Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Slaughter of the Innocents

I knew my first novel was a work of genius. It was obvious. So it was a bit disconcerting when my MA tutor suggested that, while writing it had been a good learning curve, it was time to put that book to one side and start another. Even more disconcerting was the experience of sending it out to agents. My sample chapters returned so fast the envelopes had scorch marks down the side. How could this be? Could the world really be that blind to my glorious, shining novel? Distinctly miffed, I tried a book doctor. But when the report came it was clearly the work of an imbecile, and not worth considering.

I sulked. I sulked for six months. And through my grand sulking the notion gradually percolated - perhaps the novel wasn't so great after all. I looked again at the book doctor's report. They'd seen a problem and suggested a solution that seemed complete madness. It was still a daft solution, in my opinion, but perhaps the problem they'd spotted had some validity.

I sulked a bit more. And then I came up with my own solution: what had been written from four viewpoints should be changed to a single viewpoint because, in truth, I was only interested in one of the stories I had interwoven. But that meant cutting about 50% of what I'd already written. I did some more sulking, and then went and sharpened my axe.

I lost 90% in the end, but once I'd made the decision to go for wholesale slaughter the process wasn't that bad. In fact, it was almost enjoyable. The result? Well, when I sent the novel out again it took 36 hours from slipping the ms into the letterbox to have my first offer from an agent. Others followed, and that book ended up being published around the world. Which only goes to show: sometimes mass murder is the right thing to do.


Fia said...

So it's not just me - the first part of your post anyway.

I wrote a novel with three view points and, like you, couldn't understand why a published author I'd shown it to suggested rewriting it with one point of view and in third person instead of first. Crazy. My novel was so wonderful I made me cry reading it. When I read it now, it makes me laugh and not in a good way. I've saved one character and have nearly finished first draft of her story.

Do you mean to say there might be hope after all? And well done you for keeping going and having such success. Inspiring.

Sarah Duncan said...

There's always hope, Fia. From my own experience I know there's often a disconnect between what I think I've written and what the reader is getting from it. Time is useful in seeing the difference. Still, stick with it, persistence pays off - good luck!