I expect you’ll both recall that I have been busily writing a book, and have been doing so for some time. I had, in fact, finished it, and the manuscript got well into Version 2.0, which is when my wonderful agent Jill Grinberg gave it a good working-over.
Jill has represented me for more than twenty years. She signed me on the strength of my one academic book, and a very rough synopsis called Thirty Ghosts, and worked with me to get it into a saleable proposition. The result was Deep Time.
She has worked her magic yet again, and following a lot of late-night conversations, email exchanges and a great deal of thought, the draft turned from a long and rambling grimoire into A (Very) Short History of Life On Earth, in which I tell our planet’s history as a narrative, with heroes, and villains, anters vast and deserts idle, and, notwithstanding inasmuch as which, hair-breadth ‘scapes i’ th’ imminent deadly breach, and so on, and so forth, in like fashion. Under Jill’s guidance I boiled down the concept into a killer synopsis.
And, what do you know? We’ve found a publisher who likes it as much as we do. I am thrilled to say that the UK and Commonwealth rights have been taken up by Picador – an excellent fit, as A (Very) Short History fits their mission statement, that ‘we believe the way a story is told is just as important as the story itself’. And, as the editor of Deep Time told me, what you must do, above all else, is tell the story. Good advice to say, and to hear, but harder to achieve.
Quite a lot of the story had been written, in the sense that I had a large pile of words, not all of which were in the right order. While I was putting the synopsis together under Jill’s direction, I was pulling these words apart, rejecting many of them, recycling others, but mostly casting the whole thing anew, and editing it, and editing it again. And then editing it a bit more.
I am now more than half done. The book is due by the end of September, and, with luck and a following wind, will be published in the Spring of 2022, which, as coincidence would have it, is when I turn 60.
Now, I’ve been writing books since my twenties, but take heart from the fact that The Lord Of The Rings wasn’t published until its author was over 60, so I’ll be in good company. But I wouldn’t have gotten far as an author without my agent to offer a sympathetic but critical eye; offer good advice on what will sell; and, let us not forget, fight my corner in the business department.
It has worked out well for me. People sometimes ask me for advice on writing books. My first advice is to get an agent. That’s also my last advice. And, indeed, all the advice in the middle.