A couple of weeks ago, I attended my first SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) event: a talk and one-to-one session with Amber Caravéo and Joanna Moult from the newly created Skylark Literary Agency. I'd already sent them my first three chapters and synopsis and was very curious about their reaction, having not had an agent read Not Even Myself before.
The event was held in Foyles in Bristol. It was lovely to meet Jo Thomas, SCBWI co-ordinator for the SouthWest, and many other SCBWI members. Children's writers really do seem to be the friendliest, most supportive people around! The talk began with Amber and Joanna explaining their background (as editors in various big publishing houses) and why they had created the Skylark Literary Agency - chiming with Imogen's Cooper's desire to nurture good writers and create the very best books.
They went on to talk about their role as agents and I sat there thinking how lovely they are and how nice it would be to have them as agents - their passion, kindness and professionalism added up to me in the same way that Imogen's does.
It's too dark
I grew increasingly nervous about the one-to-one, caring about what these people would think of my novel - the novel I've been working on for over five years now. Chatting to the other writers was comforting but my palms were sweaty and I kept thinking how lovely it would be if Amber (who I was to have my one-to-one feedback with) liked my writing enough to take me on. Yes, I was dreaming, but I couldn't help myself.
For starters, Amber was really encouraging. She made every effort to compliment my writing style and put great emphasis on how she couldn't find fault with what she'd read. BUT, and it was a humdinger of a but, she thought my main character, Millie, was unlikable (oh) but that could be rectified with her engaging more to her friends and family, at least in the beginning, and - here it comes - the whole premise of the novel was "too dark."
In the moments that followed, I could have cried but managed to vaguely hold my nerve. This is a novel about psychosis, it is not ever going to be a breezy walk in the park. But too dark? My novel whizzed through my head. Is it too dark? Are there enough lighter moments within it?
Amber sensitively reminded me that my writing is great but my head echoed with the idea that I may well have spent five years writing a story that is unpublishable. I thanked her, because opinion, no matter how unexpected, from a professional (or from anyone you have faith in) should always be listened to, considered. Writing, no matter how it often feels, is not a solitary occupation. It is a team sport. Opinions, like Amber's, shouldn't make you defensive (or crushed, as is my first reaction) because it's just that, opinion.
Having promptly sent my novel out to my excellent writing group friends, and my more excellent mother, to read through entirely and decide whether it is too dark, I've had two weeks to let the feedback process in the background. My heart believes my story isn't too dark but perhaps there is a need for some further editing, to ensure Millie's preoccupation with the water isn't overdone to the point of irritation.
I am happy she thinks I can write, an opinion that's much nicer to hold on to. But I can't just ignore her other, less complimentary thoughts on my story. Sometimes, opinions confirm what we thought already but hoped no one else would notice. And sometimes an opinion can be like a hit from behind, unexpected and painful. Whatever, it should always be considered, bearing in mind the story is your own and what may be one person's opinion, may not be someone else's.