In the Garden

Now that the weather has improved and Spring is starting to feel like Spring again, I have been out working in the garden. Nothing impressive, I hasten to add – our suburban garden is usually a mess, and it is my husband who coaxes it into just enough order to grow vegetables. But we do have some fruit bushes and these come under my jurisdiction. At this time of year, I have to chop back the long grass and nettles threatening to engulf the bushes, so that when the fruit ripens, I will be able to get at it. After a few more weeks of sunshine (hopefully) I will be out collecting the fruit – gooseberries, blackcurrants, jostaberries, loganberries, rhubarb, all ready to be turned into something delicious.

So I will admit that I don’t spend a lot of time working in the garden. And yet when I do, it is quite satisfying; to see the patches of clear earth where weeds have been dug out, to rake up clumps of evicted nettles and bindweed, and to hack away dead growth to make room for fresh green shoots. In these moments, I feel like my character Marianne.

Marianne loves gardening much more than I do. Even though she starts from a place of knowing nothing, her first attempts instantly hook her in, engaging her with a passion that I, literally, have only imagined. She doesn’t give up at the first turn in the weather. She keeps going at what she starts and dedicates all her free time to it. To be fair, Marianne’s life is meant to be different to mine; when she first sees the garden, wild and in need of restoration, there is a hole in her own life and an ache to fill it. Not only does the garden soothe that ache, it becomes her obsession. I admire her, and real people like her, who turn their outdoor spaces into something beautiful. When I first started writing the novel, I knew I didn’t have enough knowledge on the subject to describe the garden or make Marianne’s devotion seem real. So I did a bit of research. I started visiting gardens and paying attention to the work that went into them. I read some books, both modern and historical, so I could back up Marianne’s work with genuine expertise. I think I was also hoping that some of the love would rub off on me, and that I too might become inspired to work a bit harder at creating a beautiful garden of my own one day. But the only thing I learnt was that gardening takes hard work and commitment, and I was already giving those things to my writing. So I let Marianne be the gardener, while I concentrated on creating a beautiful garden with words alone.

I have always viewed the garden in After the Rain as important as the characters in the story. It is as clear and distinct to me as the people I created to inhabit it. I don’t need to know great details about garden design or planting schemes to see its beauty in my head. The layout of it is as clear as if I had been there in real life; I can walk across the lawn, into the cool shade of the trees, listening to the babble of the stream, smelling the fragrance of the roses carried on the warm air. Sometimes, it so real to me that I can hardly believe that it doesn’t exist. But it is not just its appearance that is important to me. Just like Marianne, it offered me something when I needed it most, a plot device to fill a hole that had been holding back the story. And then it became so much more, providing the underlying theme that glued the story together. In this novel, love and growing go hand in hand. Marianne’s love for the garden is not just an obsession but a regeneration. Without it, she would not have the strength to fix her life, and or Justin’s. To him, the garden is the antithesis of his experience in the trenches, and in the juxtaposition is the nurture he needs to finally recover. The garden brings them together by chance but binds them together with love. The garden IS the story, and I love it just as much as Marianne and Justin love it. My greatest wish is that readers can love it too.

Back in the real world, I still have no desire to give up my time to gardening. It is just another chore that gets in the way of writing. I will be more interested when it comes to cooking up the fruit – I love making jams and desserts, and my gooseberry gin is just heavenly. Marianne may be the better gardener, but I am the better cook. And yet when I am out there, I put myself in her shoes, shrugging off nettle stings and thorn attacks, straining my back with fork and spade. She may only be a figment of my imagination, but it is good to feel connected to her in this way.  


One of my favourite films is Little Miss Sunshine. Its story of an odd-ball, dysfunctional family driving across America so the young daughter can take part in a beauty pageant is so funny that it makes me shriek with laughter – Uncle Frank’s running, the inappropriate dancing, the manhandling of Grandpa out of the hospital – I could go on and on. My husband and I watched it again recently, with the added bonus of introducing it to our daughters, who are now old enough to appreciate it. They loved it just as much as we did.

