Here’s a copy of the bound proof of The Marlowe Papers on my writing desk at the end of 2011. At the beginning of 2011 there was no inkling that such a thing was likely to exist. The novel in verse had been written and the four friends to whom I’d given typescripts had all come back saying it was amazing, but then friends generally say that. That’s why they’re friends. My agent (of a decades standing) had said it was ‘a real treat’ and like nothing she’d ever read before. That phrase set the fuel-light blinking. If you know anything about publishing, you’ll recognise that being like nothing an agent has ever read before isn’t necessarily a Good Thing. If something is not like anything else, it doesn’t fit into a comfortable marketing pigeon hole. You can’t tell people it’s The Next [Insert Successful Author/Book Here]. And my patient agent knew very well (having submitted, and oh-so-nearly-sold three previous prose novels of mine) that I am very good at writing things that editors think are wonderful but the marketing people can’t work out how to market.
Some weeks had gone by and I’d twice e-mailed my agent with ideas of editors who might, nevertheless, be interested in taking a glance at it. No response. This was the engine cutting out and the vehicle coasting to a stop on the hard shoulder. Agents, I’m told, never ‘sack’ their authors. They just ignore them until they go away. So there I was with four-years’ worth of passion-project in my lap and no way forward. How did I turn things around so spectacularly?