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.

Moths to a flame(connections, chances and serendipity)

How did you get here? I mean, both in terms of HERE as in this blog and HERE as in this life. Please watch the youtube video below and return to this post:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTef0HWbW_M

I really enjoyed this little film, and found myself caught up in the story, but it made me think about a couple of things.

First, how did I get here? In the first instance of existence, I am here because my father knocked my mother down on a hockey pitch some time in the 50s, noticed each other(as you do when you collide) and things went from there. Here, as in my current geographical location, through a very complex series of events and near misses, and a million other Vivs in a million other locations in the multiverse went elsewhere. (If you meet one, can you ask her where I left my paperback copy of The Four Quartets; it seems to have fallen between universes…or behind the sofa or something? Thanks!)

But here on a blog? That’s down to stepping back from my previous activities and taking a break and seeing what filled the vaccuum. I found my way to the blog world almost by accident. I say “almost” because I don’t really believe in accidents; I believe more in synchronicity. How did I meet you, my various readers? Some I met through the blogs or websites of others, some I stumbled upon. Some stumbled upon me. However we met, I am truly grateful, because the odds AGAINST us meeting are much greater than the odds on meeting at all.

Like the letter eaten by a goat, so many things could so easily have gone astray. You might have followed a different link and ended somewhere else entirely. I know I met Mark through Stories without Words, which is now shutting down. Shiona I met through J…and so it goes on.

But the more I think about it, the more I feel that those who are meant to meet will meet, even if they miss each other several times on the way. My husband and I met through various circumstances, but neither of us had intended to be at the university we actually met at. If not then, somewhere else, a year or maybe more later.

Like moths to a flame in a dark wood, we are drawn to those who share our light and life and we will find each other.  Some day, if not today, then one day, we meet our kindred spirits and soul mates.

Thank you all.

Negative serendipity

We all know the concept of serendipity- the happy accident, the coming together of plans and so on in a harmonious way.

Well, I have a talent for the complete opposite. I’d like to coin a phrase for it but the best I can come up with is negative serendipity.

Let me give you a f’r instance. About two years ago I was in a pub in Colchester, having done a tour and had adjourned with colleagues for lunch. I was standing at the bar waiting to give our orders for food and drink and since it was quite busy, I started chatting with the two guys propping up the bar. One of the beers available that day was called Nelson’s Revenge and I mused aloud about whether that was what the sailors got when they drank the brandy that had been used to preserve the body when it was shipped home after Trafalgar. “Mind you,” I said carelessly. “There wasn’t a lot of him to ship back anyway so it was presumably a small barrel.” The guy closest to me gave me a nasty look and I wondered what I’d said. I thought maybe he was a big fan of Nelson and I was being less than respectful.

But then my tray of drinks appeared, and as I turned to go, the guy I had been chatting with also turned, my way this time and I nearly dropped my tray when I saw he had only one eye and only one arm. He’d had his good side showing to me all the time we’d chatted.

I scuttled back to my table, crimson with confusion and shame and told them what had happened.

I mean, what are the chances of that happening? I don’t think it can be calculated. I could give you example after example of my ineptness, my appalling talent for negative serendipity, but you’d think I was making them all up.

Maybe I should just stop talking. I only open my mouth these days to change feet.