There’s too much whingeing online by authors who feel it’s their right to have a publisher and/or an agent. I know from experience that it’s frustrating to see the rejection slips piling up and get those two line e-mails reassuring you that they’re not suggesting you can’t write and hoping on your behalf that someone else will take your work. But the fact is that they’re busy people and the market is very crowded. Another fact is that many of the apparently unloved books are of very high quality (although some aren’t). The reason I’m saying all this is because I don’t want you to think that what follows is me complaining about anything. So this is the story.
Without my being aware of it, the BBC television drama department was considering 2 of my books for possible adaptation. In other words, my detective, Jack Carston, was going to be the next Inspector Morse. (You’ll have to allow me the occasional bit of self-indulgence.) This obviously is not something to complain about. I did nothing to bring the books to their attention and I imagine that 99.9% of authors would consider themselves privileged to be in such a position – and I do.
I first heard of it when I received an e-mail asking if the television rights for The Darkness and Rough Justice were available in principle. I resisted the urge to jump up and down, phone everybody I knew, buy a yacht and even say anything about it online. Instead, I calmly replied that they were, only realising later that instead of writing ‘Hi’ at the beginning, I’d written ‘High’. (I’m not making that up. It perhaps indicates that I was experiencing levels of elation unbecoming in a man of my years.)
I then heard nothing for about seven weeks, so I wrote again and asked what was happening. I got a very nice reply, revealing that they liked the character of my detective and adding details which showed that they had given the book a close reading. But they decided that the narrative approach in the novel would be difficult to adapt for television. I can understand why they thought that although I don’t altogether agree with them.
Naturally enough, I was disappointed. Despite the fact that I try to convince myself that nothing will come of such promising situations, there’s always a sneaking feeling/hope that it will. So rather than the satisfaction of being proved right, I had the feeling that something had been snatched away from me. But that’s not true. On the contrary, I should and do take pleasure in the fact that they were considering the books at all.
Nonetheless, the feeling was there. But then, the next day, when friends and family had commiserated and said positive, complimentary things, what remained was not a feeling of dejection, but the thought that, having got so close without doing anything at all to deserve it, I should overcome my idleness and start being (that horrible word) pro-active. If a committee is sitting discussing my books while all I do is sit with my feet on the desk, what might happen if I actually stood up?
I’m not saying that this is a new me, or that I’m preparing my Oscar speech, but it is true that this sort of abstract encouragement is all it needs for a writer to feel validated. OK, in the end I wanted to tell people about it, but I also wanted to extend its significance. I think it sums up a lot of the daily experience of being a writer. Yes, it illustrates the disappointments but it also calls attention to the privileges we have. We do the writing, enjoy ourselves, create the characters, the settings, the worlds, and send them off. And then we wait. And wait. But, as we’re waiting, we also hope – and that’s a luxury which isn’t available to everyone. In fact, if we consider the deprivations and abuses some people have to endure, hope seems a very fragile and scarce commodity.
As I’ve said, the agents, publishers, and others in whose computers or on whose desks our manuscripts are sitting are busy people and our book is one of hundreds they’ve received that week. Working their way through them is an administrative process. But while it sits there, it’s our little Godot and can be the source of very happy dreams.