Back in June, I finished something I’d been tinkering with for a couple of years. A novel, set mainly in Wapping in 1811 with excursions in space and time to Plymouth, Jamaica, Tortuga, the Spanish Main and the west coast of Africa. It’s called The English Monster.
When asked about it, I glibly described it as a “zombie historical detective thriller,” and to be honest that’s still how I’m glibly describing it.
I’d set out simply to write something I thought was good. I sent it out to agents over the summer, printing off a couple of dozen 40-page extracts with a synopsis and a covering letter, poring over the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook to identify the people I thought would be most interested in a zombie historical detective thriller (this is as small a list as you’d probably imagine).
Then I waited.
The rejections started to appear in August and continued to drip in for five or six weeks, until there were maybe four or five agents I hadn’t heard from. So I emailed them, attaching another version of the excerpt, and waited again.
At which point Jim Gill of United Agents emailed me to say they never received the original excerpt, they had received the new one, and they’d be getting back to me. This was the first communication from an agent I’d had that wasn’t a “no”.
Then, at the end of September, Jim dropped me a line and asked for a full manuscript.
Then, the next week, he left a voicemail for me. Turned out he was Scottish. I’ve kept the message. Boy, have I kept it. It says:
I’m ringing about The English Monster, which I like [deep pregnant Scottish pause] very much.
I phoned him back, and the iPhone was tapping and shaking against my ear as he told me how he loved the novel and wanted to represent it.
This was the first time anyone with a professional interest in books had told me I could write.
So, off we went, and I watched with awe as Jim took the pin out of the buzz grenade and lobbed it. The book went to multiple publishers, and for a few days there seemed to be dozens of people reading the thing, professional people with successful authors in their lists.
And this week, Simon & Schuster bought it. On Wednesday. At about 5.30 pm.
To paraphrase another Scot: “Publishing. Bloody hell.”