Book Week Scotland 2017 is taking place from Monday 27 November – Sunday 3 December.
Welcome to our Book Week Scotland 2017 special. Every day we are featuring guest posts from various Authors with a variety of genres to suit every reader.
Book Week Scotland is a week-long celebration of books and reading that takes place every November.
During Book Week, people of all ages and walks of life will come together in libraries, schools, community venues and workplaces to share and enjoy books and reading. They will be joined in this celebration by Scotland’s authors, poets, playwrights, storytellers and illustrators to bring a packed programme of events and projects to life.
Today @jenmouat_author is here with a guest post called The Big Pitch.
I’m an author. Sometimes I have to repeat that to myself in order to believe that it’s true. I’m a brand new author. I’ve been a writer for years, so, how did the transition come about? The journey from wannabe writer hiding my words from the world to newly published author bravely putting my baby out there was a process, of course, comprised of many moments, decisions, turning points; a lot of help from my friends and a good dose of luck along the way. But it also seems to me to hinge upon one event, certainly one place.
September 2014. Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town. My first ever visit to the Wigtown Book Festival. The area was familiar to me from a holiday a few years back – a marriage proposal no less on a clifftop overlooking Wigtown Bay – and heavenly childhood interludes on the Solway Coast. Those points of reference are sufficient to already anchor me to this place, even before I fall in love with it in all its bookish glory.
Designated Scotland’s Book Town in 1998, Wigtown boasts a huge range of book-related businesses and is apparently home to over a quarter of a million books. One wide street lined with bookshops and cafes. I discovered the town in 2010, my excitement heightened by my shiny new ring, and my imagination sparked by the prospect of a whole town dedicated to books.
There was one bookshop, in particular, set in a chilly stone byre, and I was struck by the idea of a young woman returning to her home town to buy a bookshop with no clue how to run a business, but a burning passion for books. An old friend not seen since childhood answering a plea for help, crossing oceans to come and resurrect a friendship, rediscover the coastal haven she once knew.
I started writing around this premise – I suppose I have been ‘writing a book’ since I was eight, but could ever stick at any one idea. These characters and this location got lodged in my brain and wouldn’t leave me alone.
So, 2014, my best friend reads a few chapters of my book and is excited for more- not yet written. I happen to mention that there’s a book festival we could attend so she can see Wigtown for herself and she needs little persuading. We don’t book anything in advance, just turn up at the box office and scoop up tickets for whatever is left.
I immerse myself in a weekend of authors, books, spoken language, and song – wrapped up in the cosy blanket of our friendship. We are giddy and enthusiastic – we hear a Gaelic poetry reading which makes us cry even though we don’t speak the language.
I sidle up to an author clutching her book to be signed and mumble, half ashamed, ‘I’m a writer, can you tell me how to get published please?’ She gives me some advice, but what stands out is ‘find your inner pushy American’ – to which my companion, who is indeed from the States, quips, ‘she doesn’t need to, she’s got me!’
Sitting in the audience at the next event, my friend nudges me in the ribs, points up at the stage with its now familiar green and white signage, and a nervous author making her way to her seat, and says ‘that will be you next year.‘
So it begins. Suddenly I believe her. My pipe dream turns into something much more purposeful in that instant.
I return home from the festival and write like mad for the next year – alongside my full-time teaching job. My friend continues to read chapter by chapter and doesn’t let me veer off course when the doubts crowd in, as they undoubtedly do. Around Spring, talk turns to publishers. I tell her I want an agent and I know the one I want, but her list is closed to submissions and anyway, I don’t feel the book is ‘ready’ – turns out I will never feel the book is ‘ready’ so this is not a particularly good measure. By the start of summer, my confidence is dimming as I consider the insurmountable obstacles of solo editing – I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing so at this point editing entails guddling around in my book often making things worse, getting mired in minute wording issues. Finding an agent, getting published seem like a very distant point on the horizon.
I am still to cultivate the belief that I am a ‘real’ writer at this point – then, my friend calls me up and tells me the Wigtown 2015 programme is out. She shows me her copy, points to a page. ‘Isn’t that your agent?’ she says.
