Kate Walker is back at the Pink Heart Society, talking about her take on Spring Cleaning...
No - not the cleaning your house and getting rid of the dust, washing the curtains and throwing out the rubbish sort of ‘spring cleaning’...
Well, yes, perhaps I do mean some of that. It’s Spring. Or it’s supposed to be but the fact that there is rain/sleet lashing at my windows and the drop in temperatures that makes me want to add another layer of clothing or – can you believe it – put up the heating; makes me doubt that it really is Spring.
But there is a new degree of light in the days and the evenings seem so much longer than before, enough to make me thinks about cleaning and sorting and organising. We’ve had the bedroom and the hallway newly redecorated. This week, new wardrobes are being put in. And that means that my clothes - which are currently lying on top of the spare bed, waiting for somewhere to put them into – will all need to be sorted, ready to go back into their new spaces.
No, not all of them. This is my opportunity to organise and prune – put the clothes that don’t fit/I don’t wear/don’t like anymore into bags for the charity shop and only the ones that will earn their keep are staying and going back into the cupboards for the future.
While I’m waiting for that to happen, I’m sorting out my office. The same process is happening here., I need to organise, prune, plan – and only things that will earn their keep are staying as the need for space means I can’t keep everything.
|'Historic document' - the original of The Chalk Line|
Books – oh dear, this is hard, but some of the hundreds of books just have to go. The ones I’ve read and am not likely to read again – ever. The ones I tried to read and have had to admit I’m giving up on them.
I can usually manage to persist with most books – five years at university and 2 degrees gave me the staying power to keep going most of the time. But there are some I just have to admit are not for me – so they are really just clutter.
And I’m not going to part with my collection of signed books – signed by friends or authors I’ve met or my precious collection of signed Mary Stewart first editions. They’re not clutter by any meaning of the term.
I have such a collection of foreign editions - more than I have shelf space for – so I’m always on the lookout for charities or libraries or community projects what will be able to use the editions of my books in German or Italian or French – or Japanese... but when I get into my writing files – that’s when things slow down considerably.
So I have my old ‘novels’ – all in longhand, all filed away, gathering dust. Surely these should end up on the ‘discard’ pile – to be shredded or burned and stop them wasting space.
I’ve kept everything I wrote – from my childhood scribblings to the ‘failures’ in my first attempt at writing for Harlequin. They might not have worked when I wrote them but, in the main, they have been rescued, reworked, revived. and finally – hurrah – published.
I always advise my students to hold on to their first attempts – and their second... Those stories are like seeds, lying dormant in the dark, waiting for the author to return to them when she knows better what she’s doing so that they can be revised and polished and turned into successfully published novels.
I did this with ‘Garrett Of Stoneroyd’ first written in 1983 - and returned to me with the comment that it ‘failed to deliver the vital emotional punch’ (how many of us have had that criticism of our work? ‘Garrett’ became Broken Silence. Then there was Chase the Dawn – the book I hoped would be my second published novel after The Chalk Line, but I was trying to write it at a bad time – my mother was dying of cancer and the book just never took off. Some years – and a couple of rewrites later – it was published in 1989 . But my favourite ‘write-off’ book is the one that a long ago editor (who shall remain nameless) told me Harlequin would never publish because my hero was so adamant that he never wanted children.
Hmm – I was so convinced by that adamant declaration that I pushed the ms to the back of the filing cabinet and tried to forget about it. But it wouldn’t be forgotten. And Morgan, my ‘non-family oriented’ hero just wouldn’t leave me alone until I’d told his story. I did that, reworking the original with a much more sympathetic editor - and His Miracle Baby was published nearly 8 years later – and has been one of the most popular books I’ve ever written with huge sales that are still mounting up.
So – the lesson is as I said before. Don’t throw anything away. It can always be looked at again, reworked, revised – and may well be published at a different time, in a different publishing climate.
I have the perfect example of this with the book out this month by one of my past students. Rachael Thomas brought her first draft of a story to the one-to-one I ran at the Fishguard Advanced Romance Writing Course 4 years ago. That version didn’t work but I knew Zafir and the horse whisperer heroine Destiny’s story had potential. So I was delighted to see it reworked and ready for publication as The Sheikh’s Last Mistress out this month.
Of course there’s one script I have never tried to rework – Double Love was the very first thing I wrote aimed at Harlequin Mills and Boon and it’s the one that came back fast, with just a printed rejection slip. I’m not surprised. It was not good! But I keep it to remind myself of how bad my early attempts could be. I haven’t even dared to look at it for years.
But I’m still sticking by the important point - don’t throw away, shred or burn anything you’ve written because, no matter how small a bit of it – a single line, a theme – a character that might be worth saving, It might just give you the seed that could, open out into a whole new story. If you’ve put it away for 6 months – a year – you might just see it with new, objective eyes, and find a way to take that old, messy story and turn it into something new and exciting.
I’m only sorry that I have no more ‘unsuccessful’ novels left. Though perhaps in this time of spring cleaning and looking back at older stories perhaps I might have another look at Double Love...
Or then, perhaps not.
My latest Modern Romance/Harlequin Presents was Destined For The Desert King - which was published in December 2015 and I'm thrilled to say that my earlier 2015 title Olivero's Outrageous Proposal has been republished in the Best Of The Year Collection.
A new title Indebted to Moreno will be published in October this year - and if you missed A Throne For The Taking the first time around, that will be reprinted in the 3 in 1 By Request Collection: Claiming His Princess in August 2016.