For all its absurdities, the film is not just about the laughs. The way the family come together to support each other is genuinely heart-warming. And there is one kick-ass message about aspiration and perseverance. When the family arrive at the beauty pageant, it is evident that daughter Olive is not going to stand a chance among the other highly preened and overly made-up contestants. But that has long become irrelevant, thanks to some wise words from Olive’s Grandpa. He’s not an obvious source of wisdom; he has been thrown out of his retirement home for taking heroin, swears profusely, reads nasty porn and teaches Olive some questionable dance moves. But when Olive is feeling nervous about the contest and says she is afraid of being a loser, he knows the right words to cheer her up; “A real loser is someone who is so afraid of not winning, they don’t even try.”

I’ve been feeling a lot like Olive recently. Yes, I’ve had some rejections – an unpleasant event made even worse by the brief moment of exhilaration only to be crushed by inevitable disappointment. And it’s not just that. The more research I do, the more it seems like I am facing the impossible. I read blogs and advice pages, only to be reminded that thousands of others are attempting the same as me, and that the vast majority of them (us) never get picked up. Even the success of acquiring an agent is no guarantee of getting published. I’m only a few months into the process, but I feel that fear of rejection and failure. Not everybody can win in this game. There are many, many losers. No matter how much work and effort I put into my writing, I will be one of them if I don’t get that lucky break. And being a loser hurts. It would be so nice to never receive another rejection email, the thanks but no thanks messages that ping into my inbox. Why should I bother putting myself through this pain and humiliation? But then I remind myself that it only hurts because I care so much. I care because I have a passion for putting words on a page and a belief that other people will enjoy reading them. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. So I will keep trying, and be proud of myself for that. Even if I never win, I won’t be that person who never tried. Thanks, Grandpa, you are right. I’m not a loser – I’m a writer.

Things I will never have to worry about if I don’t get published!


This time last year, I was busy using Lockdown to write a new novel and getting on really well. This year, Lockdown 3 has been very different. I have been in school almost full time, working with those students who were entitled to keep coming in. I also volunteered to be on the Test and Trace team, and helped with the swabbing and testing of staff and students for weeks. So it’s safe to say that writing and submitting have taken a back seat over the last two months.

But now it’s the Easter holidays and I finally have some time to get back to my “other job”. I shall spend the next few days identifying the next round of agents to approach, preparing the letters and meeting the submission requirements for each. Plenty of work, and for no rewards yet. I know it’s only been three months, but, well… it’s lucky that I actually enjoy my job as a Teaching Assistant. And if it is my destiny to remain as just that, then it might help to remember the following…

Things I will never have to worry about if I don’t get published.

1. People telling me that they didn’t like my novel.

2. Doing my own taxes.

3. Making awkward small talk on book tours.

4. Teenagers ‘shipping’ my characters in inappropriate ways.

5. Terrible film/tv adaptations that completely change the story.

6. Returns.

7. Writer’s block.

8. Being asked for J K Rowling’s autograph.

9. Being informed of mistakes in my novel.

10. Saying the wrong thing on Twitter.

Ahh well, shouldn’t get maudlin for at least another year!


The submission process – a story within a story within a story…

So, I have made a start on submitting to agents. While it’s far too early to comment on the results of that (because there are no results!) I can write about the process in practice, and the things I have learnt so far. Because, to my surprise, it has been the proverbial steep learning curve. And I am happy to share my three big findings, for anybody else who might be looking for some advice.

Firstly, it is very time consuming, even with the ease and speed of submitting on-line. Selecting names from the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is only the first step in the process. It is then essential to read the website of each individual agency. Submissions criteria are diverse – my suspicion is that they each thrown in a tiny variation just to make sure you have read their instructions carefully. Then there is the task of selecting a name to submit to, which means reading through all the biographies and preferences of the company’s agents. You then need to find that all-important reason why you want to work with a particular agency – at least, something you can put in your letter! If you can’t find this from a close-reading of the website, then maybe this is the sign that a particular agency is not as promising as it seemed in the Yearbook. After reading through a few websites, I started to get a feel for which agencies were more suitable for me, and which ones I’ll pass over for the time being. Putting all this together takes time, and it can’t be rushed.

