When I wrote Déjà Vu, I wasn’t sure if it was any good. Certainly, it was 120,000 of sustained narrative and kept me entertained, but I couldn’t be sure about the effect on other people. Turns out they liked it.
The novel I wrote after Déjà Vu was a very different one: a coming-of-age comedy based on my experiences of being an ice-cream man, which I did to help pay for my university studies. I laughed a great deal when I wrote it. I thought it was good. I sent it to agents and publishers, and instead of the form rejections I’d received for Déjà Vu, I got hand-written replies. More than half those agents and publishers enjoyed reading it. However, because of the demands of modern publishing, full lists, and so on, they could not proceed with it.
I wasn’t quite ready to give up. Since 2005, I’ve returned to the manuscript, tweaked the gags, added colour, and generally improved it. I wrote a film script of the story in 2009.
When I first got together with my agent, I sent him the manuscript for Proper Job (along with Déjà Vu and Flashback). I knew that most of the people in the industry who had read the book enjoyed it, so I was more confident in Proper Job finding a publisher than my two science fiction novels.
A year passed, during which Déjà Vu almost, but not quite, got picked up. I asked my agent how he was getting on with Proper Job. He told me he had never received it. This puzzled me because I’d been careful in naming it in the body of the email. Anyway, my heart sank. If I’m honest with myself, this is one of the reasons I thought my agent and I should part ways.
Over the years, whenever I came back to the novel, it sucked me in. It made me laugh. No mean feat when I’ve read some of the gags more than twenty times. Plus, the marketing part of my brain — you know, the bit that never kicks in until I’m months into a project and realise its potential readership is, like, five — that marketing part told me this is the kind of book that anybody might pick up. It won’t elicit prejudice in quite the same way as a science fiction work. It’s a boy-meets-girl comedy set in Cornwall during the eclipse of 1999, that’s all.
Now, of course, I’m in a position to say the hell with it and publish the thing myself on the Kindle.
On Monday of this week, I went to The Grand, a well-preserved Victorian hotel overlooking the Leas in Folkestone. I spent every morning, afternoon and evening working on a final draft. Next week, I’ll send the thing off to my favourite freelance editor, Clare Christian, and get her take.
I’ve just realised that one of the major changes I’ve made in this latest drive is to introduce an element of faith — not religion, exactly, but faith — in the main character. I wonder if this is my unconscious mind telling me to have faith in the story. If so, it needn’t have bothered. I’ve always had faith in it.