One of the jobs we used to try to avoid, when I worked on a local newspaper, was covering the Afternoon Women’s Guild. They were nice ladies, their cakes were great, but reporting their gentle, well-run meetings wasn’t the kind of journalism most of us keen young reporters had signed up for. We wanted excitement, crime, revelatory investigations, not cakes (even really nice cakes). There wasn’t, to be honest, all that much excitement, crime etc. to be had most Wednesday afternoons in Chalfont St Giles, so one week I went along. That’s how I first saw a real live novelist.
The speaker, I’ll call her Celia, was a writer of romances, and her set piece was the tale of how she came to write her first novel. She did it purely for the money – nothing very unusual there – but what was unusual was that she needed it to get to The Metropolitan Opera in New York, with her sister, to see Gigli, the opera singer they both worshipped. To two pennyless girls in the 1930s it seemed an impossible dream.
But they were determined; they made a plan. They saved every penny and Celia set about writing a novel. She began in high spirits, but soon found it was far more of a labour than she had imagined. Only the hopes of her sister and their passion for the handsome tenor kept her slogging away. Finally it was complete. Exhausted but hopeful, she presented it to a publisher. Yes, he said, he would publish it. Where was the sequel?
Celia nearly fell over at the idea that she was expected to do the whole thing all over again!
Fast forward a few decades and I suddenly know how she felt. I wrote the novel. It took five years. I breathed a sigh of relief. I found an agent – hurrah! At the first meeting the agent said, “Two more, please. I think it should be a trilogy.”
Two more! At the current rate of production that could be 10 years’ work! “Nah!” Say Supporters (a very opinionated crowd) “You’ve got the hang of it now, you can knock out a couple more in no time. Sleep is for wimps and you’ve never done any housework anyway!”(Part of which is true.)
Of course the lady novelist I saw all those years ago did write her sequel, and many more. Her first novel brought in just enough to get the sisters to New York – by ship, it was before easy air travel – and to buy tickets to see their hero sing. Without funds for outfits, they made their opera gowns from old curtains, and of course it was the night of their lives.
So all I need is a plan, I guess.
Wish me luck.