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My Writing Life: No Place to Run by Mark Edwards

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No Place to Run by Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

This exceptional account by Mark Edwards, chronicling his long-held and hard-earned ambition to become a professional writer, is much longer than our usual Feature articles, but we thought it essential to reproduce the piece here in full – providing as it does an invaluable insight into the many, many hurdles writers face over their career. We hope you agree and enjoy it every bit as much as we all did here at Writing.ie.

The Secret Diary of Mark Edwards, Aged 23 ¾ to 51 ½

It took me seventeen years to get my first book deal, and that wasn’t the end of the story. I have never kept a diary about my writing journey and all the ups and downs I’ve been through but if I had it might read something like this.

1994 (aged 23 ¾)

I have decided I am going to write a novel. Writing was the only thing I was good when I was at school. I want to see my name on the cover of a book in Waterstones and my photo on the back. I’m going to write The Catcher in the Rye for a new generation. I’ve purchased an A4 notepad and some new pens. Literary fame, here I come!

1995

January: I have finished my first book. It’s longhand and fills two A4 notepads. Unfortunately, it is utter rubbish. I am going to put the literary fame on hold and write something else.

August: I have finished my second book and even typed it up. It’s a satire of this new ‘famous for being famous’ phenomenon. I’ve bought The Writer’s Handbook and am going to send it to all the top agents in London. I imagine they will be scrambling to sign me.

October: I’ve had a few rejections but had some good news: an agent liked my opening chapters and wants to see the rest. I send it off. Now I just need to wait for them to sign me up and kick off the auction which will no doubt end with a massive deal. This literary fame lark is easy peasy.

November: Hmm, I still haven’t heard back from the agent. I guess they’re busy.

December: Silence. Maybe it got lost in the post?

1996

Mark Edwards © Tim Sturgess Expressandstar.com 2016

February: No news.

March: Still no news.

April: I finally heard back from the agent. They didn’t think the rest of the novel measured up to the opening. But I won’t let my dreams be crushed. I just need to write another. I’ll show them!

1997

Novel three is finished. It’s called The Liberators and is about a group of friends who make a pact to become famous. A literary thriller. It’s 140,000 words long and is miles better than my first two embarrassing efforts. I’m going to send it to the agent who liked book two plus anyone else who has ever scrawled an encouraging comment on a rejection slip. I have a good feeling about this one. I have to escape my day job, answering calls for the Child Support Agency. Men shouting at me and women crying. Protestors encircling the building holding coffins and chanting ‘CSA staff are scum’. I come home every night with my guts twisted with anxiety. I’m broke and I’m living in a small seaside town with no other jobs. I don’t care about literary fame. I just want to be published and to make enough money to be able to do it for a living.

Come on The Liberators. Liberate me.

1998

June: Oh my God, I have an agent!!! Her name is Dinah Wiener. She phoned me today and told me how much she loved The Liberators. She is certain she can sell it and hinted she thinks she can get big money for it. I can’t believe it. Four years of spending all my spare time writing and it’s finally happening. I tell everyone I know. Dinah is going to start submitting the book to all the big publishers in London.

July: We’ve had a couple of rejections. They were very positive though. Dinah is still confident.

October: Everyone has rejected The Liberators. But it’s fine. I’ve written another novel in the meantime, called Staring Into Space. Dinah loves it. She says this is the one.

1999

March: Okay, nobody wanted Staring Into Space but lots of editors want to see what I do next. I’ve rewritten The Liberators and am confident it’s way better. And something exciting has happened. The BBC are making a documentary about writers and the journey to publication and I’m going to be one of the three featured authors. They are going to interview me and film Dinah submitting the new Liberators. Good luck to them sexing up the publication process but surely this exposure will lead to a deal.

September: The documentary has been broadcast. It was so much fun to make, even if it did feature lots of shots of me looking sad as Dinah told me about yet another pass. I also think it might have been a mistake reading out all those rejection letters on camera. I look like a sad loser. And of course, nobody wants to publish The Liberators. The one good thing is that I have a new friend, a writer called Louise Voss who contacted me after watching the doc. She’s in the same boat as me.

Still, maybe something will happen in the new year. All I need to do is survive the Millennium Bug.

2000

March: Well, it’s a new millennium and I survived the Bug. And I’m working on a book about neighbours from hell called The Magpies. This is definitely my best book. I’m feeling confident. Louise has got a deal – a big one – and I’m really happy for her. A little envious, which I think is natural, but it’s great to see that it can happen and her book is excellent. Also, she has recommended The Magpies to her new editor. Dinah is going to send it to her.

May: Good news! Louise’s editor really likes The Magpies and is going to take it to acquisition. This is the closest I’ve ever been to getting a deal. I can hardly sleep or think about anything else. Everyone at work keeps asking me about it as if I wouldn’t be yelling the place down if I got a deal. My desire to get a book deal has become all-consuming. An obsession. I know it’s not healthy but it’s all I want.

June: Got a letter forwarded from Dinah. The publishers said no. Sob! It’s a really nice letter. The editor says: “The things you want the most are often the hardest to achieve – but I know he will get there.”

Everyone else has rejected The Magpies too. Time to write another book. 

2001

I’ve written another book. Dinah hates it. I write another one. She reads it and emails me telling me she can no longer represent me. She’s tried her best and it’s time to move on.

I am back at square one and worse, I am tainted by the documentary. Everyone knows who I am. They all think I’m a desperate loser.

Maybe they’re right. But I can’t give up. I just can’t.

