Friday, 20 May 2016

From there to here - part 2 by Sue Russell

I concluded last month's post with the sending of a hefty paper package to America. It was a turning point - perhaps because it represented a higher level of commitment than I'd previously admitted to, even to myself, not only in terms of financial outlay but also in having to overcome that feeling of dread ( familiar I am sure to many of you!) as you send your manuscript out into what may well be a very critical world.

Donna did me a number of favours for which I shall always be thankful. She line-edited 150 pages - beyond her brief - so that I was able to see how I'd gone wrong with formatting, especially with dialogue. Then in the taped critique she sent she gave me examples of what she called 'the screen going blank,' something I was particularly guilty of: in other words page on page of dialogue where there were few, if any, anchors in the physical world. Just inserting a line or two about what the characters were doing or some small thing happening allowed the reader to keep in mind a mental picture of the scene. It was a fault easily fixed, but it made me aware of my particular weaknesses and I have tried to put these lessons into practice ever since. She also offered me encouragement among all the necessary corrections. Unfortunately Donna no longer works in this field, but because her input made such a difference to me I have been keen to recommend professional editing to other writers, especially at the beginning of their careers.

You might think that I then set enthusiastically to work on editing my manuscript. Not a bit of it! I left it for a further year, daunted by what I saw as a mountainous task. I didn't know how to begin. But more help came my way, and again I see the hand of the great Creator at work, gently and ever so patiently nudging me to press on. For four years in a row I attended the Winchester Writers' Conference. I didn't expect to find an agent or a publisher, because the sort of thing I was writing wasn't really covered, but it was a great educational experience, I met many interesting people, and a weekend of eating well and not cooking was bliss. At one of the conferences someone whose workshop I hoped to attend fell ill, and I was assigned elsewhere, to a session led by a successful writer of historical romances. I was disappointed and expected little, as this was not where I was working, but as it turned out the opportunity arose to talk about where we all were in our writing and I confessed I had a big manuscript and was shying away from editing it, partly because I despaired of anyone ever wanting to read anything I'd written (again, I'm sure I'm not alone in this.) The encouragement I received sent me home determined to crack on, and I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed the savage pruning I gave my story, reducing it my more than 10%. I could see how much better it was even though the thought that no one would want to read it still persisted.

Publication was still some while away. Agents and publishers, when I could overcome the fatalistic feelings of doom and summon up the gumption  to approach them, were still not interested. In the meantime I embarked on a sequel, and found it much easier with characters already in place and a story that needed to be finished. But something, or Someone, seemed to be telling me it was time to get my novel out in the world. By this time I'd come to realise I would have to self-publish because I was writing to a small (probably microscopic) niche, so I consulted people in a writers' group I belonged to and took the plunge.

There are many reasons why we might publish at one time and not another. Some of them may not be connected to writing or publishing at all, and that's perfectly all right. 'Leviathan with a Fish-hook' was launched in November 2009, and I'm very grateful that it was, because that party was the last public occasion my dad attended, wearing his best suit and a shirt he'd dyed pale green (we wore green to match the book cover!) He was already very unwell and died a month later. If I'd waited any longer he'd never have seen a book of mine in print. Here's a photo of that evening.

More in June, if you're not catatonic with boredom!


  1. Thanks for sharing your writing journey, Sue - it's helpful to know that others have had a bit of a stop-start journey, too.

  2. Not at all bored! I've been waiting a month for this next instalment. :-)
    Still feeling that your story is particularly relevant for me; not because I have a big manuscript awaiting editing, but I have a big detailed idea and it feels like a huge mountain to climb. Where to start? Is there any point? and so on. Reading your success story is really encouraging. Thank you.

  3. I guess success is how you define it, Helen! I still think of myself as a writer (and in every other way) as much of a work in progress as my current novel.