40,000 and most of his 32,000 volume collection to fund this library in North Wales.   I have been here for two days and I’m reluctant to leave.

I am sitting at a desk on the first floor gallery, which is bolstered by an intricately carved colonnade that supports some of the most exquisite books I have ever been permitted to handle. The British Library’s collection is superb, but there is something uninviting about the glass cases and the watchful attendants that act as barriers between you and the texts. Here, there is one librarian. She vacates the building at five and leaves the doors unlocked.

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Click here for the interview: ‘For there are ghosts in the air’.

Thank you to the very lovely Lily Graham for this interview on the origins of my book and how I approached the writing of it.  I could get used to this!

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When rejection comes, it comes in droves.

The first came in the form of a bulky white envelope that didn’t initially scream ‘rejection’. I took it into the kitchen and admired the flowingly artistic letters of my name and address, intrigued rather than apprehensive. It took a few moments for me to realise that they were my letters, that I’d been admiring my handwriting and that I was holding my stamp-addressed envelope. I turned to the dog and simply said, “Bollocks.”

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Alan Bennett, in ‘Staring out of the window’ from Untold Stories, states that “a writer is only a writer when writing.” My book, in its current form, is finished and I’m reluctant to start writing the next until I do all I can to promote the first. Maintaining this blog, updating Twitter and composing emails is the only ‘writing’ I am currently doing. Am I therefore a writer-in-waiting or, as Bennett puts it, merely “marking time”?

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I managed to wait two weeks before sending an email to the agency that had shown such early interest in my novel. The agent’s tremendously gracious assistant replied within minutes.

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From a well-known literary agency:

Dear Nicola,

Many thanks for submitting the first three chapters of For There Are Ghosts in the Air and for your lovely covering letter. ******* and I have both had a look at the three chapters, have thoroughly enjoyed what we’ve read so far and would love to read on. Would you be able to send us the rest of the novel as a word doc?

With best wishes,

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This month I have tried to be very productive.

I sieved through my wardrobe and dutifully hauled three bin bags of clothes to the local charity shop, only to realise the next day that I’d accidentally donated a dress that I was actually quite fond of. It was a dress so special that the charity shop found a mannequin to model it in the window (the first time in the shop’s history), and I had to swallow the urge to buy the dress back. However, fate intervened and that afternoon the dress was gone. The mannequin, now indecent, had been moved to a less prominent position behind a pushchair. I wondered if the sales assistants were making a statement about the outcome of prolonged nudity, but I decided it would be inappropriate to ask.

This task took one afternoon and although it punctuated the long day of waiting, it did not put an end to it. I soon resumed my vigil. My phone habitually beeps when I receive a new email, but I’ve still been checking it regularly, just in case my fiancé, my two year old or even my dog has tampered with the volume button. I am usually a rational person and I know that agents have slush piles. I also know that I’ll be at the bottom of these piles for a very long time.   But, being impatient, I decided to be ‘productive’ again and seek some advice.

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It was a nervous wait in the queue at the Post Office.  I cradled the heavy A4 sized envelopes tightly to my chest and only half-heard the conversations around me.  There were three people ahead of me, all over a certain age and all familiar with each other, or at least mutually versed in the stock phrases and greetings of the over seventy.  Bored and apprehensive, I thought of when I met the parents of my first proper boyfriend.

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Up until two months ago I was an apathetic writer: a fair-weather, time-wasting, social media-browsing waste of potential. I had an unfinished novel and a shelf of beautiful notebooks, each with a page of ‘research notes’ and the obligatory chapter-by-chapter plans that never amounted to anything resembling a narrative overview. Then, something shifted. Perhaps I hated my job more than I did a year ago or I finally found a pocket of time in days that were equally long and short, but I eventually acquiesced to my partner’s dogged attempts to force me to finish ‘the bloody book’.

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Karina Magdalena

Writer. Editor. Literary critic.


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