Picture this: a week ago and I’ve nearly finished the third draft of The River Brings the Sea (my latest novel) and I open an email from my lovely agent. Only to find that she is having to restructure and focus on non-fiction, lifestyle books. So she can’t represent me anymore. Emily has worked with me for five years, through the drafting and redrafting of three novels, one of which was published this year. Always supportive and calm, always pinpointing strengths and weaknesses in my writing with constructive criticism. She’s the first professional who made me see myself as a writer. A great editor (she worked for several years as a senior editor at Bloomsbury amongst other roles before she set up her own agency). Ironically I was planning to send her my latest draft before Christmas…Boohoo!
What to do? Freefall into panic? Accept it with equanimity? Phone a friend? My natural response to a problem is to search for a resolution. A quick fix. See it. Say it. Sorted. So for the next couple of hours I’m googling literary agents as if my life depends on it. Which it doesn’t. Not at this precise moment. This only results in more confusion and a growing state of anxiety. (I’m good at that one.)
Then I contact friends – Because that’s what you need when you receive a blow. You need emotional support. Asking for help is something I’m not good at. I expect myself to be the problem solver. I live alone so there’s no partner to offer me immediate support. And as well as emotional support, what you need practical advice. Fortunately I have some wonderful friends and family offering all kinds of creative ideas, kind words and advice. Go WhatsApp!
The upshot is that I allow myself to feel sad. Because it is sad. It’s one more loss in a year of so much loss. But it could be worse. I know I’m in a privileged position compared to many, many people struggling with the loss of income, health and loved ones. It’s not the end of my career as a writer; it’s an opportunity. I can focus on this draft of the novel until the promised five days of Christmas when I’ll really slow down and enjoy the small pleasures. Then, in the new year, the hunt for a new agent will really begin.