I’ve always thought that often in life, when you need something, that sometimes, somehow, just the right thing pops up right out of the blue to help. I was proved right when about two months ago, into my inbox popped an invitation to a Discovery Day in Foyles, London. ‘Authors are matched with an agent’, the email said, ‘they’ll read your first page and discuss it with you. Then you can ask any questions you have about the world of publishing.’
‘This is meant to be!’ I told myself. Since I write about my own troubled childhood and match that with writing about some of the people I had worked with as a social worker, my work could fit into either fiction or memoirs in category. This big question had been bugging me for some time and I was delighted to have an opportunity to talk about it with an expert.
The wait till the big day seemed to take forever. But I was enthralled when I got there. The room was thronging with people all chatting loudly and waving files of white paper around. Around the edge of the room in an L-shape were about eight desk -shaped tables each covered with a red tablecloth and a timer, just like you see on Great British Bake Off.
I was led over to a lady who was introduced to me as Anna. She reset button on her timer then gave me her full attention. I’d rehearsed my pitch over and over again. I started with my big question. I explained about my work. ‘Some of my stuff is very true to real events, and could be called a memoir. Others events are totally fiction.’ I said I read a lot of Cathy Glass’ work and reminded Anna that she’s a foster carer who writes easy to read books about the children she works with and the traumas they’ve been through. Would that be a market for my work? I asked her.
Anna hadn’t heard of Cathy Glass but offered to read the first page of my novel. I had two thin files of paper and took them both out. Anna went pale. I think she thought I was going to ask her to read the lot. Well I wasn’t, but I thought I’d be best taking more with me just in case I needed extra.
I got the first page of my novel out sharpish, knowing time was moving on. Anna read earnestly for a few moments, then said she liked the way I’d got straight into the story but felt I explained a bit too much. She asked how nearly finished it was and I explained that I had just two chapters left to write. I often leave writing the last two chapters because it’s the end of my story then, and I have to leave the cosy little world I’ve created. Anna suggested that I get the last two chapters written, then it send in. “Yippeeee!” I said. But time was up and I was bustled along to the next stage.
I was moved to a table in the cafe with four other writers and an agent. It was even noisier than the first room and I was put at the end of a long table. The agent introduced herself as Sophie and we were told we could ask her anything. I couldn’t hear what the others had asked so I asked Sophie about memoirs and fiction and my particular question. Would memoirs like Cathy Glass be a market I should look at? She didn’t know either and again had never heard of Cathy Glass. Then time was up much too soon. I was just getting into my stride, and that was it, we were all moved out to make way for the next people.
It had been a very brief but useful episode in the sometimes lonely world of writing. Both agents said fiction sells easier than memoirs, so I think I’ll pitch my stuff as fiction. At least that gives me freedom to write more fully. Anna had said that a lot of fiction is inspired by the author’s life anyway. Both agents also said before you send work to any agent, make sure the rest is finished. You look a bit of a twerp if the agent likes the partial and asks for the rest and it’s not finished!
The staff couldn’t have been nicer when they saw I walked with a walking stick, and were really thoughtful and considering that about how I was coping and made sure I had a place to sit all the time.
Ten out of ten for Curtis Brown and Foyles Bookshop I reckon!