Sunday, 15 June 2014


From what I can tell, literary agents avoid wannabe writers. It's a bit like shouting into the void. Most of my experience is waiting eight to twelve weeks for them to tell me to bugger off (politely). Considering the appalling quality of most of what I've written, I can't say I blame them. In fact, I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to all those agents I've harassed through the years by sending them my unplotted novels full of unconvincing characters and cardboard dialogue - and for those to come.

So imagine my surprise when I sent my first three chapters to a zillion agents one day, and received a reply within seconds asking me to re-send the document. (I had mailed the digital equivalent of cooked spaghetti.)

Five hours later, the agent replied to say she liked it, but it made no sense, and if I managed to make it make sense, then could she please see it again.

Here's what she wrote:
This is an interesting world you've created. It's a bit difficult to stay in the narrative however,  as I'm not entirely clear on the story.  I like the voice. Of the books you mention - you're right, none of them are a close fit.  Have you read HOLES by Louis Sacher?   He's doing something similar in that the world is not clearly depicted but we follow it.  Oh - also anything by George Saunders - if you haven't read him, definitely do.    If the world and the story were clearer in Superfreak: Bad Monkey, I'd like to see this again if you revisit it.

I nearly fell off my chair. My novel didn't make sense?!? Actually, that's not what happened at all. I immediately forwarded the message to my friend because I was SO EXCITED and totally forgot to reply to lovely agent. Oops.

So this was back at the end of January. It's now early June. I've ripped out the start, middle and end of the novel and edited the so-called-final version five times since. I sent it back to lovely agent, expecting to hear nothing for a few weeks. I figured she'd expressed interest in a fit of madness and would have come to her senses. But no. She replied within minutes.

Talking to an agent isn't the same as getting published, I know. Even getting an agent is no guarantee. But it's a first step, so it's exciting. After years shouting into the void it feels amazing when someone shouts back. So what I'd like to say right now is I love you lovely agent I love you so much. Even if you don't ultimately want to represent me, you've given me a thrilling few months where at least it was possible.

Saturday, 14 June 2014


This morning, I woke up and changed the end again. I've lost count of the number of times I've proudly told my kids that the blasted book is finally finished (again). Maybe now, it is.

Sara didn't like this original (super-brief) ending as she said it left too many questions unanswered - what happens to the mother; what is the fallout from Sally, and more. In truth, I wrote it in a lazy mood, putting down the absolute bare minimum, so I think she had a point. But the last version I replaced it with was just so grim! I'm still not sure it's OK in a kids' book to kill all the main characters (by wiping their memories). But it was just so logical. Of course the police would go down into the cellar. Of course they would take Frank, Eris and Bobs away for testing to check they were OK and they'd realise they weren't quite human.

But I felt quite sad that we lost the happy resolution, and the message that kids are the ones who will solve climate change (get working kids!). For a while I meant to return some kind of comment about Frank lying on the cellar floor thinking it was bad that they stopped Sally but never mind because Umar and Eris would figure out how to solve climate change, but try as I might, I couldn't find a place to put it without making a mess.

The solution: restore the old ending - just before the real ending - and add a coda.
That’s how it was supposed to end. But the police came and they looked inside the cellar. Then they looked inside us. And what they saw made them afraid.
I love the idea that you think it's over and there's a happy ending. Maybe, like Sara, the reader will feel that not all the questions have been answered. Then we go into the real ending. After the unsatisfying happy ending, reality comes as a shock.

What I also liked about the new ending - apart from how much more real it felt - was the massive outrageous cliff-hanger. It slams all the characters into an abyss from which there seems no way out. I'm still not totally sure if this qualifies as an ending. Does it give closure? It certainly brings Frank full circle back to where he started, trying to be normal.

The last line made me realise, nowhere in the book do I actually describe Frank. In most novels, the writer gives a few clues - even if it is first person, there's the obligatory scene where the main character stands in front of a mirror.

Frank never describes himself. Except for here.
Find me. Show me. You’ll know it’s me.
I’m the one who looks just like everyone else.