Some years ago I retired after a forty-year career in
Education, one half of it in Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow - the
other half in teacher training in African universities (Kenya, Zimbabwe
When I returned to England, my grown-up family
prevailed upon me to write my life story. “What a fascinating life
you’ve led,” they said. “You simply must get it down
on paper for the sake of posterity. Start with your childhood in Collyhurst,
Manchester (Les Dawson’s earliest stalking ground). I did as I
was told - took me a year. Then they said, “This is amazing stuff.
You must make it into a novel - it’s bound to be a best-seller.” Once
again, I did as I was ordered - the result a 150,000-word story entitled
Next they commanded, “Now you must go
about getting it published and hit the bookshops with it. Forsythe, Clancy,
Higgins - move over! First of all you must get yourself an agent - a
ten percenter.” (Some of ’em are even fifteen percenters).
I looked through ‘The Writers’ Handbook’ and
picked out thirty or so likely looking agents. Since it takes some of
them six months to answer a letter, I realised that it would take about
fifteen years to get round my selection. So I decided to do a very unethical
thing and write to them all at the same time, enclosing a sample chapter
and a synopsis, to see if anybody wanted to promote my masterpiece.
After a year or so, I had a dozen replies. The responses are worth a book
The first one said “Charming story - charmingly
told. What a pity, you’re not a little girl. Why not write it again
and pretend that you are?” The second said simply “You should
try to write sideways.” (Meaning?) The next reply stated quite bluntly,
“There’s no demand for stories about nostalgia, northern slums,
and ‘trouble in’t mill’ stuff.” (Pace ‘
Coronation Street ’ and Catherine Cookson!) A third sent me a note
in illegible scribble which we only managed to decipher with the aid of
a magnifying glass and after prolonged debate. It said, “Someone
left this stuff on my desk. I don’t know why. But I certainly do
not have time to read it. I’m swamped.” Next one: “Too
much conflict in this story”. Another “Too bland - not enough
drama” “The story did not ‘click” And so the comments
continued. “Add a daughter to the story.” “Why not add
a brother?” I have been assured that any kind of comment is a bonus
since most agents answer with a cryptic ‘No thanks’.
One agent answered after a year: “I have
just found your manuscript. It had fallen behind the radiator. Great
Pity as it has great potential and I’m sure I could have done something
with it.” Needless to say I rushed off a copy to her. I heard no
more. 3 months later, I discovered that she had gone bankrupt! Hope I
wasn’t a contributory factor. But maybe she has a cornucopia of
masterpieces hidden behind her radiator.
Three years on, I’m still waiting for
the other 18 agents to answer. One horror story indicated that the slush
piles in their office were eight feet high! Most discouraging for would-be
writers. What a chaotic world the publishing world is!
In the end I decided to publish the damned book myself.
I bought a fairly sophisticated desk-top equipment and learnt how to use
it. First I had three copies printed and bound in rexine. Cost me nearly
£40 per copy. They were so well received by the people who read
the book that I splashed out and had a hundred printed and results exceeded
all my expectations. Family, friends, colleagues, and selected members
of the general public were most appreciative. Perhaps it had something.
I eventually had 800 copies of my book printed and after
advertising in magazines like The Oldie and Practical Gardening, I sold
the lot. Not much of a profit.... but I got my book out there being read.
One copy landed on the desk of a man called John Sherlock who was born
in Salford but had worked at every major studio in Hollywood as “creative
consultant” on such productions as Peyton Place, Dynasty and
Dallas. He had also been attached to major American universities as
scriptwriting consultant on their creative writing courses. John Sherlock
liked OUR KID so much he recommended it to a London Agent (Blake, Friedmann)
who gave it to one of their agents, Isobel Dixon. She loved it and
soon persuaded Headline Publishing to publish it. It was slow to get
started but then the news spread by word of mouth and sales rose dramatically.
To date OUR KID has sold 300,000 and in the year 2000
was in the best-seller charts for several weeks. The World Book Club chose
it as its star book of the month for May 2000. A sequel entitled HIGH
HOPES followed and this too reached the best-seller list (it rose to 9th
place). To date this last book has sold 150,000 copies in hardback and
paperback. Finally a third book KATE’S STORY was published in hardback
on August 2nd 2001 and has sold really well, especially in the North West
and Manchester in particular. (125,000 to date) and it got to Number 12
on the best-seller list. Since then I have written two other books: GOING
PLACES and recently ANYTHING GOES (in hardback launched on July 4th this