Category Archives: Snakes and Ladders

Snakes and Ladders: Another Throw

Apparently, the average number of rewrites for a published novel is seventeen.  I handed in my twelfth draft to an editor a month ago and this week I got the report back.  In short: great rewrite, needs another draft.

My initial reaction was: oh, bollocks.  I was at Paddington Station, early for a train, when I got the email.  I went to to a nearby café, ordered omelette and chips, and used their free Wi-Fi to download the full report to my laptop.  I mean, for goodness’ sake, that’s fifteen months’ work (in addition to the seven years it’s already taken with this novel).  Sometimes, you really need a long train journey to Bristol to sit with the frustration.

Anyone who’s been following the saga of the-writing-of-the-second-novel may remember that this is the editor who told me I needed to change one of the main characters.  The fifteen-month rewrite was the result.

But I know how I am.  Two days of despair, and then starting to pick myself up.  By the time I had emailed her back, I was able to conjure, in her own words, a ‘measured and kind response.’  Now, I’m beginning to see the positives.

The truth is, the comments that she made?  She’s right.  In particular, finding a more convincing motivation for one character to become involved with the other, and a greater intertwining of their stories.  Also, getting more edge-of-your-seat, forward movement to the story.  These, like the writing of a more dynamic character before, are invaluable, if painful, lessons.  My underlying aim in all of this, after all, is to learn how to write (see top of this page).

So, time to scrub the writing off the chalkboard, plomp myself down on the chair, chin in hand, and start thinking again.

Can I do it?  I hope so.  I am calling the next draft my fourteenth.  I know it’s my thirteenth.  But, quite frankly, I need all the luck I can get.

Writing Fiction: Climbing

Pulleys confuse me. How can it be, that you can hang three-hundred metres up a rock, pull on a thin rope in front of you, and somehow your body rises? Where, if you just stuck two hands under your bum and pulled, nothing would happen.

Thank god for them, though.

Some time back, I wrote about having been advised to rewrite my novel and imagined myself hanging from a rock, not knowing whether to carry on up, or lower myself down. I got back on the rock. Little pulley rises, until, I can today announce that I have finished the first draft – of the twelfth draft – of my novel.


The new chapters are a mess, of course. And god knows what I’ll find when I actually go back and read them properly. Some have been edited for writers’ groups, others are still in a raw state. I suspect the character will come in-and-out of focus, she will say things that no longer make sense. But I am hoping there will be nuggets for me to collect, passages to expand on.

My metaphor for success in writing has been the ladder in Snakes and Ladders. Perhaps I should exchange it for that of a pulley. Small rises against the rock and, in the end, a great distance covered.

Snakes and Ladders: Snake

I bet there’s a point, when you’re two-thirds up climbing a mountain, and you stop and think: oh, what do I do now? You look up the third to go, and down the distance covered and, letting go of the rock, allow yourself to sway a little on the guide rope.

The story so far: an agent expressed interest in my second novel but suggested that an editor look at it, hoping she would be able to tell me how to increase the ‘line-by-line pacing.’ Thus closing the small gap between unpublishable and publishable.

This week, the editor sent me her report. She said there was no point in giving a line-by-line edit because, though well written, the novel had fundamental structural problems. I won’t describe them all because I may be tempted to reach up with a penknife and cut through the only thing holding me to this rock. But, suffice to say, it covered plot, character, structure and tone.

So, well. The view is nice from up here. I’ve come a hell of a distance. I’m philosophical enough to be able to recognise the usual thoughts: ‘I am never going to write anything original,’ ‘It will be impossible to get this piece into shape,’ and my favourite, ‘What’s the point?’

Over the way, birds are circling in ritual fashion, rising on air currents from the plain. I may reach back for my sandwiches. Which is all very lovely, but I’m going to have to do something, aren’t I? To lower myself down, or get back on the rock and start climbing.

Yesterday, I wrote my five-hundred words; today, I wrote my five-hundred words; tomorrow, I will write my five-hundred words.

Snakes and Ladders: Ladder

This is quite a long story, so let me give you the punchline: I’ve approached an agent, she’s expressed an interest, we’ve had a meeting. Before I go any further though, I should say she has not signed me. She’s asked for a rewrite and will read the new draft; but, if she doesn’t like it, it will go no further. Having said that, it’s the first time I’ve had a face-to-face meeting with an agent. So, I’m treating this as a definite ladder.