It is indeed. The Big Pitch: an opportunity for unpublished authors to pitch a book to an agent. Of course, it’s the agent I’ve been coveting – I’ve checked out her authors, followed her on Facebook, got the idea firmly lodged in my head that she is the one for me. Without really thinking about it too much, I book a place. A simple email is all it takes and I have a confirmed slot – fifteen minutes to change the course of my life.
As the festival draws closer my nerves become acute – the book still isn’t finished to my satisfaction, I know there is so much wrong with it, but I have no idea how to fix it and I’ve never pitched anything in my life.
I read about the concept of the Elevator Pitch, think: Great, succinctness is not my strong point!! I have to be brief, concise, clear. I have about three minutes to sell my book. maybe less. The first sentence out my mouth will be crucial – at this point, when someone asks me about my book, I mumble ‘um, well, it’s just . . .’ if I get past this I might start describing the characters, the setting, but I can’t seem to pin it down, encapsulate it in a neat little nutshell.
I turn to my husband for help – the only problem being that he’s not actually read the book (I wouldn’t let him!) I tell him all about it – once I can get past the mumbling, its-nothing-much-really – and he tries to paraphrase back to me what he thinks it’s about. He gets it spot on.
As we talk I realise my novel is about two things: the family you choose as opposed to the one you’re born into, and change within the unchanging landscape of childhood – the power of the memories you carry into adulthood, even if the places and people are never quite the same as you remember.
Once I understand the themes of my book I feel better. I start to believe in it. I keep working, with renewed vigour and purpose. The festival draws near. The night before the pitch I practise it on my best friend in our hotel room.
A sunny morning dawns in Wigtown. The market is in full flow and the marquees are filling up, but I am totally lost in my own head, preparing for the pitch I know could transform everything – and feeling pretty sick. I tell myself I’ve got this, and weirdly I believe it; I’m in Wigtown, the home of my heart. My book is a love story for this place; if ever there was a perfect moment, this is surely it.
Legs shaking, feeling like I’m going into book-related battle, I enter the marquee – okay, only after a fair bit of dithering about whether or not it’s my turn and if they’re ready for me. My agent – I am already thinking of her thus, gives me a big smile and I settle onto a sofa, start talking.
I sell my story. I know what it’s about: books, friendship, family. It’s the fastest, most intense and fabulous fifteen minutes of my life, and I emerge into the sunshine on a wave of adrenaline that carries me all the way along the street, through a maze of book shelves and straight into the pop-up wine bar!
The feedback is good, I am invited to send off the book. They tell me that first novels require lots of work, and fortunately I’m too excited at that point – and too naive – to have any idea what they mean. But that’s another story: of chopping up chapters, killing off characters, ruthless excisions and endless revisions. As I sip my Merlot, tell my friend everything, verbatim, and bask in the perfection of the moment I am completely ignorant of the long road to publication still ahead. And beyond, it certainly doesn’t end there.
Exactly two years after the pitch I’m sitting on a stage on another sunny Wigtown autumn morning with the ubiquitous green and white signage behind me, telling a roomful of people about my book and how I got published – hearing the incredulous note in my voice.
My book is out there, floating around the ether, and actual people have read it – ones not related to me and required to be kind. My writing road still stretches out before me – no doubt still filled with pitfalls and wrong turns; but I’m on it, putting one word in front of another.
Summer at Bluebell Bank is published by HQ Digital. I am represented by Jenny Brown, of Jenny Brown Associates. You can find me on twitter @jenmouat_author and on Facebook – Jen Mouat Author
Returning home is never smooth sailing…
Summoned by her childhood best friend, Kate Vincent doesn’t stop to think. Instead she books at one-way ticket from New York back to Wigtown, Scotland, leaving her glittering new life behind. Scenes of idyllic holidays at Bluebell Bank with the Cotton family dance in her mind, but not everything has stayed the way it once was… Especially when her first love, Luke, returns to town.
Emily Cotton never expected one email, sent off in a wine-fuelled daze, to bring her old friend barrelling through the front door of her dismally failing bookshop. But life for the Cottons isn’t what it once was; Emily’s brothers are hardly speaking, her beloved grandmother isn’t quite the same and Emily…well, Emily is the one most in need of Kate’s help.
Kate has given herself until the end of the summer to stay in Wigtown. Can she bring the Cottons back together, and save the family who once saved her?
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