Yeah, I am a failed writer. And not just once. Several times. A multiple failure, I suppose you could call it. I’ve submitted novels, novellas and short stories to various agents, publishers and publications over the years. And if I totted up all the rejection emails I’ve received then it’d probably be the length of a short story itself. That’s a whole lotta failure, folks.
Ok, ok, yes, I’m being slightly facetious. I’ve had a couple of successes. One novel published by a small press and two short stories published in a couple of anthologies isn’t nothing, and I’m extremely grateful for those things. In fact the more I think about them the more I feel that they are quite impressive achievements.
But since then? It’s failures all the way down, baby.
But hold on. I’ve already spoken about rejection a couple of times before this, and about trying to control the narrative of your own story. All the failures mentioned above are because I’m entering into a game in which the parameters are rigidly defined so that the chance of victory is exceedingly, vanishingly small. Like buying a lottery ticket. You can enter the lottery, for sure, but you have zero control over the process. Ok, you do have some control; you can polish your query letters, write a great synopsis, and most importantly write a fantastic book. But you can’t control an agent’s mood, or tastes, trends in the market (they move so quickly that to respond to them in such a slow-moving business as writing and publishing is all but futile) or responses, and you certainly can’t control the tens of thousands of others competing for that one jackpot against you.
So yeah, I failed at that game.
If I rewind ten years or so, to when I started to seriously write again (I wrote quite seriously until I left university, and then got swept up by sorting out the important things like job, career, house, and family, and didn’t write anything for a decade or so), I recall that I was inspired to write by the sheer beauty of the valley in which I was sitting in the middle of Sri Lanka. The place was called Nuwara Eliya, or Little England.
It was such a beautiful place, dotted with waterfalls and sweeping valleys, tea groves and bisected by a spectacular old steam railway line, that I immediately realised I wanted to write, and I fell into it. There was no sense of longing, in looking at that wonderful place, for the chance to submit anything I might write to an agent. Or even to have anything published. In that moment of ideational inspiration, I simply felt moved to create something. That’s got to be the game. The rules are your own. I can set my own challenges, and my own marks of victory. Completing a book; that’s a great victory. Completing two? That’s a great victory.
In the great games, you need rules. But entering into a game where it’s all but impossible to win sucks the joy out of the game. So I’m retiring from that game, and returning to a simpler state of just writing for the joy of it. I can win that game, and win it well. I’m minded to consider those terms I wrote about last time – phylae sophia and phylae nokia. The idea of being in love with victory can easily be interpreted as a negative characteristic, but I don’t think that’s the case. Victory is hitting the mark, doing what you set out to do – but when that victory mark is all but impossible, you fall short. I can revel in victory when I set the terms myself. And when I set the terms of the game – for example, by choosing to publish my own work, or even just by writing this blog about publishing my own work, or publishing some stuff on the blog, then I move into a space where I can pursue a victory, but also gain wisdom. I enter into a state of being more balanced between those two states of phylae nokia and phylae sophia – respectively love of victory and love of wisdom. And in that state I can move forward, and rediscover the joy (and utility) of simply being, of living.
So this is an admission of failure; I’m retreating from the game because I failed to win, like 99.99% of all others who enter into it. But that was an old game. And already I feel like a success.
Starting from this coming Friday I’m going to publish, in serialised form on the blog, a series of urban fantasy novellas. Each one is set in a different great city of the world, and features characters who dig into the past of the city and find things that they did not expect. In all honesty, they are weird, a bit different, and they hop genres quite a bit. Plus being novellas they are all but unpublishable. But I had great fun writing them, and if anybody gets any pleasure from them, then I’ll be absolutely delighted.
The first, Resurgam, is set in London. The second, The Gigantomachy Of Antonios Costas, is set in Athens; and the third, The Rings Of Saturn, is set in Madrid. That’s a really bloody weird one, that.
I’m publishing Resurgam first. It follows Vivienne, a science editor for a London newspaper who gets dispatched to a charity fundraiser to cover the event. She finds herself drawn to Ignatius, a strange man who likes to play with fire, but finds herself Scullyishly refusing to believe what she sees because of her scientific background. It features odd cults, secret London locations, and ancient magic that has used fire to shape the city of London over many centuries. Chapter One drops this Friday!