IN SEARCH OF AN AGENT
I thought I was going for the record - 40 rejections, some of them from agents who wouldn't even read sample chapters. But my brother told me I wasn't even close to the big league, that George Orwell was knocked back 80 times before he found his agent.
Rejection is inevitable if you want to go the traditional route into publishing. There are so many people out there on the communications highway - writing, blogging, texting, tweeting. Buzz, buzz, buzz, a lot of sound but how much meaning? Hard to identify what's good when there's so much to sift through.
That problem is compounded if your novel is about the Moors Murderers, as my book, Myra, Beyond Saddleworth, is. Many agents regarded it as so toxic that they wouldn't read a word of it.
That has puzzled me, as there have now been two major television dramas about Myra Hindley and Ian Brady. So why should a novel, and one whose primary focus is not on the actual killings, be unacceptable? The printed word is a less sensationalist medium than drama, so why should my work be seen as stirring up ugly events best left hidden?
The novel is based on the idea that Myra Hindley did not die when the authorities said she did but was given a secret life and identity. The fictional Myra has affairs with an upper-class woman and a priest, before she dies of lung cancer.
The action is set in the run-up to the Iraq war, and a parallel storyline shows how love can draw people into unknown and dangerous territory.
I corresponded with Ian Brady to gain authenticity and insight into what happened, though he prefers to talk nostalgically about his childhood in Glasgow than to discuss what he's done. His letters do reveal some of the traits that led him to kill - a deep sense of anger, contempt for society, grandiosity.
People always say writers should write about what they know, but in a way I think they write about what they don't know. My tastes do not run to killing or sexually abusing children, but I wanted to understand the feelings that could lead Brady and Hindley to do what they did; I wanted to understand how they could live with it afterwards.
It's a book with a serious purpose - though also black humour and some sex! The material may sometimes be disturbing, but what else could such a subject be? Agents have said all sorts of things about it. One charming woman said she was very impressed with the characterisation and absolutely believed I'd got into Brady and Hindley's heads, sending my heart into overdrive. Then she added that she had a basic problem with the material as it was just too bleak. Thoughts of rewriting it all as Myra, the Musical, flashed through my head, before dying with my hope.
The most common response was worry about the market. As it's filled with crime novels of the most lurid violence, I've found it hard to grasp the problem - I would have thought the inbuilt controversy that clearly still swirls around this subject would surely give the book a head start in the publicity stakes. But no-one agreed with me. A writer friend of mine told me, 'All it takes is one perspicacious reader,' but where was such a person to come from?
I was ill when my luck finally turned and an agent called Guy Rose emailed to say he thought it was a fascinating project and could we talk about it. On Friday afternoon he was obviously going to be heading home early, so I retired to the sofa with the cat, expecting to speak to him after the weekend. Half an hour later he called.
He claims not to care what other agents think, but I just hope he hasn't just grabbed the poisoned chalice. What if 40 publishers now reject the novel? I suppose I could just say I'm up there with Orwell.