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CATRIN COLLIER - FORUM

CONTACT ME ON E-MAIL - Catrincollier@aol.com

 

“PEOPLE LIKE YOU DON’T BECOME WRITERS” 

Sound advice given to me by one of my teachers based on her observations of me as a child. I’m grateful, because she imbued me with the determination to prove her wrong.  

I received so much generous assistance help from other writers and industry professionals when I started out that I’ve decided to start 2016 by writing a “book” history of my career starting with my first, a crime, Without Trace, published as Katherine John by Random House in 1989.  Anyone reading this in the hope of finding practical advice to assist them in developing their own career is likely to be disappointed. These epistles will be more a series of lessons in how not to do it.

All I ever wanted to be was a writer. The turning point came when I joined Swansea Writers’ Circle in 1977. (I’m still a fairly active member) I found scores of like-minded people who dreamed of publication and they taught me a crucial lesson. In order to become published you have to write for markets.  Obvious? Not to me at the time. I assumed I could sit in my attic (metaphorical I worked in a garage) and when I finished my masterpiece the world would beat a path to my door.

Thanks to the wonderful people in the circle, who became my closest friends, I found myself published by magazines such as Secret Photo Love (the stories not the graphic novel bits I could never fit the words I wanted into the balloons  - although I did the horoscope when they were pushed – “Wear something blue today and you will meet the love of your life”). I was in good company Alexander Cordell confided he began his career writing for Red Star and Iris Gower was writing for Loving magazine at the time. I wandered into theatrical play writing for a while until one of my plays was banned the night before it went “on the road” but that’s another story.

Every month we had visiting speakers, including a Mills and Boon author who had made her first million from her books. Within twenty-four hours ninety per cent of the circle were attempting their first Mills and Boon. I wrote 17 - A Touch of Fire . . . A Touch of Class . . . A Touch of Style . . . they’re  hidden somewhere in my attic. In the 1970’s, Mills and Boon editors were kind. They never said “Go away you can’t write romance” as they should have. But neither did they buy one my manuscripts. Their reaction was always the same - rewrite - rewrite – rewrite – followed by “return to the drawing board and start another.”

I was working full time and had three children under five. The only time I could write was between midnight and four in the morning because my children objected to sleeping. One morning around three o’clock I looked at what I’d written and faced the devastating truth. I never would be able to write romance.

The following night, I disinfected my study of romance, sat before my typewriter (yes I’m that old) and created a tall handsome black haired blue-eyed incredibly good-looking character (I based him on a favourite Hollywood actor) and “disappeared” him in the first chapter. When I brought in the police officers to investigate his vanishing some were short – some fat – some thin, all had character flaws.

It took me six months to finish what would become “Without Trace.” An agent with Syndication International had sold some of my magazine work to Sweden and Botswana including one of my rejected Mills and Boon’s. Poor Sweden. As I hoped to publish in the UK I asked him to give me the names of three agents I could try. Two didn’t return my calls, by switchboard fluke I was put through to a director of the third company. He agreed to look at Without Trace (I suspect only to get me off the line). That was in May 1987. In December 1987 he sent me a contract to sign up to the agency and invited me for lunch. In December 1988 he telephoned to tell me he’d sold the book to an editor at Random House who’d rejected it the year before.

The manuscript needed a great deal of work and by the end of it I felt I knew the editor well enough to ask why she’d rejected a book one Christmas only to pick it up the following year. She told me in 1987 visitors were coming for Christmas her children were ill and she couldn’t face any editing. The following year her husband took the entire family to the Caribbean to make up for the previous year’s disastrous Christmas, she recalled reading Without Trace and thought she might like to do some editing while lying next to the pool. 

When I wrote Without Trace all I wanted to write was tragedy – now it’s comedy. I was working as a Management Consultant interviewing long term unemployed clients who wanted to return to work. My editor telephoned me during one such interview. She was furious because I’d killed Trevor Joseph in the last chapter. (He had a very touching deathbed scene) We had a heated argument, which ended with me saying. “If I can’t kill Trevor Joseph I’ll severely maim him”. I slammed the telephone down to see a white faced trembling client staring at me through terrified eyes.

Trevor Joseph lived. It was the first but not the last time an editor proved me wrong. I’m glad Trevor lived. I’ve become quite fond of him and I’m now penning my ninth Trevor Joseph book. The Vanished.

If there’s any advice in this it’s don’t ever take professional criticism as personal. Always remember an editor’s professional reputation is linked to yours. They can be wrong but they only want the best for your work and in my experience their advice is always well meant and sincere. So when you get your next rejection (and we all do) it could be that the editor isn’t feeling well, or your work REALLY doesn’t fit the list – or the editor is changing jobs.

One of my agents sent a manuscript of mine to a major publishing house. In due course we received the standard – “this doesn’t fit our list.” He sent it to the next house – the same editor (she’d moved) sent a less kind rejection letter – he sent it to a third the same editor had moved again. That time we received the positively unkind, “Why is this Boys Own and Woman’s Own with sex following me around.”

Editors like writers are only human – nothing personal.

Next time I’ll write about the book that I spent ten years working on that spent twenty five years in a drawer and Hearts of Gold the book I never wanted to write that became a BBC worldwide mini series

The following is an extract from Without Trace, written as Katherine John and published in 1989 by Random House, 1990 paperback Headline, 1995 St Martin’s Press, USA, 1990 as Beze Stopy in Czech and 2006 Accent Press and 2015 Amazon Encore 

The landscape behind remained unchanged except for a darkly wet slick of gore that slimed off the road into the undergrowth.  The gleam of gold on the eastern horizon intensified, lightening the sky to a translucent shade of opal.  Rain began to fall.  Slight at first it became a downpour as the morning progressed.  A heavy cleansing rain that washed away the traces of blood and flesh, diluting the red stain to a mark that might have been caused by anything.  Cars arrived and sped past in the traffic lanes.  Intermittent at first, they became a steady trickle that roared into a torrent with the advent of the rush hour.

The travellers who glanced casually out of their car windows never thought or wondered at the stain that marred the gravel on the hard shoulder.  But then they were the lucky ones.  For them journey’s end was not yet in sight.