The second thing I have learnt is that I was not as prepared as I thought was. I had proof-read my chapters and synopsis and letter so many times, but I was still discovering mistakes after I had made my first few submissions. There are ways of doing things that I wasn’t doing – simple things when you know them, but easy to miss when you first start. The more websites I have read, the more I have polished my submissions. Unfortunately, I see now that those first submissions probably don’t stand a chance, just because of those small imperfections. So if I had a piece of advice here, it would be to not start with your favourite agencies. Get some practice in on some of the less promising agencies first.

So far, so much common sense, and I am sure no-one is surprised by it. It is the advice that is freely available on-line and in the books, and my only addition to it is to be prepared for it being harder to achieve than first imagined. But if my first two findings were to be expected, my third discovery is maybe not so obvious, and it is this; you submit one novel, but you need four different adaptations of it for each submission. Four different versions of the same thing, like matryoshka dolls, copies of each other but varying in sizes. It was only after a few attempts did I fully understand why this was necessary.

The big mamma matryoshka doll is the full manuscript. That stays at home, for now. The biggest doll that gets sent in a submission is the first three chapters – or ten/thrity pages/10,000 words, depending on the instructions. Obviously, this is crucial, as this is actually your writing. This has to be good, or nothing is going to help it. However, the smaller dolls inside are there to persuade someone to read it.

The next doll down is the Synopsis – usually a page long, giving a full account of the plot chapter by chapter. Most agencies ask for this and they are very precise about what they are looking for. It is the equivalent of Cliff Notes for your novel, telling the reader exactly what happens. This is not the place for cliff-hangers or teasers. That sounds easy, but it is actually quite hard to condense into one page.

The doll that comes next is the brief description for the cover letter. This is more like a blurb on the back of a book; it has to reveal enough to generate interest within the confines of a single paragraph. While it doesn’t say as much about the plot, it can be used to explain themes and styles, as well as suggesting genre and similarities with other authors. Despite the brevity of this description, this is the place for selling the novel and why you think it should be published.

And finally, we come to the smallest doll of all, the baby, but don’t dismiss its importance. In the trade, it is known as ‘The Elevator Pitch’ – the idea being that if you had a sales pitch and you happened to get into an elevator with someone it was worth pitching to, you would need one killer line to get their attention before they called security and had you removed from the building. I really struggled with this at first; how could I possibly reduce my novel to a single line and still make it sound unique and exciting? Surely the brief description did that? But after rewriting my cover letter several times, I realised that starting the letter with the Elevator Pitch was the best opening for a letter from one stranger to another. It’s like writing an essay – it needs a beginning, a middle and an end, and the Elevator Pitch is the beginning. And so it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t give any detail, or that it repeats what you are going to say in the middle, because it is just the hook. So rather than thinking of it as a ‘pitch’ but as an introduction, I used it to get straight to the point, using modern terms that I never actually use in the novel or any of the other descriptions because they are anachronistic but are striking and relevant to a modern reader. And then I had my Elevator Pitch.

Only time will tell if any of this will actually work for me. I hope that someone out there will unpack my dolls and like what they see. But one thing has encouraged me as I have been doing all this. On every agency’s website, there are lists of the authors they represent. I was surprised by how few of them I had heard of. I do follow the book trade, through reviews in the paper and on-line booksellers’ promotions, but this only gives a snapshot of the writers out there, the famous or most promoted authors. Below the surface, there is a wealth of authors, getting on with writing their books and seeing them into print, who never get the fanfares or celebrity status. And I would be happy with that. I don’t need to be famous – I just want to call myself an author.

2021 – Phase Two

For the past few years, my New Year’s resolution has been to write a new novel. Well, in 2020, I finally did that. So, for 2021, I need a new New Year’s resolution. And here it is, to start Phase Two – getting my work published by a real publisher and into the bookshops, which means being proactive about the other side of this ambition of mine and start submitting.

As I’ve said before, I think this is much harder than actually writing the novels. I have tried before and gave up because it was so demoralising. But here I am again, with my new copy of The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, all marked-up with possible agents. I have a spread sheet to work through, and the first five potential agents identified. I’m proof-reading (again) my first three chapters and synopsis, and agonising over the query letter which is supposed to make me sound engaging and yet not too boastful. Next week, I shall fire out my emails, and then sit back and wait, and prepare to repeat the process in a month or so.

