Monday, 14 February 2011
Being between houses is proving to be an enlightening experience. Did you watch Mary Portas on estate agents the other night?
Prospective Purchaser: 'Which direction does the house face?'
Indifferent Estate Agent with Provocatively Spiked Hair: 'West. Of course, West is the new South.'
Like 50 is the the new 30. Grey is the new Black. Going out is the new Staying In. Rejection is the new Acceptance...?
It's no coincidence, I think, that estate agents are the keyholders to prospective houses, just as literary agents are the gatekeepers for publishing houses.
A friend gave me some very good advice. 'Choose a flat,' she said, 'that will encourage your creative self to grow.'
Which put a whole new slant on my flat-hunting. Yesterday, I got very excited about an immaculate looking flat, minutes from the river. I made an appointment to see it. It was very...nice. Spacious, well proportioned, with a view over palm trees and gardens at the back. Brand-new bathroom and kitchen. Just the one patch of damp. Within my budget. What wasn't to like? I was enthusiastic, spoke of coming back to see it in the daylight. And yet there was a curious emptiness in my heart. You see, it didn't speak to me. It didn't respond. It didn't say: Yes! You're the one that I want. I found myself trying to fit my creative life into it, and my heart didn't sing at the prospect. I won't, after all, be going back.
A few days earlier, I saw another. Smaller, infinitely mankier, full of a jumble of wires and extension leads and tenant's clothes. Mould on the bathroom tiles, leaking Velux windows, sloping attic walls. Way over my budget. And yet... I think my creative spirit might flourish there. The place said 'hello' and smiled.
It brings to mind a line from the I Ching, the Chinese Book Of Change: Nurture an atmosphere in which things can grow. Such an atmosphere, for me, is one of responsiveness. I love places that speak to me, people who I respond freely and warmly to and who respond to me: people with ideas, enthusiasm, passion and depth. People who, as my friend said, encourage my creative spirit to grow.
It was this sense of reponsiveness and enthusiasm that Mary Portas was attempting to foster in the estate agents, and by the end of the programme they were models of the breed - especially the spiky-haired one. They listened to their clients and generally behaved in a very human way.
One of the most challenging things about the writing process is living with a longing for response, yet knowing that this isn't the way the publishing industry works. The submission process can be like having a conversation with a person who ignores what you say, makes you wait so long for an answer that you've forgotten the question and who is continually looking over your shoulder for someone more interesting to talk to.
A three month wait in the publishing world is nothing. A writing friend recently followed up the progress of his manuscript with a publisher to whom he'd submitted a year ago, and was told that, whilst his manuscript was still in the system, they had a large backlog of manuscripts ahead of his, so could not give an estimate of when it would be evaluated. They did apologise for the delay and inconvenience, but it's hardly the ideal scenario. Writers write because we want to communicate. We want a response. We feel happy when an agent or editor acknowledges our entry to a competition or submission with an automated reply. Even a rapid no - painful as it is - can sometimes be better than a long-drawn-out one.
Recently, as I mentioned in my last post, I had the good fortune to submit to a small, independent publisher. Since doing so, they've responded to my emails in a manner which is welcoming, friendly and encouraging. This is a publishing house where, I think, my creative spirit could grow.
So don't give up. You can walk into many, many houses and receive no response. You can be cold-shouldered by the agents and the houses may not speak to you. And then, if you're really lucky, you may find an open door, a warm fire, the smell of baking bread and a feeling that you've come home.