On September 2002 I sent the first three chapters of A Half Life Of One off to Curtis Brown, the literary agents. At the time the book was called "The Banality of Goodness".
I sent the mss to their Edinburgh office since I thought the book's Scottish setting might interest them. Three weeks later Giles Gordon - who has since died - wrote back to say that his list was full and that he wasn't reading any new submissions. This was something of an anti-climax.
On 4th October I submitted the book to Caroline Davidson. She returned it unread. At the same time I sent it out to Capel & Land. They replied seven days later with a polite form letter saying thanks but no thanks.
On 16th October I sent it to Author Management. Mr James Rouche, the owner, wrote back to me on the 23rd. He'd obviously read the three chapters I'd sent and made the following observations: "Clearly you have put a lot of thought, and I suspect a lot of personal experience into the book but the story just failed to enthuse me sufficiently.....I do know that, unaltered, I believe the book could be submitted to another agent with a good chance of success."
This response was obviously quite encouraging but I have had "rave rejection slips" in the past for other books which remain unpublished. All the same, unless he was just being polite maybe the book did have a slim chance of being published.
I decided to re-write the whole thing once more, this time trying to make the hero a little more sympathetic or, to put it another way, less like me.
On June 14th 2003 I parcelled up the first three chapters and sent them off to McLean & Slora, another Edinburgh agency. They returned them unread about a year later saying they had closed down.
In the meantime, on June 20th I sent the book to Gregory & Co in London. A form letter promptly declined my submission.
On July 22 I sent the book off to David Higham. They replied on August 10 with a form letter rejecting the book.
On July 29th I sent a copy to Sheil Land. They turned it down on the 15th Sept.
On August 12th I sent it out to the Ampersand Agency. Mr Peter Buckman wrote back asking to see the complete manuscript. Boy, was my heart pounding when I sent that parcel off. This was the first time anyone had ever asked to see a book of mine. A few weeks later Mr Buckman wrote back with a list of suggestions to improve the book, all of which I agreed were valid. I re-wrote the book incorporating his suggestions and sent it back to him. On the 29th March he wrote back with a very detailed critique of the revised manuscript stating the reasons why he wouldn't take it on. You can imagine my disappointment. To be honest I was devastated. I shoved his letter - and the book - into the back of a desk drawer and left them to gather dust.
A couple of weeka ago I re-read the letter and actually it's not as negative as I thought at the time. And the criticisms Mr Buckman makes are perfectly valid. Actually, his main concern revolves around who the book is aimed at. I'll publish the full letter (I've obtained Mr Buckman's permission to do this) once I've rolled out the whole of A Half Life. You can then see how your view matches up with that of a professional.
It was the last paragraph of his letter, though, that really left me in a quandary. He wrote:
"I think you have talent and could write a saleable book once you've decided what sort of book you want to write. Maybe you should put A Half Life.. aside and concentrate on something new. If you want to try an idea on me - in abbreviated form - you know where I am."
The trouble was, I wasn't ready to give up on A Half Life just yet.