Tuesday 6 November 2012


7th November 2011 seems a long long time ago - but it is only a year. An awful lot of firsts have happened since then: 

  • a real first birthday party for a gorgeous granddaughter, 
  • a successful first year completed at Newcastle University for my younger son, 
  • my first trip to Athens thanks to the British Council, celebrating the launch of an anthology, 
  • a first translation of my work into Greek. 
  • I went to Ghent for the first time. 
  • Had my first commissions from BBC radio -  a short short and an appearance on Radio 3’s The Verb, a short story on Radio 4. 
  • I attended my first residential poetry course back in August, led by Pascale Petit and Daljit Nagra, 
  • had my first acceptance from The SHOp in Ireland for a poem I’d sharpened on said course.  
  • I read my first novel by Julian Barnes - loved it - started a flurry of finding and reading his others. 
  • Just been teaching in Vienna for the first time, staying with a writer I’ve ‘known’ on the net for years but have just met for the first time, the indomitable Sylvia Petter.  

All those firsts - and it just goes to prove that life goes on, even after your first novel comes out with a big publisher!
UK paperback

UK hardback

US trade paperback
More firsts. The Coward’s Tale was my first novel. I had reviews  and interviews in the national press for the first time.  I had a book come out in the USA for the first time. A book by meself was chosen as a book of the year (Financial Times, thanks to critic and writer A N Wilson) for the first time. 

Guess what? Nothing changed.

Strange, maybe we writers new to the world of publishing think things are going to change? A bit like waking up the morning after losing your virginity - you expect the world to be different (if I can remember back that far...!) and it just isn’t. Everything looks the same as the night before, and so do you. Ha! 

Oh sure, for a very few writers the world changes hugely.  But for the vast majority - take it from me - the world keeps on turning at exactly the same pace as before.  

So - would I change anything? Not at all. It's been an interesting year, and I have learned a lot.
Did it go as I expected? No!

What advice might I give myself, if I could have a quiet word with ‘Me, a year back’? It would go something like this:

Dear Me,             
           The world of books is a vast and complex one. Your book will fall into the maelstrom like a drop of rainwater into a sea, and become part of something exciting, ever-moving and unpredictable. For all the wonderful efforts of the professional marketers and publicity people, your efforts will be important too. Don’t take your eye off the ball. 
           Don’t expect anything. Be thankful for every review you get, whether from a professional reviewer in the press or from a kind reader on a blog or a website. Don’t keep dates free because there is a big literary festival on that week, and you might just... You probably won’t. 
          Do your best by this book, just as you did when writing it. Start something new, and gradually, gradually, transfer your allegiance. Write another novel. Write poetry. Make a cheeseboard.
                     With lots of love, 



  1. Happy Birthday, lovely book, from me too. Can't agree with you about Mr Barnes' latest though!

  2. Congratulations! Very moving post.

  3. Great post, Vanessa!
    Sometimes I think when you're a novelist starting out, once you've made it through the dash through the slush pile, the ups and downs of rejections and successes and finally found a publisher, you feel like you've made it through a secret door. And then you don't really know what will happen there, but you believe it will be good.
    Perhaps this is why, now that self-publishing is so accessible, people take that route believing that they've found a back door (or a new door - the metaphor may be a bit thin!).
    Anyhows, it's great and sensible advice that you've not arrived. Your book has arrived, perhaps, but you have not, you're still on your journey...
    *Listens and learns*

  4. On behalf of the book, thank you Neil. Didn't like 'Sense of an Ending'? Ah well. The other thing I should have said in my letter perhaps, is that readers' reactions are utterly their own - we can do nowt about the ones who hate our work! Onwards n up.

  5. Thanks Wendus - I was nattering to another relatively new novelist yesterday, and it struck me - why don't we know these things? There is a definite sense of 'this is it... you've got there' because that's what the whole 'learning to write' world seems to focus on. And you haven't arrived anywhere, at all.
    What *has* happened though, is a great validation of your work. And that is marvellous. I am hugely grateful to my publisher, and of course, to my literary agent, for making it happen.

  6. Hi Claire - thanks - I am very glad the post might be useful. I think the back door analogy is actually a very good one indeed, in context. The back door usually leads not to the most beautiful rooms, but to the unpolished engine-rooms of the house. Long live the metaphor!

  7. V - happy happy birthday to the Coward's Tale!! A wonderful year, a wonderful few years, here's to more - with poetry, cheeseboards and the unknown unknowns!

  8. Happy Birthday. And thank you for such a wise, balanced and sanguine approach. The Coward's Tale is a brilliant, human novel that I truly believed would win one of the big prizes this year. It just goes to show how we should never get complaisant. You have demonstrated that the path to write better and write wider - and enjoy it - is never predictable. If you never write anything again, you have achieved so much. Many happy returns.

  9. Nice one, Vanessa! (Both birthday and post!) And I endorse every word.

  10. Humbled to be mentioned in the 1st Birthday firsts and so glad you came to Vienna and that people could hear the voices of The Coward´s Tale.

  11. Thanks T - its simply a wonderful ride. Just think, loads of people my age are settling down by the fire to suck their last remaining tooth..! xx

  12. Hello Sally - and bless you for your wonderful love of The Coward's Tale. It is appreciated so very much. xx

  13. Charles! Thank you - and thank you.

  14. Hello Merc - I had such a great time - came home knackered, but just full of it all. Look after my cupboard! xx

  15. Nice post. Happy Birthday, Coward's Tale!

  16. What a wonderful post, and a lovely letter. I might just copy it and put it over my desk. It's really written for all of us. Congratulations to you and your wonderful novel. I can't wait to meet its future brothers and sisters. xo

  17. Hi Sue, thank you - glad its might be useful, a bit! x

  18. Happy Birthday Coward's Tale - it doesn't seem like a year. Your novel still feels as fresh as when I first read it.

    Very good advice too.

  19. Happy birthday to V's first novel! I treasure my copy of The Coward's Tale and would love you to sign it some day...

  20. Hi Frances (which one...?) will of course sign your copy of The Coward's Tale - with great pleasure!

  21. Happy birthday to a fantastic book, Vanessa!

  22. Hi Shauna - thank you so much! Hope all continues to go well with your own fantastic book! x

  23. Happy Birthday to a great piece of work and its lovely creator! I love your advice about shifting your allegiance to another book. So true, so necessary, so hard. Best, cat