As I embark upon Phase Two, my mood is erratic. I vary from being super confident – how could all this work count for nothing, my work is better than some of the dross that is published – to terrified and bitter – how long will I be able to keep this up for, and what will I do if nothing comes of it? I have been here before and lost faith in myself. However, I never lost my desire to write, and because I kept on doing it, my writing has improved since then. So I have to believe that I stand a chance, maybe even a good chance compared to some of the other thousands doing the same thing. If I don’t believe it now, why bother at all?

Who knows, maybe some diligent agent is checking out this website and reading these very words…

The Art of Christmas Stories

Merry Christmas Eve. I hope that those of you who downloaded an Advent Story have enjoyed it – have you read the last episode yet or saving it for later on? As promised, I’m writing this blog to let you know which was the most popular story this year, but first, I’ve been giving some thought to Christmas stories in general.

Christmas is a time for stories, from literary classics to the popular Christmas films. The TV schedules are bursting with festive favourites and Christmas specials. But despite the abundance, it seems to me that there are four basic types of story. Nearly all Christmas stories can be put into one of the categories, or cross-over into two. Once you start to think about it, you’ll be able to spot the categories for yourself – to help you, I can demonstrate this with my own Advent stories.

The first type is probably the most well-known, immortalised by Charles Dickens. A Christmas Carol is so famous that the adaptations and retellings are probably beyond counting. I don’t know if Dickens invented the story of a Christmas-hating character transformed into the most ardent Christmas enthusiast, but he deserves the credit for popularising it. Even if the character isn’t called Scrooge, he or she is recognisable in many forms – the Grinch is the most obvious example, but I’m sure you will know many others. In the process of learning about the true spirit of Christmas, the character becomes an all-round better person, so I call it the Christmas Redemption story. Of my stories, Mrs Christmas fits into this category, along with The Very Special Christmas Star, in which the Christmas message is delivered to a grumpy old uncle via a talking puppy.

The second type is closely connected, in that the spirit of Christmas is used to bring about another important change. This one involves the bringing together of former enemies, or divided friends or family. Christmas reminds us that we have more in common than that which divides us, and differences can be put aside for the season. Warring neighbours Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick finally become the best of friends in the film Deck the Halls, and Kevin McAllister’s scary neighbour is reunited with his son and grand-daughter thanks to Kevin’s intervention. Of my stories, Chorister Rock fits into this category, with rival choirboys Nigel and Cuthbert realising that they have more in common than they originally thought with the setting up of a choir rock band. So does Elf and Safety, where Father Christmas’s workshop is divided by a dispute over whether to hang holly in the workshop or not; thankfully, the elves resolve their differences in time for Christmas.

Christmas brings out the best in people, and this can be seen in the third category, which is the helping of others less fortunate than the main character. Despite the fact that people are miserably and suffering through-out the year, it seems that this can’t be allowed at Christmas, and extra steps will be taken to improve even the most dire situations. When Scrooge took the prize turkey round to the Cratchits, he started a trend that books, TV and films can’t resist. Of my Advent stories, The Magic of Carol Singing comes into this category, with the characters of Dan and David fitting nicely into this role, fore-shadowing the roles they will play later in life in The Most Beloved Boy. I would also include The Carol Singer, my most mysterious story, because the unexplained singing heard by the villagers seems to have a restorative effect over Alison’s ill mother.

The fourth category could be said to involve elements of each of the other three categories, but gets a category of its own due to the fact that it is Christmas itself that is under threat. No-one wants their Christmas ruined, but the excitement it can add to a story makes an excellent plot for films and books – think of Arthur Christmas, or The Box of Delights. The biggest threat to Christmas in my stories comes in Disaster at the Christmas Pudding Factory, where Peter’s mischievous plan to bake the biggest Christmas pudding in the world almost brings the factory to a close. After some consideration, I decided to put Bunny and Pup’s Big Christmas Adventure into this category, as Bunny and Pup disrupt the natural order of Christmas and have to hurry back to restore normality.

