Posted on March 7, 2014 - by MG
So far I’ve been to three. (I know, lucky!) First up was Jo Cotterill’s LOOKING AT THE STARS, which was the loveliest cake party packed with other kids authors from Oxford and the environs as well as a bunch of Oxford school’s loveliest librarian. All-round kidlit sugary goodness to celebrate an actually rather serious book about a girl who uses story-telling to help her comfort her family and to survive a harrowing journey of exile.
Then last week, to get down for the first book of Robert Muchamore’s new series ROCK WAR (the link is to an interview he did on the BBC about the new books). The Rock War launch was a rollicking rock and roll party in Camden with invites mocked up as classy rock-concert tickets. Little Daughter and I went with another mother-and-daughter couple, friends from Oxford. The tweens strutted their stuff amongst the hordes of other young people while Clare and I looked wistfully at the buffet table of goodies and wished we maybe hadn’t just stuffed our faces with yummy Chinese street food of yumminess. We also chatted to all the other kids authors who were there, this time the London lot. Robert was busy all evening signing books and taking photos with fans, announcing his imminent retirement, probably, until he decides to launch a comeback.
As exciting as all this was, it wasn’t until the last day of the month that it reached the highlight of book launches, probably for the rest of my year. Because my dear friend Sarah Hilary, a friend since our teenage years, was finally and spectacularly published by Headline with the blisteringly good detective thriller – SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN.
We were probably fourteen years old when we met for the first time. It was outside the stage door of the Rex Theatre in Wilmslow, where we’d both come (alone) to see our favourite actor from TV series Blakes 7, Paul Darrow, starring opposite Rula Lenska in Mr. Fothergill’s Murder. So taken by this event was I that I ended up recreating the scene in what is technically my first novel, the post-modern, experimental Blakes 7 fanfic novel, BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH. (Come on, every writer has a po-mo experimental fanfic novel in the drawer, admit it.)
After having our hearts set a-flutter by meeting the sexy Mr Darrow at the peak of his handsomeness, Sarah and I remained in touch.
From the beginning, Sarah made it clear that she wanted to be a writer. I, on the other hand, had swapped that very early ambition for another, possibly more difficult one – being a film director. We lived quite far apart in Manchester so saw each other intermittently over the next few years, principally to get together to watch Blakes 7. We went to college, the relationship became one of correspondence. Sarah was writing an original screenplay. She was writing an adaptation of a Philip K Dick book. My ambitions to become a film director had been thrown aside, this time for a career in science. Sarah, meanwhile, appeared to be studying something creative and getting on with the plan.
I was fairly certain that soon enough, I’d be seeing movies with Sarah’s name attached as writer.
We grew into our twenties. And lost touch.
Fast forward to 2004. Sarah wrote to me via the website of the IT company I co-founded and where I worked. As it turned out, she lived close by in the Cotswolds, had a young daughter a year older than Little Daughter. We met up. Of course, my first question was – what happened to the writing. Sarah shrugged. She’d gone down the path of getting published – it hadn’t worked out. I’m thinking of trying it, I told her. Have an idea for a technothriller about the Mayan apocalypse in 2012. Good luck, she said, with honesty. It’s not easy to get published, but you should definitely try.
Then we talked about fan fiction. Sarah hadn’t spent years reading and writing fanfic, and was fascinated. Especially to hear that I’d gone cold-turkey on fandom, around 1997. (Yes that is how committed I was to getting published, I even gave up my hobby so that my mind would be clear of Blakes 7 and ready to develop original ideas. )
In the next few years, I began writing seriously. Sarah began to write fanfic. She was really, really good at it. Soon she began to write a literary novel. I loved her first manuscript. It certainly got agent attention. But the usual thing – not quite what they were looking for, difficult to find a market. It was a bit of a re-run of what Sarah had gone though years before. But this time, she didn’t give up. There we both were, bloody-minded and determined to get a book deal.
At Cadbury World, I told Sarah of my planned sequel to Failed Ms #1 – title THE FIFTH CODEX. This eventually became INVISIBLE CITY – my first published novel.
At an indoor kids playground in Carterton, Sarah and I chewed over her own progress with agents. It wasn’t happening. Why don’t you write crime? I said. You certainly know how to write violence and fear and suffering. Crime’s got a lot of that, hasn’t it? You’d be brilliant. Sarah wasn’t sure. I’m not sure I can do plot. One can learn how to do plot, I said, and anyway I think you can. Your books keep me up all night.
So began the Sisyphean task of breaking ground as a new crime author. I won’t pretend to know anything about the genre, except that Scandi stuff is popular, isn’t it? And a cool woman detective.
Finally, about two years ago, Sarah sent me something to read that she was hoping would get a book deal. If not, she was going to self-publish. That ms was SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN. When I finished it I emailed Sarah. I couldn’t imagine a world where this book wouldn’t get a book deal. It had everything a great crime novel should have – terrific structure, a wonderful twist, as well as what had been present in Sarah’s writing from the beginning – wonderful prose and characters. It was chewy, I remember telling Sarah. This one’s going to make it. Just wait.
And it did.