When an Agent Calls

Canopied Penny Farthing from The Prisoner
Image courtesy of David Stimpson

I don’t tend to post much about the novel I’m writing as I’m always scared that telling the world will jinx it and it won’t happen.

But it’s too late for that now… because I’m delighted to say that I have been signed up by a literary agent:

Phil Patterson of Marjacq.

As I can no longer hide, I thought I’d share a bit about how recent events have brought me to this point.

After several failed novel attempts – failed as in, not completed – over the last six years, I finally worked out what I wanted to write and how I was going to write it. The novel is called BLACK WOOD, and it falls under the genre of  ‘psychological suspense’, but that’s all I’m saying about it for now.

What finally got me to where I am today, was learning from my failures. My start-stop technique of writing did not help, but then everyone has ‘real life’ to deal with, so I couldn’t blame that forever… My main failing was having a big idea, then running out of steam. No, actually, that’s not true. My main failing was thinking that I couldn’t write.

I’ve had some success with short stories and flash, but the novel is a different beast entirely, and not everyone can do it. I admire anyone and everyone who has ever written a novel, even more if they’ve written more than one; and that’s irrespective of whether I’ve read or enjoyed their book(s). Writing a novel is a huge achievement for anyone.

My technique varied a little, but always ended the same way. I used to start with a brief outline, a snippet of an idea, some notes on the way. A few character ideas. The basic plot was always clear. How I was going to fill in the thousands of words to get there, less so.

Then in January 2013, a couple of things happened.

(1) I had a very strong idea. The most obvious one (as it was sparked by true events) but one I hadn’t considered before. So, I wrote a detailed outline, synopsis, and started writing full steam ahead

(2) I hooked up a critique partner – RJ Barker – and we started to chapter swap

This went ok for a while. Really well, actually. RJ was very encouraging, and I enjoyed reading and commenting on his work.  But sometimes the ideas that were tossed around led me to think too much, and while RJ finished his first draft, I floundered and eventually stopped again. Note: RJ has since signed with Rob Dinsdale of Dinsdale Imber and is working hard on his masterpiece as we speak…

I thought about giving it all up. Decided I could never write a full length novel. I enjoy writing short stories. Maybe I should stick with that? But then by putting the novel aside for a bit, it cleared my mind. I had a few plot epiphanies. The suggestions from RJ had shaped it into something else in my mind. Something better. Thank you, RJ (this will be one of the first thank yous of many… he just came up with a great blurb for me, too.)

But I digress… how did I end up with an agent, you may ask….

(1) I entered the CWA Debut Dagger and as an indirect result of that, got some feedback on early chapters (thank you Keith B Walters, Luca Veste and Keshini Naidoo) which boosted my confidence that the story wasn’t shit and that I wasn’t the worst writer in the world

(2) An author friend of mine, (again, that Luca Veste – who has his first novel DEAD GONE coming out in Jan 2014 and it looks bloody brilliant), someone who prophesied ‘You’ll have an agent by Harrogate’, spoke to his agent about me… his agent was Phil… and I was invited to ‘submit the full manuscript when complete’ – I was very excited about this, but doubted I was going to be ready for my (and Luca’s) deadline of Harrogate which is in two weeks time (but I was in no rush… I was biding my time, plugging away… dreaming…)

(3) I entered my prologue in the MR Hall crime writing comp; and got a runner up place, which I was thrilled about

(4) I attended Winchester Writers’ Conference on Friday 21st June, and realised (after doing a little course) that I didn’t really need any more ‘how to write’ advice (as my primary failing was losing faith in myself), but enjoyed the networking aspect, which included three one-to-one sessions with an editor, an agent and an author (Eileen Robertson, who wrote me a lovely note) – all three were extremely positive (in fact, all three said ‘this book will be published’) and this boosted my confidence further (note that at this point, I’d been writing like a demon and written over 10k in a week, which is a lot when you work full-time!)

(5) On Monday 24th June – I was contacted by Phil, who, after seeing my tweet about the MR Hall comp, asked if I was ready to send him something… The novel is not finished, but I had a well edited 10k and I had just tweaked the first chapter after the advice from the one-to-ones, so I decided to bite the bullet and send him what I had ready. I hoped he would like what he saw, and hoped he’d repeat his request to send me the full thing when it was finished.

I wasn’t really prepared for what happened next.

A bit of background – I’ve met Phil before, at Harrogate (Theakstons Crime). He seemed like a top bloke. He has an excellent reputation and an interesting and varied mix of clients. I always planned to submit to him (partly because of his agency being co-founded by George Markstein of The Prisoner fame… ), mainly because of the attention he clearly gives to his clients. I wanted an agent who could identify with me, see me as ‘me’, be flexible, supportive, excited about my work and, most of all, be honest (I am not a number… etc).

Anyway, he called me less than 24h later. I was in the toilets at work. ‘Is this a good time,’ he said. I didn’t realise until I got into the car after work that my zip had been undone all day…

(6) On Friday we met at the Marjacq offices in London. We talked books – other peoples, and my own. We discussed my plans. We talked about ghosts… and we sealed the deal.

So I have an agent.

Surreal. Exciting. Unbelievable.

This is only STEP ONE in the ‘Getting Published’ saga. But it has happened a lot quicker than I expected. Don’t worry though, I am under no illusions. Having an agent does not guarantee success. But it’s definitely a nudge in the right direction… And it certainly gave me a bit of credibility when talking to dozens of authors at last night’s Crime in The Court party!

I have a lot of work to do now to get my manuscript ready for Phil’s red pen, but I am completely and utterly ready for the challenge.

I’ll keep you posted on the journey 🙂

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12 thoughts on “When an Agent Calls

  1. You can’t go wrong with an agent called Patterson, even if he does prefer the extra ‘t’. That was a great post – this certainly has been an exciting year for you so far. Looking forward to seeing Black Wood on the shelves.

  2. Well done, Susi. I enjoyed reading your post. I could relate to a lot of what you said – also having had some success with short stories, but being stop-start and suffering the odd crisis of confidence with my novel. I’ve recently got back into it so it’s encouraging and motivating to read what you’ve written. Thanks

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