I had no idea on that sunny July morning that my life was about to change. It wasn't a very typical morning, actually. I was on a course all week, not at my desk, and was enjoying the short hours and the socialising. I'd found a nearby independent cafe that sold delicious vanilla lattes and was consuming two a day. At 1pm, idly checking my email on my lunch hour, I saw it. And that's when my life changed.
But there's a bit of backstory, first. I had written a novel, sporadically, over the preceding few years, and finally queried agents the previous summer. After a few full manuscript requests and quite a lot of angst, it was roundly rejected. I researched the querying process, then, though, and I realised that my rejections weren't absolutely typical. Only a few were form rejections, and most of the others said things like, "send me your next novel, if you write one," and "you write really well, but I'm not sure this has a big enough concept for a debut into publishing." I considered those rejections, and tried to categorise them in my mind not as "no"s, but "nearlys". Agents are very busy people, I had learnt, and they did not say things like that to take the sting out of a rejection, or to appease a new writer: they would only say those things if they really meant them.
And actually, I thought to myself, when was the last time I considered what I wanted to write about? Had I ever? I had been writing "my novel" for years, plodding along, not really considering if I was still telling the story I wanted to tell. Just writing the next chapter, the next, the next. But when I sat down on a November evening with my brainstormer - my father - with a pot of tea between us, I realised I had another story I wanted to tell: a bigger story. Hopefully a better one.
I wrote every single day for the following 6 months. Christmas Day. New Year's Eve. Through a vicious winter cold. I printed out the nicest rejection and framed it and set it next to my bed. It spurred me on through the inevitable self doubt, plot problems and unpleasant sudden thoughts that came from nowhere and told me I was wasting my time. It will be worth it, I told myself. It was now or never: I did not want to squander this agent interest. I did three drafts: a first draft where I told the story, a second draft where I deleted slow scenes and moved things around, and a line-by-line edit.
Without really thinking about it too much, I sent it off to all of the agents who had invited me to send my next piece of work, and promptly boarded a plane to Mexico. It wasn't really the same as the previous summer, where I spent every other minute refreshing my inbox. There was less angst. My story had been told, and that was - in a funny sort of way - almost enough for me. I received the first full manuscript requests in Mexico, and had to send holding emails to everybody as I didn't have the manuscript in my email to send (a good quality problem to have).
I sent the fulls on my return and then started enjoying my summer. I was still working long hours in my day job - I am a trainee lawyer - but not having a novel to write had given me the illusion of bags of free time. I went on summer walks, stayed up late drinking wine in my garden, took long baths and went to a festival.
So there I was, a beautiful day in July so warm that the course venue had put their air con on which chilled my shoulders pleasantly, about to open an email that would change my life.
I saw Darley Anderson's Clare Wallace in my inbox, and realised what it was a split second before I clicked it. She'd had the full for three weeks. It was bound to be a yes or a no. And that's the thing with publishing; for such a subjective industry, it actually boils down to quite black and white facts: agent or not agent. Publishing deal or no publishing deal. I left it ten minutes, the idle summer days suddenly forgotten, confronted with how important this had become to me. And then, out in the corridor, holding my half-eaten sandwich, I opened it.
She loved my book and wanted to meet.
And that was the email that changed my life and - more importantly - showed me in the best, most concrete way possible, to never, ever give up.
Gilly McAllister is a trainee solicitor and professional worrier. She is owned by a large ginger tom cat.