Baker Street blues- the secret

I made a throw-away line about a bitter-sweet memory associated with Baker Street and choosing to keep in secret for the time being. A number of people have asked about it and rather than have anyone fretting about it, I thought I might share it now and put you out of your misery(of curiosity).

I liked the song from the moment it came out, when I was about 12 or so, and I always felt the words of the song told a story and like most young people with a creative bent, I made up several stories woven around the lyrics. Back then, a one-night stand was used still more in it’s original context of a single night of a musician playing a gig and then moving on; today it’s used as a term for casual sex, and I guess even then it was moving towards that usage. I have no idea which use Gerry Rafferty meant but being pretty innocent in those days, it was the musical context I took it in.

I don’t even remember the stories I made up back then but in the early 90s when I was in my mid 20s, I was writing quite different stuff. We had also just acquired our very first CD player and were slowly buying music for it; most of our music was still either on vinyl or on tape. I wrote my first adult novel that year, between  summer ’91 when we moved to Nottingham and summer of ’92. I’d never even really considered submitting to publishers before (think about the phrase: does it not sound like an aspectof an S+M game?) but having completed my novel I thought, why not and sent off the first chapter to a number of publishers.

The response over the next few months was enough to knock me off balance. A few rejections trickled in and then, to my shock, I started getting requests to send the entire MS. I say shock, because at this stage, the MS was literally that, handwritten. The first one, from Hodder, sent me into a frenzy of typing up on our computer: it took more than a fortnight. A flurry came in, two via phone calls and I became very excited. The praise in the initial letters was mindblowing. I’d always been sure (in my own modest way) that I had talent but here were people who ought to know, agreeing with me. Even rejections were usually accompanied by a few words scribbled down below the signature, encouraging me.

It was a long while before I realised quite how valuable even these rejections were. For those who are unfamilar with this area, if a publishers’ reader bothers to write something, it means you made an impression, usually a very positive one. Even then they got huge amounts of paper thrown at them. They simply don’t have time or inclination to be kind.

Anyway, the first time a publisher rang me up, I almost fainted. It was one of the big ones and my husband had taken the call. The second time, I had to sit down abruptly and try not to babble inanities. That time it was a smaller independent publisher. He said he’d been blown away by the first chapter and that this alone was an absolute masterpiece. When he and I ended our talk, I went through into the living room where my daughter(then aged about 3) was playing and put on the first tape I found.

It was a Gerry Rafferty album and the first song was Baker Street and dancing(yes, I danced with joy) to that song, with all the delight of someone who had finally made their dreams come true. I was lifted into another dimension of happiness, and since then, hearing the opening bars of that song, I recapture some of that champagne-fizziness and innocent hopefulness.

I said this was a bittersweet memory, didn’t I?

The MS came back a fortnight later. He simply didn’t think it was the right book for him and the middle section didn’t seem to match the start. It was like being told your baby had died in the womb. I wrote back, expressing my disappointment, more because I simply needed to say something to someone. I didn’t whinge. A day or so later, he rang again and talked to me for an hour and a half and the upshot of it was that he wanted me to continue to believe in myself, that I had enormous talent and that I must not give up. He also wanted me to send him whatever else I wrote and he would then introduce me to a friend of his who was an agent.

By the time I wrote my next one, he had ceased taking on new fiction and his friend had retired(or stopped taking on new clients) and I was adift again.

Pretty much the same happened with the other publishers. They liked it, but decided not to take it for whatever reasons. A few years down the line, I had my cerebral event( I blew a blood vessel in my brain) and I stopped writing.

When I began again and tried a second time to get through the traditional route, I did look up the kind publisher but his company was not taking on any new writers and I think he himself had retired or passed on. At this time I got taken for a bit of a ride by an agent who turned out to be no good and even the publishers and agents who liked my work were not willing to take a risk, because of the death of the midlist fiction where most books end up(not bestsellers and not flops but still not big earners)  and I reached the same point of despair again before finding another way.

But there is one more weird twist to this story.

Breese Books, the publisher I had such close dealings with back in the 90s and who forever linked in my mind the soaring saxophone and guitar of Baker Street with the feeling that I had achieved my goals and dreams, did stop publishing fiction for a while and then moved into a niche area. These days they publish books on magic tricks and they also publish a genre of fiction many of you might not even know exists.

In fact Breese Books publish Sherlock Holmes stories written by modern writers.

You really, really could NOT make this up if you wanted to. Baker Street to Baker Street in only 18 years of heartbreak and effort.

Secrets of The Universe (1)

I’ve sometimes got ideas, (often my best ideas) for stories from dreams. The dream world is the door to the unconscious and also to other levels of consciousness too. So since many people including myself  believe that they receive guidance and help from beyond human consciousness through dreams, it’s not surprising that so many breakthroughs and insights come through dreams. Inventions(the sewing machine, the light bulb), discoveries(the double helix nature of the DNA strand) inspirations (poetry, prose, even entire novels, such as Dr Jeykll and Mr Hyde) religious enlightenment and even the location of treasure(the Swaffham peddlar) came through dreams.

Some years ago, the father of an acquaintance of mine started to have very powerful dreams where he felt he was being given important information for humanity. The problem was that as soon as he woke up, he simply couldn’t remember what he had been told in the dreams. Night after night, he dreamed such dreams and in the morning they were gone. He retained nothing beyond the impression that he had been told something of vital importance.

Frustrated and beginning to be distressed about this, he asked for advice and a close family friend told him that he ought to keep a notebook and pen by the bed and try to wake himself up out of these powerful dreams and immediately write down whatever he had understood.

Easier said than done. He sorted out notebook and pen, but waking himself up was so hard. Eventually he hit on the idea of having big glass of water before going to sleep so that the inevitable effects of that would cause his sleep to become lighter and then to wake.

Bingo!

The first night he woke but nothing had been dreamed.

Ditto the second night.

But on the third night, he woke after a marvellous dream, scribbled it down, staggered to the bathroom and back, plunging immediately into sleep again.

The next morning, it was time for the golden revelation. He’d shut the notebook up so he couldn’t glance at it and he brought it down to read out to his wife and son.

Long silence.

“What’s it say then, Dad?” asked the son.

Wordlessly, in fact speechless, the father handed his son the fateful notebook and hid his face in awe as the immortal words were read out:

THE UNIVERSE IS SUFFUSED WITH THE FRAGRANCE OF TURPENTINE.   

So now you know.