26 September 2010
Normally I’m fairly obsessive about having copy quintuple-checked. I draft stuff, sleep on it, look at it again, wait until the weekend (when I’m calmer) then look at it once more. I rely upon the steadying hand of my heroic editor and grammatical protector, Sid McLean, and try not to do anything rash.
When sending out a sample I also send an email containing links to the website. For my first pitches I decided to save a day, lose the front-end copyediting then have Sid look at the website-introduction email retrospectively. He emailed straight back pointing out that I’d said ‘it’s’ when I’d meant ‘its’.
I give up two years of my life to construct the most elaborate artistic and intellectual project I could conceivably have pulled off, zealously and repeatedly put each element under the nose of anyone who’ll assess it, spend days holed up with my editor, compulsively read, reread, check, cross-check then …
send an email to a central-London literary agent containing a childlike grammatical error.
That’s called taking one’s eye off the ball.
Through April and May, I spent my weekends sending out a wave of pitches. After that I finally paused to draw breath and expend energy on non-book-related matters. But then the World Cup came along, paralysing my evenings as I became fixated on the grand pantomime of international football and consumed by the enigma of Paul the psychic octopus from Oberhausen.
Then I set about completing my return to polite society. There was a trip to Brighton to help friends move house (during which I ripped my stomach muscles – oops); a stag night where we watched the International Space Station – an unblinking white point curving across the sky – from 200 miles away; another trip to Brighton for a gay wedding and shopping in the sun by the sea; and always the back and forth to work, past the vast building site west of our flat where the Olympic village is taking shape.
I also got mixed up with a woman. Charlotte is the youngest of five in a sprawling family of third-generation north-Londoners. She holds a degree in philosophy, directs choirs, teaches laughter yoga and sings down the phone to me occasionally. Long-unused sections of my brain swung back into use. Emotional support. Waking next to bottles of massage oil and half-empty wine glasses. Charlotte is in profound disagreement with me about metaphysics. I’m with Plato (things exist outside human experience), while she’s with Kant and Hume (experience constitutes the only reality) but reckons they were wishy-washy and insufficiently radical.
For example: I argue that human minds can draw useful conclusions about the nature of reality by measuring and modelling bits of it. I further argue that those models have reached the point where we could productively consider our individual context within timeframes much longer than a single human life. I believe that if we did, we’d feel better about ourselves and it would act as one thread to collective enlightenment (and a spanking new literary tradition). Charlotte says that there are no such things as minds.
Meanwhile, the first responses to my pitches came in. ‘I was intrigued by your submission,’ said one. ‘You’ve done an exceptional job of presenting your manuscript,’ said another. ‘It certainly has strong voice and depth,’ ‘The work definitely interested me.’ But no one was biting, no one was digging and no one was asking to see the red-meat devils in my details.
Several mentioned the Writers and Artists Guide. ‘Have you heard of it?’
Heard of it? I heard of it from my friend Nick Raistrick in December 2006 when I was living as a hermit on a South American mountain. I read it twice in 2007, followed its advice, wrote my book, got the 2009 version when The Jolly Pilgrim was nearly done, read that edition, read it again, read it backwards, set up a website, started to blog then started contacting agents. I was hoping the preparation showed.
Thus I began my first lessons in the dark arts of liaison with publishing professionals. An early step was getting a handle on the misconceptions which come from trying to communicate something original and complex. For example, that I was trying to turn this blog into a book or, in one case, ‘We already have a book about bicycles.’
Clearly, I wasn’t getting my point across.