We caught up with writer and editor Jane Riddell, whose debut novel Water’s Edge will soon be available from ThornBerry Publishing.
Let’s get the difficult one out the way – some people view e-books as less legitimate than the printed form. What’s your feeling on this? Do you fear others judging you in this way?
Yes: Deeply engrained in me is the view that mainstream publishing is the ‘gold standard’ of achievement. I therefore tend to make sure people know that I’m being e-published, not simply ‘published’. So, yes, I, too, feel that what has happened is less of an achievement than it might have been and expect others to react similarly.
No: At this point, the pragmatic side intervenes. E-publishing acceptance rates can be significantly higher than conventional ones. In difficult economic times of recession, if I can be successful online, this feels like huge progress. ThornBerry Publishing are discerning in what they select. Their willingness to invest in me is validation enough.
Perhaps I could liken it to hill walking. I have reached the spot beneath the summit. It was hard work getting here, but the view is still glorious. And I might reach the summit one day.
If you don’t mind us making a bit of an assumption, now this particular dream is a reality – or on its way to becoming a reality – how does it feel? Does it look any different to how you thought it was going to look?
The euphoric feeling I had when I heard I was being taken on by ThornBerry has faded, but I still feel great about what’s happened.
For a while I worried that my motivation for writing might lessen now that I’m being published, but I still want to write. The difference is that if I have a bad writing day, I remind myself of my success with Water’s Edge and that this is irreversible – even if no one buys it! And, linked to this, is the need to update my mindset from telling myself that I’ll never get anywhere, to reminding myself that I have.
What I hadn’t anticipated is that along with the sense of being validated is a feeling of belonging in the writing world, especially as TBP encourage its authors to support one another. Admittedly, it’s a bit like ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ – authors agreeing to promote each other’s books in various ways. But as well as the benefits of that additional promotion, there’s also the feeling of being part of something. And this lessens the inevitable isolation of a writer’s world.
Also I’m now aware of not needing to search for smaller forms of validation. Before this happened, I would regularly check my blog stats for any indication of someone reading me. I’d even look through my Flickr photos for numbers of viewers, such was the need for appreciation.
I’m now conscious of thinking for longer before blogging about something. The knowledge that my blog addresses are on my author’s website, which appears on the TBP website, and which people are reading means that I’m less inclined to be frothy.
Another negative, is an awareness that people will feel and react differently to my success. Some are obviously genuinely delighted for me. Others, I sense, are struggling. Although they’ve gone through the process of congratulating me, their subsequent demeanours have suggested less positive emotions. And then there are those who know about my success but haven’t got in touch…. Despite this blunt reminder that not everyone is rooting for me, I’m not deterred from moving on.
What’s next on your wish list?
Three things: firstly, for Water’s Edge to sell well, online. Secondly, for a publisher to decide they’d like to print a hard copy. And thirdly, that the novel I’m currently rewriting will be as good as, or better, than my first one.
Can anyone really do anything new with realism?
The problem with realism is that it’s restricted to… reality. Perhaps the nature of it, more than other genres, requires that it’s written in a compelling way: telling everyday events from unusual perspectives, creating complex characters, including the details that bring a story alive. As readers often want an escape, more is required than just a copycat version of what they might feel they are living. I’m thinking of misery memoirs, where the strength of the writing, and the ability to provide some humour and lightness, keep a reader’s interest, even when the content can hardly be uplifting.
If you received a letter from your future self, what would it say?
July 10, 2009
Well, what a couple of years it’s been. I have to say you have surpassed yourself in terms of rejections received: for your submission of novels Chergui’s Child and Water’s Edge, your short stories and for your English and French language guides. I am filled with admiration for your ability to keep going in the light of all those ‘thanks but no thanks’ letters and emails.
What I’d like to know is: what are you going to do with your lorryful of rejections? They certainly warrant something more post-modern than recycling. Several ideas occur to me. The most obvious is to apply to the Guinness Book of Records. Clichéd maybe, but you’d have a good chance of being successful. I don’t know if there’s already an entry under this category. But if not, you could devise one, pitting your own situation as the gold standard of all gold standards.
How about having a party where the highlight of the evening is The Game? You pick choice sentences from each letter and have your guests guess which literary agent or publisher penned such offensive words.
And finally, I wonder about a collage. You are passionate about colour and having chopped up all those dreary communiqués, surely you could do something COLOURFUL with them? Swatches of richly dyed wool, fragments of dried autumn leaves, broken Christmas tree baubles that you can’t bring yourself to discard.
Think about this, Jane. There’s a devil in you, longing to make something positive out of all those devastating replies you’ve received, to compensate for those tears and rants and plummeting self-belief.
But, moving on, the big question is: what now? I suspect you won’t be resuming your health promotion job when you return to Edinburgh. So, what are you going to do with your time? It will be hard leaving France, so having something to throw yourself into could ease the transition. Have you considered studying for a qualification in Creative Writing? If you decide to do this, research such courses for content and emphasis: some of them may be heavy on literary theory – not your forte!
Another idea is to find a professional mentor. He/she would be objective in ways that friends or fellow writers might find it difficult to be. Being paid, they’d allocate protected time to reading and providing feedback.
Have you tried blogging? It can be a great way to keep your hand in, especially during times of writers’ block or even when you feel your writing is flat. It gets you known, and when you receive feedback on a post, this is really affirming.
Finally, Jane, the big thing, the greatest challenge for you, is to work on your self-belief. Writing, as you well know, is an isolated profession. You alone are responsible for maintaining your motivation, your direction. Not always easy. Especially when external validation can be so important.
With fervent wishes for your future success