A friend gave me details for a competition. It was for new writers published in 2019. The winner’s book is purchased in bulk by certain UK public libraries. That sounded perfect for me because my first novel was published in paperback this year. The submission date was the following day, so a fast turnaround was needed. I had a quick look at what the organisers required and decided I already had a good chunk of that material. I reorganised it a bit and thought, ‘I’ll sleep on it, finish up the draft tomorrow and then I’ll press send.’ But then! “Postal submissions” loomed out of the page as if a trombone had blasted the words out in stereo. There was only an hour to go before the Post Office closed.
One of the things I had to do was put a press release together. Something I’d, you know, sort of thought about, maybe, one of these days, getting around to. I realised the reason I’d never done one previously, was down writer’s block. I just couldn’t work out how to sell myself, my book, and be ‘newsy and punchy’ all at the same time. I have a junk folder full of previous attempts.
My heart sank and if it wasn’t for the amount of hard work I’d put into that novel, over several years, I’d have given up right there and then.
It’s amazing what a bit of pressure can do. It really sharpens the brain. Must be adrenalin causing the neurones to fire on all cylinders. Local Author Launches Book Club Revolution I wrote. Then I began the tale of how I’d written a Sci-Fi novel for my own book club, after they’d point blank refused to read any of my other suggestions. I summarised my plot in a few lines, just rattled it off, which has never happened before. But then things got even better.
I parcelled up a copy of my book and the material requested by the organisers, then jumped in the car and got to the Post Office within ten minutes of it closing. ‘You’re very lucky,’ said the woman behind the counter, ‘I am literally just sealing up the bag for parcel postage now. It will get there for 1:00pm tomorrow if you go special delivery.’
‘I must have meant to be here for you today, just me working or otherwise my colleague would already have had the bag sealed up. You’d have missed it.’
‘Thank goodness’ I said, ‘it’s a competition and I need to meet the deadline, maybe you’re a good omen.’
‘Oh [looking interested], what’s the competition.’
‘I wrote a book.’
‘What [eyes wide], you wrote a book, just like that? As though there’s nothing to it?’
‘Well, to be honest it wasn’t quite “just like that.”‘ [Suddenly realising – actually yeah, me, I wrote one, I did that].
‘Oooooooh. [eyes getting wider]. What’s it about?’
‘It’s a science fiction novel.’
All the spark goes out of those appreciative eyes of hers.
‘But it’s written for ordinary people,’ I continue hopefully, ‘people like you and me. It’s about a woman who finds herself in extraordinary circumstances. It’s set in everyday times and places, it’s not a swashbuckling, laser wielding, alien hunter type of book.’
[The spark’s back] ‘What sort of extraordinary circumstances does she find herself in?’
‘Well, some scientists have been developing an artificial intelligence and they are suspected of causing a near global catastrophe. The woman is appointed by the Secret Service to investigate what’s been happening in the team. But it’s a mystery to her as to why she’s been chosen to lead something so important, because she’s only a junior member of staff and her technology knowledge is at best basic.’
[The spark is back] ‘Does she manage to find out what happened?’ [Definite tone of concern here for my protagonist].
‘She discovers some grave happenings and unearths a history going back decades, which leads her to discover the truth about her own hidden past. It becomes clear why she’s been appointed investigator.’ [And that, is what I’ve been trying to say to everyone for over a year, right there, my elusive elevator pitch].
‘And what’s it called?’ [Reaching for a pen].
‘The Seed of the Violet Tree: a science fiction mystery.’
‘Do you come in here often?’
‘Yes, now and then.’
‘Let me know how you get on with the competition.’ [Looks at me warily as though she can’t quite believe I’m real].
‘Thanks, I will do.’
‘The Seed of the Violet Tree you say?’ [Same look].
‘Yes. By Jude Mace.’
So here’s my tip for writer’s block. Put yourself under pressure to complete a piece of work, then find someone who has no investment in your writing whatsoever, preferably a stranger, someone whose interest you have to engage from scratch. This shouldn’t be about feedback, don’t think of it as a trial for a pitch to an agent and it can’t be a member of your friends and family circle.
Next time I might try picking out some random person on a bus.
I’d love to hear your own story about how you were able to summarise your book and what unlocked the words for you.