So, that’s four categories, and eight stories that fit nicely into the theory. However, you might have noticed that two of my stories haven’t been mentioned yet. And that is where my theory falls down. Because it seems that there is another category, one much harder to define. One of those stories is The Advent Diary of Amanda Brown, a simple tale about an ordinary girl’s ordinary count-down to Christmas. There are no disasters, no feuding relatives and the most exciting event is waiting to see who is going to get the big solo in the Christmas Eve service. The other story is A Shepherd’s Tale, in which Joe the shepherd boy has a mystical experience in the fields at midnight. If there is a message, it is that Christmas is even more magical than first believed. And that is the closest I can get to classifying the fifth category – Christmas is wonderful as it is. It doesn’t need adventure or redemption, or morals and lessons. Maybe you won’t see it in the films or Christmas specials, but it will be happening in homes around the world, even this year. And funnily enough, these two stories are my most popular. In the months of November and December, The Advent Diary of Amanda Brown was downloaded the most, closely followed by A Shepherd’s Tale. Another interesting fact is that these two stories are downloaded regularly through-out the year – maybe this magic is something we need all year round.

So there we go, the five categories of Christmas stories. Whatever you are doing for Christmas, I hope the disasters and transformations stay in the stories, and that you have an ordinary, magical Christmas safely and peacefully at home. Merry Christmas.

Christmas Stories for Children NEW EDITION

It’s been a busy month for me – finishing the rewrite of After the Rain, adding Mrs Christmas to the index of Advent Stories, launching this year’s campaign for the Advent Stories, three new blog posts, and now this – a new edition of the collection of Christmas Stories for Children, so that it now includes all ten stories on the index. So if you fancy some heart-warming stories for Christmas but would prefer them in one easy-to-read whole rather than split into 24 small episodes, they are available here for the bargain price of £1.00 – that’s just 10p per story! All you have to do is click …

In preparing the extra stories for the new edition, I have been rereading all my stories. It has reminded me just how much I enjoyed writing them, and how pleased I have been with the finished results. I couldn’t pick a favourite because I love them all. I am always pleased for each one when I get the notification that it has been downloaded. Some seem to be more popular than others, but they have all been clicked on at some point, which makes me happy.

Having been so busy this month, I haven’t actually written a new story for my children this year – the first time in 12 years. But I have discussed it with them, and considering that they were very young when they heard the earliest stories, we have decided that it would be ok to repeat one this year. My eldest daughter was just seven when I wrote The Very Special Christmas Star, and all she can remember is that there was a dog in it. So it seemed a good time to revisit it. This made me think that ten stories is a good amount to get an average family through many Advents, but I don’t plan on stopping there. I am certain there will be a new story next year, and for many years to come.

One last thing to mention. You might have noticed that I referred to After the Rain and remember that earlier this month I was debating whether or not to change the name. Well, I did finally come to a decision, and was determined to make the change. However, I discovered that KDP doesn’t like alterations to titles and threatened to block the book unless I changed it back. To make such a big change, I would have to delete the original publication and republish with the new name. After all the work I put into the rewrite, I just wanted to get the new edition published with minimum fuss, so it is staying as After the Rain. That can be a decision for the future – maybe even one day with a publisher! But even though it might not have the title I wanted, it is now a piece of writing that I am pleased with, so I’ll give it a shameless plug.

Well, I think I have given you enough to read this month. I’ll leave you in peace for a little while, but I’ll be back before Christmas to let you know which story was the most popular this year. Have you picked your favourite yet?

Advent 2020 – Mrs Christmas

It’s November again, and we all know what that means; the shops are filling up with chocolate and booze, the big brands are launching their Christmas adverts, and I add a new story to the index of Advent Stories and start my campaign to get you all to download a story for your Advent calendars.

So here it is, Mrs Christmas, a story that explores what it might be like to have a Christmassy name for a person who is not that fond of Christmas. My story starts off with a lonely old lady, and I was worried that it might be a bit too miserable. However, my kids said they enjoyed the story, and it does have the traditional happy ending, so it proudly takes its place on the list. I hope everyone else enjoys it too.

