Last week on the iplayer catch up I found a programme by Giles Coren, called "My Failed Novel." This will be interesting I thought to myself, wonder if I can pick up any tips.
WELL... the bits Giles read out seemed to be, excuse my language here, as I quote: "Shit Fuck, slimy stuff coming out of my arse, bollocks, etc etc" and so it went on. At the time he had £30,000 advance, an agent, a publicist, all the trappings of a successful author, without really being one.
At one point he was actually cribbing about his rich family and having every advantage as it didn't give him the "grist" to allow him to write what he wanted.
Giles, if you had been born into (untrendy)East End Shoreditch, been beaten up at school for being a nerd, had to work from the age of 15 and 3/4 - all right it was a Saturday job in Woolworths. Had your Uni grant donated to the family to keep the wolf from the door. I really don't think you would have appreciated it much. Grist it may have been. Career building it wasn't. When you come from an East End working class family, and a woman, everything and I mean everything, is ten times more difficult.
From the discussion with Dad, "What's the point of you going to Uni? You're a girl, a couple of months in you'll get pregnant and get married, what a waste of time when you could be earning money."
From the hundreds of refusals from newspapers and magazines when journalism was a strictly male preserve. I wrote to Marjorie Proops, the most famous woman journalist of the time and she very kindly wrote back telling me how to make a start. But that only
works if someone will giad five you a break.
Unknown to me my father had filled in a Civil Service application form for me. I went for the interview because he insisted I did. "While you live under my roof, you'll do as I say."
So an interview and two aptitude tests later, I had a job in the Registry of Business names
whether I liked it or not.
My wages were directly given to Mum, and I got enough back for food at work, and bus fares. " After all," she said, "We kept you all this time." As if it were an option, and you could just put kids out in the street to fend for themselves - oh yes -I forgot in Shoreditch - lots of people did!
Then my Dad gave me the worse advice ever, Socialist that he was. "Don't tell anyone you've got a degree. People like us don't get degrees, you'll only be laughed at."
So I managed to claw my way out of the Civil Service after a year, and changed my job without telling Dad. I started as a secretary in ITN in Wells Street, with the hope I could someday move up. My claim to fame there, was that I was sick over Alastair Burnett at a Christmas party. All the drinks were free, so I in my innocence tried EVERYTHING, and when Alastair came round with little dead things on sticks, one look at them and I
barfed big style!
All this time I wrote and wrote, hoping one day to make it as a writer. I worked for the BBC in Staff training, setting up projectors, and cameras, learning teeline shorthand in which I got very proficient 80-100wpm. I even made a little programme insert for Radio London.
I wrote a script for a BBC sitcom based on my then marriage and its ups and downs, it was made by the BBC with a professional writer, and I learnt the hard way about "Staff No Fee".
So Giles, years and years passed, my writing largely ignored, no agents came forward and offered me advances. I had some successes, articles published in Ariel the BBC staff magazine, BBC website, Guardian, short stories in women's magazines. Writing late into the night while working during the day.
There was one point at the BBC when sexism was so rife, that I was going to pin a cumberland sausage to the front of my skirt when going for an interview, to see if it made any difference to my career prospects!
Where am I now? An author, still haven't got an agent, but I believe even without a £30K
advance I'm doing well, now have my books in 5 bookshops, and my e.fiction are selling well on Amazon.
I hope I engage my readers, not disgust and alienate them.
Giles Coren I hope you appreciate how lucky you are, and how you don't have to be particularly talented to do what you do. As you're so well supported because of WHO you are. You actually seemed shocked at the amount of work and craftmanship that goes into writing. When one author told you that you have to have a sentence that is beautifully crafted and cleverly written enough to make your reader gasp. You asked whether you had to put that at the front or at the back of the book.
He smiled kindly and said "You put it in every paragraph."