Measure not the work until the day's out and the labour's done. Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I write therefore I am. To tweak Descartes a little. Even he had to take up the pen!
It's what I do, what I have to do. It is the oxygen of life. To live without it is to skate across the bewildering surface of things, loose in the universe and likely to come to grief.
While singing is capable of holding the fort for a while, writing gives the whole of existence meaning, purpose and dimension. It also lends an overarching sense of direction, threaded with milestones. Rather than the reverse, it actually seems to expand time.
In the beginning was the word...and I am in a glorious, perpetual struggle to construe the whole world in words, to tame the worst of it and to catch the wonder of it as it flies. As Robert Browning's Fra Lippo Lippi says:
"...we're made so that we love
First when we seem them painted, things we have passed
Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see."
The epiphany first struck me when I was twelve and confined to bed at home and in hospital for a whole term with rheumatic fever. There was a lot of tedious catching up to do, copying from the work of exemplary pupils at the behest of our teachers. But along with the textbooks and essays came a barrel of goodies, among them a batch of paperback historical novels. English had always been my forte and soon I was itching to try my hand. I came up with a tale set in 1745, the year prior to Culloden – can't remember the title – in which the spunky and beautiful heroine, Kate Barclay (yes, that is rather clairvoyant, though the spelling is different!) and her heroic lover Ashley Somebody, attempted to locate smuggled treasure and were involved in a nail-biting chase by Bow Street Runners.
This colourful tale was destined to remain unfinished. It was back to school with an embargo on sports and dancing for a while. But I had opened the door into a realm I never knew existed, much like Mary Lennox in Frances Hodgson Burnett's THE SECRET GARDEN. Here was a magical retreat from unhappiness. None could enter, nor demolish it. Having been confined for several months without the proper use of limbs, I realised that as long as I had a brain, this sanctuary need never be forfeited.
Well, that was then. The demands of education and the workplace took over the way they do. But I always assumed I'd be an author. I used to daydream during English Literature, as the sun shafted through the high windows on to my halting prose, about getting a novel published before the age of twenty-five. I didn't quite make it, but by the time my first book came out, the precursor edition of DREAMS OF GOLD, I'd written three novels which commanded attention; four, in fact. One I discounted because it was a real muscle-loosening exercise and was too heavily influenced by Jane Eyre – which is surprising since I dislike that novel's air-starved longing.
The apprentice MSS went the rounds of a small handful of publishers. All responded favourably on sleek headed notepaper - they were different days!! - and described them as on the cusp of acceptance, while logging an interest in developments. The rejection slips were to come long after my early published work which included the first edition of MY MOTHER BIDS ME.
By the late eighties, Michael Sissons, the distinguished agent at PFD, asked to see my published novels and called for an interview during which he expressed enthusiasm for the Mary Cole story. Unfortunately, my circumstances were changing at that point. He told me that if I were ever on the breadline, I'd be a bestseller. (He wasn't the first, or the second, to tell me that, either.) But my nerve failed. I needed to try and secure a steady income and, after seven or eight novels, two of them abandoned, the muse was beginning to stall. The phenomenon of 'overwriting oneself' described by Jane Austen was taking its toll and I shelved novel-writing for many years. Sadly, Michael's lists have long closed to new writers.
I write in two genres and always have, historical and modern literary. Because they appeal to different readerships, a pseudonym. Marion Grace, is used for the latter. It may only apply to fiction, the Cinderella of the Arts, but in my view, it's a mistake to assume that because readers enjoy an author's writing in one genre, they will automatically like others. The main thrust of my writing is historical and I use my real name, Rosy Cole, for that. This may, of course, perplex some who will think of that giddy tweenster of Sheila Greenwald's with whom I'm engaged in constant battle for Google ranking!
At present, my head is in editing Book Two of the Berkeley Trilogy, a novelised biography of the enthralling life of Mary Cole, 5th Countess of Berkeley, who quietly and insistently defied most of the female conventions of her day. She is remarkable for having 'done it her way' without rebelling against the social machinery of the Georgian and early Victorian era. Mary was a woman of character, energy, acumen and beauty. She had one or two deadly enemies in high places (whose advances she'd eluded) but, on the whole, people seemed to fall easily under the spell of her gentle integrity. This, in itself, was enough to cause friction.
'In the can', there's a Marion Grace novel, ENTERTAINING ANGELS, awaiting an editing window. It's the story of a dysfunctional family, struggling with the fallout of two World Wars in pre-Millennium Britain. The structure is experimental and I'm not at all satisfied with it. In any case, I usually edit out a quarter to a third of each book before it's done.
There's also one volume of poems and another in preparation. I've been a closet scribe of verse for years, but have never thought to seek publication. This new venture is the result of a warm and enthusiastic response to samples posted on Red Room. The problem with entering competitions and seeking publication under someone else's imprint is that you aren't free to post your poems when and where you like (and where they might very well reach a larger audience.)
Since I became a widow, writing is a full-time occupation. Coupled with the New Eve Publishing imprint, this consumes the greater portion of my waking hours.
I've decided to handle my own work – with the help of a personal contact or two – as I believe it's the only realistic option left for 'midlist' authors. And most authors do fall into this category, if only by default. Life's too short to spend years trying to catch the coat-tails of a dying publishing industry which operates on a presumption of rejection. Fiction is a fickle paymaster and the bottom line is that the trade, while it may take a gamble on clones of blockbusters, does not have the money to risk on unknown writers. There are too many of us for one thing. (Dale Estey's post highlights some reasons offered for turning a book down, when it may simply be that the kitty echoes!) This will not stop a writer tearing his hair out and trying to rewrite his story several different ways in order to appeal to a perceived market.
It's satisfying to be in control of the schedule and the whole creative process of book production. Yes, it does fall behind with unexpected life events, but at least there's no contract to lose. As regards sales, I'm no worse off than mainstream which admittedly wasn't wonderful. Luckily, I have a modicum of experience in publicity and promotion and need to do a lot more on that front when THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS comes out. A trilogy has a different momentum from three unconnected books.
It will always be a major objective to increase core readership and to generate real income, but I'm not looking for the Big Time. To be responsible for the process yourself doesn't cost the earth. Yes, it's a steep learning curve and a challenge to your skillset, but it's a great boost to confidence. I've used the metaphor before, but it really is like pulling out into the fast line and seeing obstacles disappear in the rear view mirror.
So, as long as I'm blessed with a brain, I'll keep writing. As the quote attributed to E M Forster goes: "How do I know what I think till I see what I say?"
Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...