There are now ten stories available on the index. When I started writing these stories twelve years ago, I hoped they would become part of our family Christmas but I never imagined that they might become part of other families’ Christmas. The number of downloads has gone up each year, and in 2020, there has even been a small but steady amount of downloads throughout the year. Christmas is certainly going to be different this year, but the simple pleasure of a good story remains the same. Start the story on the 1st December and by Christmas Eve, you’ll have shared an experience that will stay with you long after the decorations come down in January. How many other Advent Calendars can offer that? It is still free to download, and it doesn’t break any lockdown regulations. All you have to do is choose a story and the magic is all yours.

Index of Stories  

What’s in a name?

The naming of novels is a difficult matter … no, wait, that’s cats; there’ll be none of that Jellicle shenanigans here. But, the name of a novel is a very important thing. The name goes on the front cover in big letters. It is what the customer will ask for in the bookshops. If it becomes very successful, it will be how a writer is known, as “the author of …” And fingers crossed, it will be seen on the bestseller charts in the press.

Of course, not all titles are well known. Some authors are so prolific and successful that customers will simply ask for their latest book. Oh, to have that much fame. Other times, it might be a surprise bestseller from an author no-one had heard of previously; in these cases, booksellers can be asked for all kinds of strange things before it is established what book the customer actually wants. As a bookseller, I often had to work out what the customer wanted using some very obscure clues, including the colour of the jacket or where it had been displayed the week before. I even used that as title of a novel when I wrote Have You Go That Book…? It was such a perfect title for a novel that it inspired the story.

I have used this technique several times now. No Such Cold Thing, and my latest novel, The Hawthorn Bride, started with the title; that is, I thought “Hmm, that would be a good title for a novel,” and then came up with a story to go with it. I love collecting great names for novels. It’s like a game. I used to wonder if there was any way of monetising my ability to come up with novels from a title, because I had so many ideas that I knew I would never use myself.

However, coming up with a name once the novel was underway is something I have always found much harder. I waited a long time before naming The Most Beloved Boy because I went through so many unsatisfactory alternatives. For a long time it was just Dan and David. At one point, I thought I might use a line from the song Scarborough Fair. Using a quote from a poem or song is always popular. Proverbs or bible verses also work well. Think of Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree, or Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread­ ­­– brilliant examples, but it is a technique that is so widely used now that it has become a bit of a trope. What I wanted was a name that could become a quote in itself.

The Most Beloved Boy worked for me because it almost poses a question – who is the most beloved boy? It was relevant and interesting, as well as original. I hope it stands out, and that one day, it would work as the title for a film or TV adaptation (yes, I can dream!). Coming up with that title was a moment of triumph. But I could never say the same for After the Rain.

This novel got its name some time while I was writing it. I don’t really remember the process, except that I wanted something that sounded like ‘after the war’ because that is the time period of the novel. Also, because a lot of the action takes place outside in a garden, referring to the elements seemed relevant. There are several scenes where the weather plays an important part in the narrative, including a heavy rain storm. It sort of fits, and I was happy enough with it at the time. Working in the bookshop, I was able to do a search and establish that there wasn’t already a novel with that title (this was pre-google) and I remember being pleased that there wasn’t.

But I’m not pleased with it now. Maybe this is just my perception, but it seems too much like an old fashioned romance novel. It is a love story, but I wanted it to be so much more than that, and I wouldn’t want to put male readers off by making it seem too slushy. I also don’t think it is relevant enough. It has nothing to do with the themes of the novel, which are mental health in the face of adversity, female emancipation, and the right to freedom of choice. My two protagonists go through much more than getting caught in the rain, so I wanted to give them a title worthy of that their struggle.

For a while, I have been trawling through websites of quotes and proverbs, trying all kinds of searches to come up with something that fit. I have been searching for quotes on gardens, growth, flowers, plants, trees, seasons, but couldn’t find anything. Of course, there are a multitude of quotes from war poetry, but that seemed too obvious, and a little like cheating. And I still hankered after an original name, one that could itself become a quote one day. And, then, a few days ago, something came to me. It seemed so obvious that I thought there must already be a novel with that title, but a cheeky Google confirmed that it hasn’t been done already (not as a novel, at least – there was an obscure autobiography that appears to be out of print, so that doesn’t count).

