from Totally Fushed, October 2007
‘I think this is crap, basically,’ John Douglas said to me. The ex-English teacher and I were sitting at opposite ends of the kitchen table in my parents’ house in Connemara, Co. Galway. It was well into the night, and we both had copies of the second draft of my book, Two in a Million, open in front of us. This was the third night in a row that John had come to the house to go through his ‘notes’ on my draft. He was currently cutting into a section where I apparently sounded like ‘Prince Charles describing his day’.
And I was getting pretty pissed off. I’d spent months writing this draft. Not to mention the fact that the book was so completely personal – an attempt to get down on paper all my years of going in and out of Crumlin Hospital.
The first draft of my memoir, I acknowledged, was the worst thing I had ever written. I had no idea how to write a book – it was like throwing eggs into the sea and hoping to hit fish! But I felt I’d really made improvements with this second attempt. When I’d read it myself after I finished it, it’d felt like a book – maybe not a completed book, but a definite beginning. It was quite annoying to now have my eggs thrown back in my face!
Of course, it was only after he’d left that I realised JD wasn’t throwing eggs in my face. He wanted my book to succeed and so he wanted me to cut out the rubbish and get to the core of the story. At least, that’s what I assume he wanted. Maybe he really does just like insulting me. Or maybe it’s both.
Anyway, after I had absorbed the comments of JD and a couple of other friends, I sat down to chisel out Draft Three. There followed another draft after this, before I felt ready to chance sending samples to publishers.
I remember the first rejection letter I got. It was from an English publisher, and it was a standard, we’re-too-busy-to-even-put-your-name-on-this-but-good-luck-with-finding-somebody-else affair. My second rejection was from an Irish publisher, and came in the form of an email. This one did at least feature my name. But as I read it, I found myself spontaneously humming Billy Joel’s Say Goodbye to Hollywood.
It was time to go back to the chopping board. I still had not succeeded in getting a publisher to read my whole book, only samples. I needed a book makeover – a bookover! I sliced 15,000 words off my manuscript. I also decided to send different samples the next time around. I revised the covering letter I’d been sending out with my samples. And, I changed the book’s subtitle. Instead of the somewhat obscure Two in a Million: Reflections of a Life with Fanconi Anaemia, my memoir was now simply called Two in a Million: A Love Story about Illness. It was now July 2007, and I was ready to restart my search for a home for my baby.
About a year before, around the same time that my first samples were posted and emailed to publishers, I had contacted an agent, Jonathan Williams, whose name I had found in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. I spoke to Mr Williams on the phone, and he told me it was a difficult time in the industry for books like mine. The market was geared towards chick lit and crime fiction. Things that would have got picked up even a few years ago, were no longer being picked up. Mr Williams said he couldn’t represent me himself, but he made a few suggestions – among them, sending my book to A&A Farmar, a relatively small publisher based in Dublin, which published biography and autobiography, as well as books on history, food and wine, and a host of other non-fiction subjects.
In July ’07, after receiving my rejections from other publishers, I finally got round to getting in touch with A&A Farmar. A week after I sent off my samples, my phone rang. It was Anna Farmar. We talked about my book and her company, and how they seemed like a good match. ‘Although obviously,’ she stressed, ‘no commitment has been made at this point.’ She praised me (‘I was very impressed with the vividness of…’, ‘You have a real gift for writing…’); I praised her (‘You certainly have an impressive list of books on your website…’). In the end, she said she was ‘very much’ looking forward to reading the full manuscript of Two in a Million, which I told her I’d email straightaway.
This was it! Someone with the ability to publish it was going to read my whole book! I knew that, if I was ever going to get it published, this was probably my best chance.
There then followed weeks of waiting. After five weeks, I developed this bizarre, constant buzzing in my head. If I smashed my skull open, I wouldn’t have been surprised if a load of bees came swarming out. But I couldn’t let the bees out; they were flying round and round, dropping worries into my brain: They hate the book. They’ve forgotten about me. They hate the book so much they’ve forgotten about me. They’re all dead. I thought about all the work I’d put into making my baby – the routines I’d kept in Connemara, where I did most of the work, often staying up for 24 hours straight to write; sleep had become an inconvenience. I thought about how ‘writing my book’ had become an excuse to avoid ‘normal’ stuff like getting a job, going on holiday, or just being up in Dublin with my friends. Only one thing could justify my efforts: someone agreeing to publish me.
Nearly six weeks passed since my phone conversation with Ms Farmar. Then, reasonably late one night, I arrived home after a cinema-then-drinking session with a friend. I flipped open my laptop. There was an email from Anna. She said she really liked my book, as did the A&A Farmar reader. Two in a Million was ‘well-written’, ‘often very gripping’, and ‘valuable and interesting’. There were sections that needed editing, but… provided I was willing to work with an editor, A&A Farmar would be ‘proud’ to publish my book in 2008.
After receiving this news, I went out to the night. I hoped the fresh air might help me absorb it better. I started calling people, but, of course, no one was answering their phone at 1am. I couldn’t contain myself! I told my parents and sisters, and they refused to stop smiling.
It’s now over a month later, but I still keep thinking someone at A&A Farmar is going to ring me up and say, ‘Sorry, we thought you were someone else.’ As I write this, I’m waiting to have a meeting with Anna to discuss a contract, and to be introduced to my editor. But assuming everything goes to plan, my book will be published, and people I’ve never even met will read about my life, and I’ll be able to get drunk at a launch party! The world seems a kinder place now than it did before.