16 Sep Land by Alex Campbell
“Land will be the last (book) I write”. That’s what I was busy telling everyone this time two years ago, so that I wouldn’t back down. After over fifteen years of trying to get published, this really had to be my final attempt. I had a job, two children, and an addiction to my local art-house cinema. I could no longer commit so many of my evenings and weekends, so much of my head space, to chasing a dream that was clearly intent on eluding me.
Today is Land’s publication date, so I’ll never know if I’d have carried through that promise to myself. Instead I’m here, tightly clutching a copy of my own book, daring anyone to take it off me, still swaying from the journey that brought me to this point. Blimey, it’s been one heck of a journey, one that’s not always been very scenic, and at times pretty lonely, but most of all, long.
I was eight when the resolution swept over me, fast and furious: I was going to write a book. But it wasn’t until my late twenties that I began in earnest to submit novels to agents. Adult fiction, of varying genres. I jumped around, trying to please, hoping to fit, wanting to be liked. In between full-time jobs and having babies, I submitted, I got rejected, I submitted, I nearly got there, I got rejected. And so on and so, drudgingly, forth. It wasn’t all doom and gloom: I was signed by agents, I received encouraging comments amongst the litany of not for mes, I even did one round of publishers. But I never quite got there.
And so, fifteen years later, I was readying to alight, buttoning up my coat, ordering myself ‘jump, find another vocation, one that wants you’. Then, opening the door to leave, I gave myself just one last try, one last book, before I hit the tracks.
Maybe it was being at my lowest that enabled me to finally write what came naturally to me, rather than what I thought I should write, for my age, for the market, for my mum…
I released my imagination to a place where no one expected anything from me…and Land simply strolled in.
And this is where I had something of an epiphany.
I’d never before thought about writing for teenagers, despite the fact I enjoyed their books, had dedicated most of my twenties to watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and possess an ability to naval-gaze that would outdo even the most introspective of sixteen-year- olds. But Land emerged as a complete story before I’d even realised it was teenage. It came quickly, flowing faster than any adult novel ever had. As I wrote it, other ideas began to stream in, as if I’d unblocked some creative dam in my head. Slowly, the truth hit me: all these years, had I simply been writing for the wrong age group? Had my writer’s voice, my ideas, always been better suited to Young Adult novels than adult?
Know yourself. It’s an adage I’ve always tried to adhere to, even though it took me a while to arrive at its true meaning. What I didn’t realise was it was one thing to finally know myself, it was another to know myself as a writer.
Meanwhile, back to that journey.
So it was, with a severe lack of hope in my heart (think Charlie before the golden ticket), I sent Land off to a handful of agents. While I was waiting for their response I happened upon Golden Egg’s website, noticing GEA was just down the road from where I live. I’d often dabbled with getting outside input, sharing my work, but ultimately a lack of confidence had meant I’d stayed solitary. In my new spirit of doing things differently I sent my work off to Imogen, while also noting down details of an agent on the website (Kirsty McLachlan).
The initial feedback I received from Golden Egg was a big giant hug of warmth and, well, pure goldenness. To have a professional connect to my writing with such insight, and encouragement…was priceless. Just the initial brief feedback filled me with the confidence I needed to keep going with Land.
And keep going with Golden Egg’s help I would have, had a certain agent not instantly replied to my submission. Kirsty McLachlan miraculously signed me after reading just forty pages. And not only made my day, but made my whole fifteen years of waiting.
Six more agents came back to me expressing interest in Land. Which was a gobsmacking first, and further evidence maybe that I’d been barking up the wrong literary tree all these years.
So now Land is published by Hot Key Books: I’ve reached my destination. Or have I? I realise I’ve finished one journey only to start another, which might be just as arduous and bleak at times. I will still churn with doubts and insecurities. There’s going to be lots more waiting, more rejections, and possibly plenty of criticism – the most serious probably from myself.
But I’ve learnt a lot: to involve others on my journey for one, to keep finding out about myself as a writer for another. And to start trying to enjoy the ride – even the bumpy bits.
Alex Campbell’s debut YA novel, ‘Land’ was published by Hot Key Books on 4 Sept