I was considering my journey so far and one thing popped into my head that I hadn't thought about in a long time, and that was my first ever rejection. If had known then what I know now perhaps my writing journey might have been very different.
It was 1996 and I had just been discharged from the Royal Navy with a broken back. I decided to try and write a novel. I'd spent most of my life reading, especially at sea, and I had always wondered what it would feel like to see my name on the cover of a book. I never thought it would happen, after all I'd been a poor school student, and only clever and talented people could write a book, couldn't they?
I picked a subject that I loved; I'd always had a passion for animals and loved William Horwood's Duncton Wood series. I started to write a novel called Jaguar.
Here is the blurb for it:
"Valaria is young, in prison and pregnant. She is also a Jaguar.
The brutal slaying of her mate prompts her audacious escape from an illegal predator collection on the edge of Exmoor Forest, England. Heavily frequented by humans, the woodland presents an even more dangerous proposition than her natural home in the lush rain forests of South America. But Valaria finds an unexpected, and unlikely, ally in the form of a local shepherd and animal rights defender, Tom Smith.
Her captor and tormentor, Edward Forsyth, is in hot pursuit and must track Valaria down and kill her, or risk spending the rest of his life behind bars if his illegal collection of predators is discovered. For Edward this is not an option and his greatest desire is to hang her head on his trophy room wall.
Putting herself between the barrel of a gun and her offspring to ensure their freedom may be her only option. "
I did a lot of research about jaguars and visited a local zoo so that I could get close and personal with the cat. The owners of the zoo at Sparkwell, just outside Plymouth were really helpful when they found out I was writing a novel and had the cat's keeper give us a tour and a talk about the jaguar. To me this was amazing, a very authory thing to be doing LOL. Remember, I was very new to this writing game; naive and excited.
I sat at home with all my research and started typing on an old electronic typewriter with a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook sat on the table. I also had a couple of magazines which talked about the craft of writing and who to submit your shiny new novel to. I spent several days thinking about what I wanted to write about. I'd always hated the idea of these rich people who hunted animals just to decorate themselves and their homes. I also wasn't a fan of people who thought that they could capture these beautiful creatures and keep them in cages as living trophies. So, the story of Valaria grew in my head.
I sat and wrote the first three chapters and was so excited that I'd managed to achieve that small victory. I knew at that point that I wanted to be a writer for a living; yes there is that naive bit again LOL. So, the stupid part of me, which rears its head fairly often, decided that what I really needed was a literary agent or an editor to help me shape the novel. I sent the first three chapters off to one of the big five (can't remember exactly which one, but it may have been Harper Collins). While it sat in their slush pile--they had slush piles in 1996--I carried on writing.
After a while, when I was half way through the novel, around chapter 16-17, my manuscript came back with a rejection slip. I was pretty gutted, but I didn't realize that what I had in my hand was golden. The rejection slip wasn't a form rejection, it was a very nice personalized one that said she loved my writing, but wanted to see more from jaguar's point of view. If I had known then what I did now I would have dove back into the manuscript and worked it using the advice of this big 5 editor. But, I decided that I needed to get a job and earn some money rather than try and scrape by on my military pension. Jaguar was stuffed into a drawer and I taught myself how to be a computer programmer. I got a job and that was that, until in 2003 we decided to move out here.
Fast forward 8 years and while having a shower an idea popped into my head that revolved around an inept young wizard who lives in a realm where a wizard's power is dictated by his height, and promotion is given in inches; they also take inches away when demoting you for mistakes. Gerald being who he is is never going to have a smooth ride trying to become a great wizard. I jumped onto my pc and had written the first draft within 6 months. I then revised it time and again until I started to send it out--I'd finally learned about the correct way to query agents and publishers by then and I still feel embarrassed when I thought back to my initial foray into the publishing world with JAGUAR. GERALD was finally published in May 2017. Since then I've finished JAGUAR, written the sequel to GERALD; written a free prequel short story and am half way through an Anglo Saxon novel.
I still think back to that rejection slip I received in 1996 and wonder what might have happened if I had known what a nugget I had then. A personalized rejection with advice on how to improve the chapters I'd sent. I've had plenty of rejections since then from agents, but I carried on and finally got a yes from a publisher for GERALD.
Can you remember your first rejection, and were you as naive as me when it came to querying agents and publishers?