My Life Story
The Kindle has, ahem, rekindled my love of writing. Until very recently, when I caught scent of the indie writing revolution as it carried across the Atlantic, I had officially stopped trying to be a writer. I had a great job that I could pour all my creative energy into, a family who happily occupied all my spare time, and I didnt need the grief of trying to get published, a pursuit that had been an obsession for a long time. I had quit. I felt like a smoker who occasionally sniffs cigarette smoke and thinks Hmm, I quite fancy before stamping on the thought. I was cured of my writaholism.
Rewind fifteen years to my twenties. I had a rubbish job and lived in a dead-end town: Hastings, East Sussex, a place that had been cursed, according to local legend, by black magician Aleister Crowley just before he died. I wrote as a means of escaping the crap job. I churned out novels almost as quickly as Amanda Hocking does now, writing them by hand on paper paper! with, wait for it, a biro and typing them up on this ridiculous contraption called a Fontwriter, a kind of glorified typewriter that displayed five rows of text at a time, the display blinking as you typed, rather like a Kindle does when you change page, come to think of it. Then you had to feed in and print out the pages one at a time. If I wanted to copy a manuscript I had to take it to a shop and endure the embarrassing questions and pitying looks of the staff. All of my early novels exist only on floppy disk, unaccessible, buried in a technological grave.
Sometime during this period, during which I spent half my income on brown A4 envelopes and printer ribbons, I landed myself an agent. A proper agent with bestselling clients. She LOVED my novel. She was going to make me a star. I was going to be rich and famous. I truly believed this was a certainty. The day the agent phoned me to tell me she was going to take me on was one of the happiest of my life.
But then rejection. None of the publishers she sent my novel to wanted to buy it. I was gobsmacked. Sick as a parrot. I wrote another novel. She loved this one even more. The same thing happened. Then I rewrote the original novel and made it vastly better. At this point, the BBC enter the story for the first time.
BBC2 were making a documentary about first-time novelists. They wanted three people: someone who was just starting out; someone with an agent but no publisher; and someone with a deal. I was the middle one. The successful one was Jake Arnott. The other one was a friend of a friend of the director. Again, I was assured of fame. I had cameramen following me around Hastings and filming me in my job (answering complaints for the worlds worst rail company). I did a photo shoot for the Radio Times, standing just behind Jake Arnott. It was so exciting.
But when the TV show went out, showing me receiving rejection calls for the edification of a shrugging public, it made me look like a desperate wannabe. This is probably because I was a desperate wannabe. I was like someone years later on the X Factor semi-final, blubbing because theyd been voted off and hadnt landed the million pound deal, vowing You havent heard the last of me. The programme didnt bring about a single whiff of interest from publishers these days I would have self-published and probably sold thousands of books. But at that point, no book existed. I got recognised in the street for months afterwards but I had nothing to sell.
The one good thing that came from that programme was an email from Louise Voss. Louise was in exactly the same boat as me. An agent, no book deal. We emailed each other all the time I had just graduated to an iMac and binned the Fontwriter and swapped moral support. We didnt meet up for around two years but we were each others biggest cheerleaders.
Then Louise got the big break. A super-agent took her on and suddenly everyone wanted to publish her. Her book, the fantastic TO BE SOMEONE, went to auction; she got the long dreamt-of advance. It seemed like her time had come. I can honestly say I wasnt jealous. Instead it made me think that if I kept going my turn would surely come.
I kept writing. I came maddeningly close to landing a deal once or twice. I kept writing. My agent gave up and dumped me. I tried and failed to find another one. I was that desperate bloke off that programme. I was tainted. I turned thirty. I had an early midlife crisis. Left my wife, left Hastings, went to live in Japan for a year
While I was in Japan, Louise and I came up with the idea of writing a novel together. Her career hadnt taken off as anticipated. She was still being published, but the books werent selling as well as her publishers hoped; which was a huge problem, since they had invested so much money in her. We came up with the idea for a stalker novel, written alternately from male and female perspectives, with a delicious twist in the middle and another at the end.
For the zillionth time I was sure I was finally on to a winner, especially when the BBC hove into the story for a second time: a drama producer who had read and loved one of Louises other novels optioned our book, KILLING CUPID, before it was even finished.
Writing together was a dream. As Louise says, its as if while youre asleep the writing elves come out and craft the next chapter for you. We would brainstorm the plot, decide what was coming next, then one of us would write a chapter before the other person edited it. The whole thing was so easy to write I couldnt believe there werent more writing duos out there.
When the book was finished, Louises agent tried to sell it. Unbelievably, although I was by this point punch drunk on rejection and should have seen it coming, she couldnt find us a publisher. The book didnt fit neatly into a genre: it was part thriller, part comedy, part suspense, part literary fiction.
Still, we had the option. It was going to be on TV.
The production went into development hell. The BBC changed their policy around two-part crime dramas. Somebody upstairs didnt like the main character. The option expired. I banged my head against a wall until it bled. I was back in the UK and had just started my first proper job, at the ripe old age of 32, by which I mean a job I enjoyed rather than endured, being a digital marketer for a publisher. I was OK. Writing wasnt everything.
But Louise and I had one more go. We wrote another thriller called CATCH YOUR DEATH, a Dan Brown-esque chase novel about a killer virus. Louise, by this point, no longer had an agent or a deal. We finished the new novel the same week my first daughter was born. We sent it out to agents. Several said they liked it, but not enough. Getting published, it seemed, was getting harder and harder. And life, I had realised, could be enriching without being a writer. Real life was more interesting and infinitely easier without the relentless stress of trying to find a bloody agent and publisher.
That was it, I decided. I had given it my best shot. I read about other writers getting big deals and didnt feel a thing. I could see a novel by a celeb in a bookshop and not feel the urge to projectile vomit. I had stopped caring. Nobody could say I hadnt tried. It was time to concentrate on my career and my family. I felt liberated.
And then the Kindle came along. Reading about this new way of publishing, it seemed so exciting. Finally, here was a way to take back the power from the gatekeepers. I persuaded Louise that we should put our novels on Amazon; we had nothing to lose. So we went through them and discovered they were as dusty as my old manuscripts. In KILLING CUPID, no-one had broadband or a mobile phone. Facebook didnt exist, and how can you have a modern stalker novel without a bit of Facebook stalking? We spent a few months polishing them, got my sister-in-law to design covers, and on February 19th 2011, when KILLING CUPID was added to the Kindle store, I finally became a published author.
A self-published author, but so what? We are in control. The books success or failure is in our hands. If its good enough, and we put enough energy and intelligence into promoting it, we will reap the rewards. The day after it was published, we had an email from a BAFTA-winning film producer who wants to option it for the big screen. With my track record, Im not going to order a Porsche or a second hand bicycle yet. But my interest in writing has been reborn, this time without the ridiculous self-imposed pressure. This time, I know theres more to life. This time, its fun.
Plus a little bit of an addiction to checking the sales figures.
In the next few weeks, we are going to add CATCH YOUR DEATH to the Amazon store. Louise has got the digital rights to her old Transworld novels back and is planning to get them on Amazon soon. I am going to rewrite the best of my old novels, a psychological horror about neighbours from hell. And we are going to start work on a third novel together.
And one day Ill be able to tell the world about how it took me fifteen years to achieve overnight success. Or maybe twenty years. I dont really mind.
Marl Edwards, March 2011