Ironically, I first met her at a conference about self-publishing where she was one of the guest speakers. Someone asked what she looked for in a submission and she said, ‘Fiction and comedy.’ My second novel is about stand-up comedy. I always take envelopes with the three-chapters-and-a-synopsis along to these events, just in case. So I went up to her just before the tea break, handed her one and said, ‘It’s a fiction about comedy.’ Then pitched the story. She seemed interested and when she left, had the envelope tucked under her arm. For the rest of the conference I was dreaming about her coming back and saying, ‘Where is Paul Gapper? This is the best thing I’ve read in years, etc. etc.’

Instead of which, at the end of the day, there was an email on my phone, saying, ‘Thanks for pressing this into my hand. I read it on my journey home, and I liked it!’

Imagine my shock and excitement. After a quick exchange of emails, I sent her the whole novel, and a couple of months later, she asked to meet up.

We met on Friday and talked about what I need to do next. Fortunately, it had occurred to me she might be interested in knowing what else I am writing. I had therefore printed off three chapters and synopsis of my new half-completed novel. Thus looking tremendously professional.

Generally, it was a good meeting. I managed not to spill my drink, say anything too weird, or set the fire alarm off. And I liked her.

So, interest enough to offer a next step. Which right now, is fine.

Go me.

Snakes and Ladders: Another Throw

I have just got the editorial report back from Cornerstones for my second novel, and another re-write is required.  Which will make it a round ten, so far.  What is interesting to me is that the main male character is again highlighted as a problem: not being distinct enough.  I was talking about this in the post ‘Altered Ego’, and here is a chance to try a different approach.  The thing is, I think I know what the answer is: to take one of the minor characters and make him the major one.  This isn’t just random, the male character was originally very much like this, and then drifted into being a version of me.  However, this will mean getting rid of a lot of writing that I’m very proud of.

A friend of mine was telling me about an artist called Oskar Kokoschka (great name) who would go to his students’ work and erase the part they liked the most and then require them to carry on.  There is something in this about not holding on, and going beyond.

So, let’s see.  I get an interview with the editor to discuss the changes, which means I probably won’t start until December – and I can finish off my quarter-novel-in-a-month exercise for the third one.

Snakes and Ladders: Snake!

In the interests of balance I have to hold my hands up here.  After four agents voted mine the best adult novel in the Cornerstones competition, none of them have since offered to represent me.  This was suitably gutting (there is no other word).  The positive note is that the woman who ran the competition is clearly keen that I find an agent, will be meeting with more in September, and tells me she’ll be mentioning my novel to them.

Meanwhile, ever onward… (and a condoling ellipsis)

(By the way, the WordPress Links system provides suggestions of related content while you’re writing your post, and has just come up with one that starts, ‘It’s mating season for snakes in Alabama but best to leave them alone.’  Damn right.)

Snakes and Ladders: Ladder!

Ever since I started to write seriously in 2004 it has struck me that the process of trying to get a novel published is a lot like a game of Snakes and Ladders.  (Apparently called Chutes and Ladders in the US.  Who knew? – some Americans, I guess).

On Friday I landed on a major ladder by winning the Cornerstones new novel competition.  It was judged by four agents: Eve White at Eve White Literary Agency, David Haviland at Andrew Lownie, Julia Churchill at A M Heath, and Rowan Lawton at Furniss Lawton.  And, I’m told, all four judged it the best adult novel.  This, from an original entry of 400 (there was also winner for best children’s novel).

Great news.  Over the nine years I’ve been writing there have been some lovely ladders: getting on the City University novel writing course, when I was really desperate to do so; completing my first novel; having the full manuscript of my second novel asked for by six agents; having one agent consistently ask me to re-submit, making the novel better each time.

But, of course, there have also been snakes: having that same agent decide, after two years, that she did not want to take it any further; entering competitions and not getting shortlisted; facing major re-writes when I did not feel I had the energy or will to do so.

Right now I’m waiting to see if any of the agents on the judging panel will decide to take the next step.  Either way, it will be another square on the board.