My Last Essay And Other Stories

Well, the middle of August is not the best time to pop up in the blogworld after a lengthy absence, but the lovely Numero Cinq online magazine is coming to a close and I have a final essay in it on Doris Lessing. I’ve had a wonderful time writing for my gorgeous editor, Douglas Glover, who is also an excellent writer himself (do check out his story collection, Savage Love, it’s incredible).

And I also promised a catch-up, if there’s anyone out there who would still like to catch up with me. Basically, I haven’t been blogging because I still have recurrent marginal keratitis. I seem to have a genius for developing conditions that can’t be cured but only unreliably managed, and despite my best efforts with every eye gel, drop and lotion on the market, it still flares up, especially when I read. So I hope you’ll understand that I haven’t been around visiting blogs because a) the reading is a bit much for me and b) it’s sort of depressing to hear about the lovely books everyone is reading or looking forward to reading, etc, when I’m so restricted these days.

I got excited a little while back over Manuka honey, after finding an account of a man who’d had my condition for four years, lost his job because of it, and tried everything to fix it. Nothing worked until he bravely attempted an experiment with the honey, putting it directly onto his eyeball. How he managed this, I do not know, as I bought an eye drop with a small percentage of honey and to say the red fire ants are consuming my eyeballs when I use it is an understatement. You should have seen the comments – so many people desperate for a cure who had had marginal keratitis for up to 25  years, all hopeful for the first time. I’ve been using it for six weeks now and maybe it’s helped a bit; it’s hard to tell and there’s certainly no great change or return to stability. But I will persevere.

In more positive news, Mr Litlove launched his furniture-making business at the start of July over the course of two Cambridge Open Studios weekends. He had a terrific response: on the first weekend we had just under a 100 visitors to his workshop and the little gallery we’d set up. The second we roped in our son for reinforcements and had somewhere between 60-70 visitors which was definitely more manageable. Since then he’s done well with orders and enquiries. He’s currently making a desk and chair, with a shelving unit, coffee table, eight chairs and a table and another table lined up, a possible further six chairs in the pipeline. So he’s really happy.

As for my novel, well, it’s been a very odd experience. I did well to begin with in my last submission round at the end of March. Four agents requested the full ms. One backed out almost immediately but that was fine as she was a non-fic person standing in for a colleague on maternity leave, and I wasn’t sure how that would work anyway. But then the next three just went quiet and four months later, I hadn’t heard a thing. One finally turned up about two weeks ago with a no, which I was expecting after all that amount of time. The other two, still not a peep. I mentioned my experience to the online writing group I belong to, and one woman replied to say that her last submission round came up with 10 requests for fulls. Of those, there were seven rejections (that took 6-10 months to arrive), two r & rs (not sure what this is but think it must be rewrite and resubmit), and one whom she had not heard from despite numerous prompts. She had finally saved up enough money to get a professional report on her book and now felt she had a good direction to take it in. Two years after submission.

I admire her grit enormously, because people, the timescale here! I don’t think I have it in me to stick with a novel for the two, three, four years it must take anyone to find a home for it. In the four (almost five) months of agently silence, I have fallen out of love with the old novel, started another that’s now much more interesting to me, resurrected a non-fiction project and have joined in with two friends on an interdisciplinary artwork that should be sheer pleasure. Maybe something will come out of these things and maybe not, really who knows? The system, such as it is, for turning professional with art, seems to me hopelessly overwhelmed to the point of brokenness.

But I don’t want to self-publish novels either. That’s just another way of dropping your work into an ocean of verbiage from which little is ever distinguished. Unless you are some sort of marketing guru, that is, and I am not. So I don’t know. I suppose I keep enjoying a writing life, and try not to worry too much about a writing career. That works better some days than others, of course.



