‘Often the only difference between a published and unpublished writer is luck.’
I was very lucky to receive an advance copy of TA Cotterell’s wonderful debut What Alice Knew late in 2016. I read it and I loved it. I was delighted when TA Cotterell, who I now know is Archie Cotterell (always pays to ask!!!), agreed to write a guest post for me.
What arrived in my inbox was a piece of writing I feel really describes for many writers the frustration of finding the time, getting into a ‘rhythm’ and producing a piece of writing that one can be proud to say…I WROTE THAT!!
I’ll hand you over to Archie now with links to my review and more information about What Alice Knew further down the post…..
‘What Alice Knew’ is the fourth novel I have written, the previous three ending up marooned with agents or in the bottom drawer.
The idea, which had been milling around for a while, took shape in 2009 after I belatedly learnt a family secret.
It made me think about the parent-child contract in terms of what and when or if parents should tell children their secrets – and what might be the consequences if they do (or don’t).
I live in Bristol but often work in London as an editor so with young children it was hard to find time to write. Generously, my wife Emily let me take two week-long holidays in 2010. I stayed in a friend’s empty studio and wrote, Kerouac-style (minus the drugs), fourteen hours a day. Over two years I edited this stream of consciousness into shape.
Agents were not impressed. Understandably, given they only had a few pages and a synopsis, they assumed Ed was the fulcrum but thought him rather dull. However, I was convinced I had an unusual angle and Alice was the key. I tried to raise her in the mix but finally realized the best solution would be to re-write the book from her perspective.
Deep breath. In addition to changing the voice, I switched Alice from being a GP to being a portrait painter. I’m not sure why I made her a GP initially, as I know nothing about medicine, so it added little to narrative or character. The switch to artist was seismic: it liberated her character and the possibilities of the story and, having read History of Art at university, enabled me to draw upon a subject I love. I also changed the ending. Three endings were discarded for being, respectively, too twee, too melodramatic and too ‘arty’.
And I changed my writing modus. I couldn’t beg more holiday time. Emily, not unreasonably, was losing faith, but my children were older and sleeping in at weekends. I find working at home difficult. I am always conscious some chore needs doing, though, as Emily regularly points out, being conscious of something doesn’t always lead to it being done. I started going to a café in Clifton Village the moment it opened and working for three or four before the family surfaced. Other people’s noise doesn’t affect me.
I found a new rhythm: edit the prior weekend’s work on a Friday night; write Saturday morning; edit Saturday evening; repeat on Sunday and daily throughout family holidays. As the children got older and lay in bed longer, so my hours increased. I finished and edited the book in two years, and restarted the long process of sending it out.
Eventually, my luck turned and it was picked out by an editor at Transworld. That was when the hard work began. Over the next year, I rewrote swathes and cut flab while she and her colleague honed the clean lines of the story.
One day in the café I came up with what became the ending. I immediately realized it was perfect, because it encapsulated everything about Alice and (I hope!) makes the reader realize he or she has read a different, deeper story to the one they thought they had.
The road to publication is, as every writer knows, long and at times dispiriting. Often the only difference between a published and unpublished writer is luck. The advice to anyone trying to write is always the same: keep reading, keep writing, keep believing.
Thank you Archie so much for being so personal in this wonderful post.
I think the process involved for a writer, from that first simple idea to getting a published novel, can oft be forgotten by us readers. We just pick a book off the shelf because we may be attracted by an image, a byline, the blurb, with, sometimes, little thought given to the sacrifices made by the author.
If you wish to hear my thoughts on What Alice Knew, please check out my BOOKREVIEW
What Alice Knew is currently available as an ebook with paperback publication due in May 2017.
How far would you go to keep a secret?
Alice has a perfect life – a great job, happy kids, a wonderful husband. Until he goes missing one night; she receives a suspicious phone call; things don’t quite add up.
Alice needs to know what’s going on. But when she uncovers the truth she faces a brutal choice. And how can she be sure it is the truth?
Sometimes it’s better not to know
Purchase Link : What Alice Knew
Who is T.A. Cotterell:
T. A. Cotterell read History of Art at Cambridge University. He was a freelance writer and now writes and edits for the research house Redburn.
He is married with three children and lives in Bristol.
Follow T.A. Cotterell on Twitter