WRITING BLUNDERS: My Greatest Blunder
Some writing blunders are honest mistakes, mere bagatelles, foibles, entirely understandable, and nothing at all to feel embarrassed about, because, after all, we are all human, and we all put our writer pants on one leg at a time each day.
But then there are writing blunders like this one. This is a weapons-grade writing blunder, and I am acutely embarrassed to own up to it.
Once, long ago, in pre-Internet days, I wrote a Big Fat Fantasy novel. It was huge. At the time, the late 1980s, it seemed to be the thing to do. The bookshops were full of them. This one featured the first iteration of the character who went on to appear in three or four books of mine, most recently as Ruth Black in BLACK LIGHT. The book in which she made her first appearance was rather more traditional fantasy, so she wore black, had a fabulous cape, and sported a fencing scar across her mouth. Which now I feel embarrassed about. Anyway, she still had the mysteriously absent husband whom the reader understands is most likely a spy who may turn up later.
This book’s manuscript ran to over 700 pages. It was loads of fun sitting by the boxy grey HP Deskjet 500 printer that night as it hummed and whooshed and churned out all those pages. More than a ream of paper. Made for quite a pile. Also made for quite an expensive package to send to Harper Collins in London.
Cut to: the letter with the rejection notice. The handwritten rejection notice that actually was a proper, lengthy letter that went on about all the things the editor liked about the book, and how it was so very close to a “yes!” for her. But sadly was not because of the following listed points that could be quite readily fixed up.
So far, pretty fabulous rejection letter, yes? Yes, it is, but I’m not finished. It goes on!
The Harper Collins editor went on to say, in a PS, that I should try sending it to <This Guy Who Went On To Be A Big Famous Name> at Millennium, at <these contact details>, and to tell him I sent you!
This is the most astonishing rejection letter I ever received in my life, and I have received a few good ones. This one is as close to a yes as I think it’s possible to get without actually getting a yes. It’s so close to the yes, you can feel the yes’s body heat and pulse. It’s extremely personal.
Well, I thought, looking at this beautiful handwritten letter that an extremely busy acquisition editor at Harper Collins in London has just written to me, what should I do now? She’s laid out the elements in the book that need fixing up, and they look like jobs that could be done. There’s nothing like a whole rewrite in the offing here. It’s just a bit of patching and spackling. Maybe some brickwork. Moving a window. Installing a bit of new guttering, building a new patio. No worries, you can do all that, right?
I never did it. This is my worst, greatest writing blunder. I never followed up with that Soon-to-be-Famous-Guy. I never did any of it. I was >< this close to having, maybe, a London book deal, and I allowed it to fall through my fingers. Deliberately. And I do not know, to this day, why I did it. Or, I should say, why I didn’t do it. At the time I think I told myself that it seemed like a lot of work. The scale of the manuscript was somehow off-putting. But, seriously, someone needed to have slapped me with a tuna here. It was London book deal on a plate, and it was too much bother because I had to do maybe a week of work to bring my Big Fat-Arsed Fantasy Novel up to code.
Someone is bound to suggest that I dig out that manuscript from storage and do that work now that I’m writing again, and try my luck. I no longer have it. When Michelle moved to this house 24 years ago, I faced the problem of what to do with all my manuscripts. I had great huge moth-infested, dusty towers of paper manuscripts. Including for this book. Thousands and thousands of pages. I’ve only had six books published, but I’ve actually written at least twenty. I thought about lugging all those manuscripts from our old place in Yokine to our new place here in Ballajura, and I decided I’d rather start fresh. I junked the lot. It was one of the most liberating feelings in the world.
I’m pleased that that character followed me, haunting my dreams, and landed in BLACK LIGHT. Who knows, she might get a sequel one day (I already have a premise and a title, BLACK BOX). But I don’t really want to be a writer of Fat Fantasy Novels. Of fat novels of any sort, really. I like them lean and mean.
But I do sometimes wonder how my “career” might have turned out if I had bothered myself to actually do that bit of work. I had always believed and told myself that I wanted to be published by a London publisher. Was it simply choking with the prospect of possible success? Was that it? Was it the genre? Would I have done the work if it had been a Fat SF Novel, something more in an Iain M. Banks sort of thing?
Was I simply not ready, not up to it? I think this is near the mark. I think I must have simply blinked.