26 thoughts on “My Last Essay And Other Stories

  1. Oh my heavens, the novel submission process. I’ve been wondering if it’s a – probably unconscious – test of our tenacity. When I did my Writing MA many moons ago Andrea Levy suggested we’d need as much tenacity as we had talent if we wanted our work to be published. I know she’s right, but hanging on to my tenacity isn’t always the easiest, although perhaps the ability to do so (most of the time) makes a person doubly tenacious … ? The agent I’m meeting in a couple of days’ time – to discuss what she doesn’t think quite works in my novel and how I might put it right – wrote that the rejection process for writers is a rite of passage. I agree – I’ve learnt much, rewritten much and discovered what the heart of this particular novel is (odd that I could write a novel with only a hazy knowledge of same: I’m planning never to do that again). Obviously I’m hoping we’ll end up working together but I am sorry to hear that an agent hasn’t – yet – materialised for you and your work. But I think your solution to the dilemma is elegant and, of course, things may change.

    I’m also sorry to hear about Numero Cinq and your eyes … but I’m convinced you’re right about NOT self-publishing. The knowing throwing of our work into a heedless hurrricane of other work must be madness. And as for becoming a marketing guru for our own work that’s impossible. Marketing and distribution are things only publishers have the networks to do successfully.

    May your decision to enjoy a writing life continue even in the teeth of not – yet – establishing a writing career. But the thing is the second can’t possibly happen without the first.

    • Dear Angela, I am SO thrilled to hear about your meeting with an agent – that’s fantastic news and I hope so much that something permanent will come out of it. I think my problem is that I did all that incredibly tenacious, hoop-jumping stuff over my first career at Cambridge. The elastic seems to have perished in my bungee, as it were! And I do get distracted by new projects too easily, probably…. But never mind, a person can only do what they can do, right? Your remarks are, as always, very encouraging to me. And thank you for the kind wishes about my eyes. They get me down sometimes, though I live constantly in hope of finding the right combination of eye treatments to make the keratitis go away!

  2. Hi, really like your blog but commenting for the first time! My sympathies on the novel submission process. It’s great to get four requests for the full MS but it’s such a frustrating time precisely because you can still get so far and yet not quite far enough. I hope that you at least hear back with useful feedback at some point.

    • Thank you for commenting! Comments really are the very best part of blogging and it’s lovely when a new person joins in. And you put your finger on an excellent point – I wish there were more feedback! I expect agents are being careful not to hurt any would-be author’s feelings, but ‘I just didn’t love it’ doesn’t really point you in a new direction! And it does feel like a Sisyphean task most of the time. Ah well, the sympathy is very much appreciated, thank you!

      • Those are such useful links – thank you so much for sharing them! I confess I’ve applied twice this year to Womentoring and heard nothing back – it’s been that kind of a year! I was wondering about a third time lucky on the weekend and maybe I will have another go. The TLC thing is new to me and I have zero income so will definitely be trying that. Thank you!

  3. Hi lovely Victoria, I’m so sorry to hear about your eyes. I know how tough nlt reading avidly is for you.
    Re the novel… grr to publishers (is it me or are they only publishing first person present tense short-sentences breathy sort of narratives, with unreliable alcohol-dependent narrators with traumatic backgrounds?!) and their lack of faith in the reading public! Anyway I’ll email soon and let’s talk on the phone. Before that though please pass on my congrats to Mr Litlove: I am absolutely delighted that it’s going well and he’s making things work – I know he’s incredibly talented but as your novel experience shows, talent isn’t enough on its own – wonderful for him.
    Will email soon xx

    • Kathryn, hi!! I hope you’ve had a lovely relaxing holiday?? As you say, we’ll catch up soon and thank you for the congrats which I will pass on right now to Mr L. He’s really doing so well. I had to laugh at your description of the first person breathy narratives – it’s so true! With lots of implausible twists that destroy all coherence of character…. I honestly think this whole process is only going to be feasible if I don’t take it seriously at all!

