Snakes and Ladders

I have often thought that a writing career is like a lifelong game of snakes and ladders. Sometimes an unexpected ladder gives you a leg up to the next stage. Sometimes - sadly - you land on the square with that horrible long snake that carries you right down to the bottom again. Sometimes both things can happen within the same short space of time. It's been one of those weeks.
A couple of years ago a friend pointed me in the direction of a horoscope site here. Now I normally read my horoscope for fun, without believing any of it, but this lady often seems to be uncannily accurate. Here's what she said: 'As you begin April, Mars will still be in your home sector (fourth house), but will move very close to Uranus until these two planets make an exact conjunction on April 15. On this day, you need to expect the unexpected. What will surface could easily rock you, but there won't be much time to think, for an instant response will be required from you. Uranus rules all things that we would never anticipate - even things that are a bit weird or off the grid.'
I read it at the time, shrugged my shoulders, thought 'que sera sera' and promptly forgot all about it until I arrived home one day last week, checked my emails and found that my agent no longer wanted to be my agent. What she said, among many other extremely nice things about me and my work - with regard to the Physic Garden - was that ' I think it will take real conviction and passion to find the right position for this book, and to guide you forward with your work, and I think that means we will have to part company.' Much later, having picked myself up off the floor, dusted myself down and drunk several large glasses of wine, I checked the date -it was April 15th.
So here I am, looking at my options all over again. I've spoken to lots of writer friends and had conflicting advice. I've had lots of splendid support from the closest of them (writer friends are as essential as breathing - they understand exactly how it feels because it or something very like it, has happened to most of them at some time!)
Oddly - and after I got over the initial shock - it's quite exhilarating. I feel a bit like a kite that has been cut adrift.
But now I have two complete books to sell - The Summer Visitor, and The Physic Garden and my problem is - I think - that they are somewhat different animals. One is 'contemporary women's fiction' I suppose while the Physic Garden is a fairly literary historical novel. My ex agent didn't think it was 'experimental' enough to be literary, but perhaps our criteria of what constitutes literary are different. I've recently placed stories in New Writing Scotland, The Edinburgh Review and with Scottish PEN and all of them have been judged to be 'literary' enough. The Physic Garden is no different, I like to think it's an accurate, intelligent, accessible historical novel - but it is very Scottish.
I can't say I blame my agent much. I might have done the same thing in similar circumstances - and there has been no big falling out. But I do rather wish that she had made up her mind about this some months ago, when I would have been able to remain with the old agency, who even had an agent allocated to me, instead of waiting until her own circumstances - with a number of new and starry clients - forced her to rationalise her list. So at the moment, I'm pausing for thought and considering my options. Since I have recently had some enormously positive responses to my writing here in Scotland, I will almost certainly be looking for another agent. It would be lovely to be able to find a Scottish agent, but I'm aware they are somewhat thin on the ground.
At the same time, however, I'll be sending out the books on my own behalf and letting them take their chances. If the experiences of the last few months have taught me anything it's that treading water is no longer an option.
Meanwhile, the proof copy of my Edinburgh Review story 'Civil Rights' dropped into my inbox - it will be published in May. And I spent a very happy hour or so in Glasgow with lovely producer Turan Ali of Bona Broadcasting recording my story 'The Sleigh'. It was a pleasure to get back into a radio studio after some time, and even more of a pleasure to find that I remembered how to do it - to read with an audience in mind, to manage the technology, and to thoroughly enjoy it as well!
One long snake, two small ladders. Here we go again.

Long Interlude.

Apologies to anyone following this blog - and I know there are some! - for the long silence. I'm currently working at the University of the West of Scotland on a Royal Literary Fund fellowship, and dissertation deadlines are looming - which means that I have been inundated with students seeking appointments for a bit of help and advice. The really heartening thing has been what a lovely bunch of young people they are. I've seen lots of final year education students over the past few weeks and - quite honestly - I would be absolutely delighted if any of them were teaching a child (or should that now be grandchild?) of mine. They are conscientious, polite, committed, imaginative, idealistic - fabulous young people, and a credit to the Scottish education system which has produced them - or perhaps simply a credit to themselves and their parents as well. I've kept up to my own writing - but blogging has rather fallen by the wayside.

Next week, I'm away to Glasgow, to record a short story called The Sleigh for a 'Homecoming' CD for Scottish PEN.

Meanwhile, out of the blue, a theatre company has contacted me - and wants to stage a production of my play The Locker Room. I sent this out a couple of years ago, but had more or less given up on it. When I would occasionally go back to it and reread it, I thought it was a good play. But sometimes you write something which people either love or hate, with nothing in between and this was one such piece of work. The responses to it were completely polarised. I submitted it to the Traverse a long time ago, but the artistic director hated it. He very kindly told me that their reader - on the other hand - loved it, raved about it. I submitted it to the Playwright's Workshop in Glasgow and got an independent reading of such monumental negativity that even I (insecure as I am) could see that another agenda was at work. They apologised and submitted it to another reader - who thought it was the best thing since sliced bread! So it goes. I suspect it has something to do with the subject matter, which is about abuse in sports coaching. Not a bundle of laughs. And something to do with the way it is written which is - I reckon - quite experimental. Written as I would write a poem. I find myself doing a lot of that these days. The Sleigh too is written very much as I would write a poem, and with just as much care, just as much polish and attention to detail.

So - the Locker Room will be produced in Glasgow later on this year. The Sleigh will be available on a CD. And meanwhile - I'm still looking for a publisher for The Physic Garden! Which is Scottish, historical, unashamedly literary - but also, I hope, a damn good story.