The Bottom Drawer of Shame

To celebrate the release of the paperback edition of How to Make a Friend (at last!) I’ve chatted to Prime Writers about the novels they have sweated blood over that have never and will never see the light of day. At least, not until the cows come home.How To Make A Friend

I have spent many years trying to get published and when writers tell me that (A) their debut novel is their actual, honest-to-God, first, and (B) they only wrote the first few chapters before showing an agent and then worked with that agent throughout, I start feeling a bit weird and have to go and have a lie down.

I have about (lost count!) eight rejected Mills & Boon romances written between 1992 and 1998; a romantic comedy about a PR man who messes up his life and falls for a headmistress; a chick lit novel called Shrink Rapt about a girl who falls for a bloke who is obsessed with self-help books; a novel about a clone who sleeps with his mother…um..moving swiftly on…and a convoluted tale about a missing sister that got so tangled up in red herrings and flashbacks even I didn’t have a clue what was going on.

So, let’s see what other Prime Writers are prepared to ‘fess up to:

SD Sykes, author of The Butcher Bird:

All my younger ‘babies’ lost the will to live at around 30k words. But hidden away in a drawer somewhere I have the beginning of a dystopian novel, a time-travel horror involving Stone Henge (!), and the story of two drifters who find a newborn baby in the woods and then travel around the coastal towns of England, not doing much. When I ran out of plot with this one, they ended up at a top secret, James-Bond-villain-style research facility in a remote forest. And they’re still there…

Graeme Shimmin, author of A Kill in The Morning:

Mine was called Angel in Amber. I still like it, though my agent dismissed it out of hand (without even reading it all the way through). I know it needs reworking to some extent – it only properly kicks off about half way through – but I think the main characters are better than the ones in A Kill in the Morning.

Beth Miller, author of The Good Neighbour:

I have the first six chapters of a comic campus novel. The head of department is a wily Irishman called Seamus O’Shameless. It was quite bad.

Jo Bloom, author of Ridley Road:

I have five chapters of a novel about two female best friends who become lovers and another 30K of a novel which I banged out quickly, thinking an agent would help me if they liked it. It’s about nothing really; there is no plot and no story and no interesting characters, which is why a top agent ripped it to shreds (Not Literally!) and SENT THE ENTIRE THING BACK TO ME IN AN ENVELOPE as if it was even shameful to keep in her office. And there’s another finished novel about a particular secret a man keeps from his partner and the fallout from that, which had an agent (not my current one) but never got to market…phew! I’m exhausted just reading that back…

Tammy Cohen, author of First One Missing:

I have two thirds of a novel called How To Fail a Pregnancy Test which is a comedy about an emotionally immature 27 year old working on a crappy women’s weekly magazine who accidentally falls pregnant by her on-off actor boyfriend, and I wrote it when I was a 27-year-old working on a crappy women’s weekly magazine who… oh, hang on a minute…

Antonia Honeywell, author of The Ship:

I have a 200,000k epic set over three generations and two world wars, with a grandmother, mother and daughter all with the same name. Oh, and not a word of dialogue. And a French title. Can’t think why it never made it.

Sarah Taylor, author of Arthur and Me:

I have three books I wrote in my teens about an inept King. They will never see the light of day.

Lisa Evans, author of Crooked Heart:

I have 15,000 words of a novel that I wrote in my twenties about students doing interrail around Europe (huge imaginative stretch, there). Every page should be stamped with the words ‘BUT WHAT IS THE ACTUAL PLOT?’

Helen MacKinven, author of Talk of the Toun:

If I had the guts to read my first attempt now, I’d cringe. It has a DNR order firmly attached to it and its final resting place is in a ‘vintage’ style suitcase (can’t beat Matalan for a bargain in home décor).

Juliet West, author of Before the Fall:

I tried to turn a collection of linked short stories into a novel. Disaster. The characters kept repeating themselves and spent a great deal of time musing pointlessly. Around three quarters of the way through I realised how boring it was and elbowed in a plot twist by arranging for the main character to be kidnapped. Moral: they were short stories for a reason.

Nowadays a lot of stuff that should remain in drawers makes it onto Amazon’s generous and non-judgmental shelves. I have toyed with idea of uploading mine, and did with the Rom Com. I won’t give you the title or the pen-name, but suffice to say, two people bought it and both were related to me. About eighteen months later I received a cheque for £5.01 from Amazon. I didn’t bank it.

One day I may self-publish the clone story. Under a pen-name.

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