  4. I’m delighted to hear of Mr Litlove’s good news. May the commissions keep rolling in. So sorry to hear that your eyes are still not improving – have they worked out what is causing it? For instance, I’ve read that staph bacteria on your skin can be involved – and apparently there are new treatments for eczema now that incorporate good bacteria into creams as many eczema patients lack the skin biome to avoid staph aureus – wondered if that thinking extends to eyes? The long and winding road to publication sounds an absolute nightmare – have you thought of crowd-funding? You can submit directly to Unbound. Anyway good luck with all your writing projects ! xx

    • They don’t really know why people develop marginal keratitis (hence we’re still in the medical Dark Ages with it). The closest I’ve got to a possible explanation is the perimenopause, as changing hormones can chemically alter the composition of the tear film, hence I’m reacting to bacteria I would normally tolerate just fine. And of course managing changing hormones isn’t something that doctors are much good at either! But I’m very intrigued by what you say about the eczema creams…. hmm. Will have a go at looking into that, because you never know, right? I hadn’t thought of crowd-funding – again, I’ll look at the Unbound website and thank you for your words about Mr Litlove. He IS doing well!

  5. Hello dear Victoria! I understand about the publishing process, but as a reader and friend, I would read your novel however it was published! Lovely to hear that Mr Litlove’s bespoke furniture business is blossoming. And sorry about the eye thing. The honey sounds excruciating but I wonder if there aren’t good bacteria in there that help? I’m all for pro-biotics. Did good things for my tummy problems. Thanks for the update. 🙂

    • Pete, you are a darling, thank you for your encouragement, and your kind words about Mr Litlove. You are spot on about the honey – it is exactly the antibacterial properties that are supposed to be so helpful. I will definitely stick with it and hope it helps in the long run. I’m also a probiotic fan and agree with you that they are fab! Take good care of you and do keep in touch. xx

  6. Hello dear litlove, it has been a long time and I am so sorry that your eyes are no better, it’s a truly dreadful curse on an avid reader. I really hope that the honey or the eczema cream or something works. It’s amazing the number of ways in which the human body can go wrong. Two members of my family now have chronic conditions about which very little seems to be known, in terms of effective treatment or even prognosis. It is very hard, I think, when you really don’t have any idea of what to expect. It must all be so wearing for you. Hugs!

    However, great news about Mr Litlove and also great news that you had such a positive reaction about your novel – though getting your hopes raised and then left to hang must be frustrating. Getting on with the next book sounds absolutely the best way to go, though keep on submitting the first novel too. You know that I and all your readers here would love to see it in print! Persist persist!

    • Dear Helen, I always love your comments. I send all possible sympathy to your family members, as it is incredibly annoying and frustrating not to know how best to look after and/or heal oneself in the midst of an illness. On the positive side, it is a terrific force for prioritizing. You do find out what is important, and (try) only to worry about that! Thank you for your kind words about Mr Litlove (who is indeed doing very well) and about my novel. I do feel that I haven’t yet learned to say in fiction what I want to say, and that a certain amount of dogged persistence in writing the wrong thing is going to be inevitable here until I figure it all out better. It helps a great deal to have support in this – thank you, dear friend!

      • Thank you very much for your kind words! 🙂

        I’ve been trying to write a children’s book, more as an experiment than in any real hope of getting anyone to read it, and yes, it’s amazing how the words and sentences run away from you or circle around what you want to say! Or you realise you’ve just devoted 500 words to describing something utterly unimportant and beside the point. And that’s quite apart from the plot, which lurches about, and that anxious nagging feeling that it’s all awful anyway. You are right, it’s like everything else, practise practise practise, only it takes a lot longer than everything else!

        Keep on, anyway, I am convinced that you will write something very good.

      • Oh I love the idea of any children’s book that you would write! But isn’t the process a bitch? I think Orwell said it was like scrubbing the tiles of a basement floor with a toothbrush, or something to that effect. I could see what he meant. Of course, your description of it made me laugh more, especially about plots which do indeed have an awful tendency to lurch. I have my pompoms at the ready for any cheerleading you might need. We’re in this together. xx

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