My first publishing contract

The day of my first book deal

The day of my first book deal

I decided to give myself until the age of forty to get published. If I hadn’t managed it by then, I should probably think of something more realistic to achieve with my life. (Professional pool player, astronaut, King of Norway.) I wrote two novels, they were decent, well-received by agents and subsequently the editors who turned them down, everyone encouraging enough for me to keep going.

But time marched on and my third effort would take me dangerously close to the F-word. Forty. (Aka D-day. D for deadline.)

My third novel, Black Chalk, was good, I thought. Maybe very good. So much better than the first two that, if those been close, this one had to be a shoo-in.

I found a wonderful agent almost instantly, which seemed a very good sign, but then the rejections started to roll in. (They call them ‘passes’ in polite publishing speak. I will employ the word that expresses how they make you feel.)

These rejections were “glowing”, however, as my agent described them. And this wasn’t flannel on her part, it was absolutely true. Everyone turning me down seemed to like, even praise my novel. But there was always something problematic that led to yet another rejection.

Twenty, thirty rejections. Forty, then fifty…

My fortieth birthday was imminent. My wife knew how treacherous I was finding the mounting passes. She suggested we get away, take a holiday for my landmark birthday. (This was promising to be a landmark the way an old disused colliery scarring the bruised landscape is a landmark.)

We travelled to old San Juan, Puerto Rico, a lovely place whose pleasures I was failing to enjoy. Forty was going to hit me like a judge’s gavel. The sentence: give up writing then move on to finding something you don’t want to do with your life. And this feeling was leading to guilt: what gave me the right to do what I wanted with my life?

I had failed. Move on. Grow up.

And then, the day before I hit the big four-oh, it arrived. An email from my agency, a rather surreal message. Because it didn’t concern an offer for a book deal in the UK. It was an offer from Russia, a country to whom we hadn’t submitted, for a book that mentions Russia precisely zero times. I was going to be published in a language I neither understand nor speak. A language, indeed, whose individual letters I can’t even comprehend.

I was deliriously happy. Life was beginning at 39 and 364 days (just as the phrase has it).

I celebrated with much local rum at El Batey (pictured) and concluded it was one of the absolute best bars I’ve ever been to. Maybe it was the good news, maybe it was the local spirit. It certainly is a truly, great bar, a graffiti-decorated haven of laid-back cool with a world-class jukebox. Check it out if you’re ever in Puerto Rico. And see if you can find my celebratory graffiti.


Anyway, it was a start. A rum deal. In the very best sense.

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