So, I present to you, Lost in Eden, a novel by M J Schofield, the novel I have just done a major rewrite of in preparation for submitting to agents and publishers. It is relevant, as this is a story about two people who have lost direction in their life. Most of the action takes place in a garden that is both beautiful and spiritual in quality. The two people meet by chance in the garden but also because of the garden, brought together when they are both looking for respite from their problems. And yet there is also a question in title – how can anyone be lost in Eden? That is the mystery in the story. I hope you can see why it works for me. But is it too clichéd? My personal focus group (ie my husband) didn’t like it. He thinks the novel should stay as After the Rain, but he has never even read it. Renaming a novel seems like a might big step to take, but it’s not as if an unpublished novel is set in stone. And now I just can’t decide. I’ve gone blind to it.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe, if a publisher ever sees some potential in it, they can be the ones to decide. They would know for sure if it should be Lost in Eden or After the Rain, or maybe even something else! Until then, I have both covers ready to go, and soon I will have to make a decision, before the new edition goes live on KDP. Watch this space.

The First Three Chapters

The first three chapters of a novel are very important. Apparently, they are all an agent or publisher need to decide if the novel is any good. It is certainly all they want to see in a submission.

Unfortunately, they are also the hardest chapters to write. Any new story needs exposition, introductions of characters and situations, descriptions of time and place. A writer creates a world and they want the reader to understand it. And yet pages and pages of exposition and explanations isn’t always the most interesting thing to read. It is a hard balance to provide just enough information so that the reader isn’t confused, at the same time as keeping the pace and narrative engaging. If you can’t do that in the first three chapters then it doesn’t matter if the rest of the novel is brilliant, it has already failed.

This was on mind as I preparing for my first submission. First of all, I had to decide which novel to submit. While I hope that an agent would be pleased to see that I have a portfolio of novels, they would be looking for which one would be the most successful as a first novel. Of all my work, After the Rain and The Most Beloved Boy are the most likely. Now, I love The Most Beloved Boy, but it is very long (yes, probably too long) and I know that would put potential publishers off. Besides that, it is quite difficult to classify. In comparison, After the Rain is much simpler and shorter. It has a more commercial appeal in its post-WWI setting, and it is easily identified as a love story. So it is the more obvious choice for a submission.

But the problem was that I knew the first three chapters weren’t good enough. I know this because I kept trying to find ways of including some later chapters that I felt would be more intriguing. But if there isn’t enough intrigue in the first three chapters, who could blame anybody for not wanting to read on. I truly believe that the rest of the novel is worth reading, which led me to the conclusion that there was only one thing to do – fix the first three chapters.

Actually, it was not that hard to do. I knew straight away what I had to do. I always try to avoid too much exposition, but I realised that by taking out even more of it, I could add intrigue. Why has this woman left her husband? What happened to the perfect marriage that was introduced in chapter 1? Setting up questions like this seemed to make a big improvement to the first three chapters. And there was something else I needed to do. One of the reasons for wanting to add a later chapter to a submission was to introduce another important character who doesn’t make an appearance until the end of chapter 4. But clearly, if he is that important, he needs to come in sooner. With a bit of rejigging, I found a way to bring him in at the end of chapter 3, with the added bonus of leaving it on a cliff-hanger. Sometimes the editor in me knows exactly what to do.

However, my inner-editor also insisted that the deleted exposition needed to be put back in later in the story so that the mysteries set up in the opening could be explained. I liked what this did to the plot, but it did mean some significant changes through-out the novel. Which meant, yes, you guessed it, a complete rewrite of the whole novel. Again. Since I first wrote this novel in 2001, this must be the fifth or sixth time I have done this. But the inner-editor is usually right, and I certainly felt that these changes were essential. So that is what I have been working on for the last two months. Some chapters barely changed at all, while others needed brand new material. None of the changes alter the story, but they do add a new element to the relationship between my two central characters which I am really pleased with. Here’s hoping that this fifth (or sixth) version of this novel is finally good enough. At least, I think the first three chapters are.

Oh, and I might change the name of it. But more about that next time!