My writing career began as an author of children’s books (under several different names) but as I navigated the choppy waters of motherhood, I discovered that there was a ‘grown-up’ novel in me too, exploring identity and adultery and the conflicting pulls of family life vs lust. Unfortunately my children’s-books agent at the time was not impressed when I tentatively sent her a few chapters.
“Nobody wants to read a book like this,” she said. “Don’t give up the day job!”
I burst into tears at the end of the call and felt like deleting the whole thing. Who was I trying to kid? I should stick to writing about wizards and fairies, and know my place.
“Well, I think it’s good,” my husband said. “Send it to someone else.”
So I did. This second agent was very glamorous and terrifyingly posh and invited me in for a chat. She mentioned sums of money that were beyond my wildest dreams then pursed her lips and glanced sideways at my tatty shoes and the cheap-as-chips dress that was straining around my third pregnancy. “Hmmm, how shall we market you?” she murmured, before asking with a concerned frown, “Darling… are you POOR?”
It’s all relative, of course, but at the time we were pretty strapped for cash. I lay awake at night worrying about bills, and how we could afford new shoes for the children, and were we insane having a third baby when money was so tight, and should I just get a proper JOB rather than trying to pay my share of everything with the meagre sums I earned as a writer… Needless to say, there wasn’t much sleep to be had.
The Are-you-POOR? agent and I didn’t last long (thank goodness) so I approached yet another agent. He was nice, friendly and normal – and, more importantly, had faith in my book. He sent it out to four publishers while I bit my nails down to the quick.
When the phone call came, I was in W H Smiths in Brighton, choosing wrapping paper for a friend’s son’s birthday present. I remember picking up the Spiderman paper (he was mad about Spiderman) but noticed it was a pound more expensive than some ordinary blue paper so put it back again. Then my phone rang.
“I’ve had an offer from Pan Macmillan,” the agent said. “They want to publish Any Way You Want Me, and are offering you a two-book deal.”
Reader, I bought that Spiderman wrapping paper. AND some new clothes for me, the first in a year that hadn’t come from Asda. Then I went home with some fizzy wine and the most enormous smile, feeling as if a new chapter might just be beginning…