2002

March: I’m moving to Japan. I got made redundant and have decided it’s time for an adventure. I’m 31 now. And surely I’ll get loads of material to write about in Japan.

But before I go, Louise and I have a night out where we come up with an idea for a novel about a stalker. It’s a great idea and we decide to co-write it, alternating chapters. We’re going to call it Killing Cupid.

June: Well, this is exciting. A BBC drama producer read the opening chapters of Killing Cupid and wants to option it. Surely that will make it far easier to find a publisher for it. We finish it and Louise’s agent sends it out.

Guess what, dear diary? Everyone rejects it.

2003-2006

I’m back in the UK, doing a new job. It’s the first day job I’ve had that I actually enjoy and care about and it takes up most of my creative energy. But I’m still writing. The novel about Japan was dreadful, and I’ve written another couple but still can’t find a new agent.

On another drunken night out, Louise – who no longer has an agent or publisher – and I come up with an idea for a virus thriller. We write it and call it Catch Your Death and send it out to all the agents we know. They all reject it. I even send it to Dinah who says ‘Just not good enough.’

2007

That’s it, I quit.

I’ve been doing this for twelve years now. It’s making me ill, taking up all my spare time, and I just don’t have the energy anymore. I have a good job and small children. It’s sad but I feel like I’ve given it my best shot. When I’m old and I look back at my life I’ll be able to say I tried.

Bye bye dreams of literary fame. I’m going to concentrate on a career where people actually appreciate me.

2010

Hello, diary. It’s been a while. What have you been up to? I’ve been parenting and working hard. I’ve got a new job as a marketing director and I’m turning forty. Life is pretty good and I don’t miss the pain of trying to get published.

My girlfriend, Sara, bought me a Kindle for my birthday. I didn’t really want it; I like print books. But looking for books to fill it with I noticed a lot of the novels on Amazon were self-published and apparently selling well. Interesting . . . Then I read about some authors who were making lots of money doing this and finding a readership. Some had even been snapped up by major publishers.

So I called Louise and said, ‘Why don’t we edit our two books and self-publish them?’ She was reluctant. She said it will be a lot of hard work and nobody will buy them. But I persuade her and we set about updating them, sourcing covers and figuring out all the technical stuff. It’s got to be worth a shot, right? I mean, what do we have to lose?

2011

February: We put out Killing Cupid first. On day one, we sell two copies, to my mother-in-law and boss. When I tell people I’ve self-published a book they look at me as if to say ‘Aw, bless your cotton socks.’ But I immediately become obsessed with trying to sell it and dedicate every spare minute to blogging and posting on social media and joining forums, as well as constantly tweaking the blurb.

March: Slowly, very slowly, the book begins to sell.

April: It’s still climbing the rankings. I have become utterly addicted to checking the live sales feed. I am like a lab rat, forever pressing a lever to see if I get a treat.

May: Time to publish Catch Your Death. This is the more commercial one. We have high hopes. But my writing life has been full of high hopes followed by crashing disappointment.

It starts slowly. A few good reviews. A little surge of early sales followed by a drop. And then… Something happens. It starts flying up the charts. I watch, stunned, as the sales on the dashboard tick up and up. It goes into the top fifty, the top thirty, the top twenty. Reaches number eleven.

The next day it climbs to number three. Then two. The day after that, it hits number bloody one!

I call Louise the second I spot it. We yell and jump up and down and whoop. I think I might even shed a tear. We are number one on Amazon, the first British indie authors to achieve that feat.

Then things happen quickly. We contact some agents, all of whom are interested, including a few who had previously turned us down. We sign with Sam Copeland. We appear on BBC Breakfast, Sky News and in nearly every daily newspaper. Our books are number one and two on Amazon.

A week later, we have a six-figure four-book deal with HarperCollins. I am forty years old, it’s taken seventeen years, and I finally have a book deal.

It’s going to be easy from now on.

Right?

2012

January: HarperCollins put out Catch Your Death. I finally see one of my books in a shop. Okay, it’s not on a plinth in Waterstones. It’s on a shelf in Asda. But it’s my book, in a real shop, and we have a big launch party in central London and I spend my mornings lurking around the shelves in WH Smith at Victoria, wondering if I will see anyone buy it. (I don’t.)

April: I quit my day job, move to Wolverhampton and go freelance. It’s a big risk but I am optimistic it will all work out.

August: Killing Cupid is published. Okay, Catch didn’t sell particularly well and didn’t chart, but it’s fine. This one will do better. Except… it’s the summer of Fifty Shades of Grey. Every book in the shops is erotica. The Olympics are on and nobody wants to read a stalker novel. Killing Cupid flops.

A year ago, everything was great but it’s all gone horribly wrong. Still, we have written the first brand new book in our contract, All Fall Down. That will be a bestseller.

It has to be, or I’m screwed.

2013

January: All Fall Down is published. Our editor tells us it’s not going to be in any shops and the next one, which we haven’t finished yet, won’t be either. It is now time to panic. I am skint. I have a massive tax bill, my overdraft and credit card are maxed out and I have a baby on the way. The relationship with HarperCollins is pretty much over. It didn’t work out. I no longer live in London and there are no jobs in Wolverhampton that fit my experience.

I have one slim hope. For the past year or two I have been fiddling with The Magpies, thinking I should do something with it. I still think it’s the best thing I’ve written. Louise agrees to read it through and give it a quick edit, as does Sara. I figure out if I can sell 20,000 copies I can make enough money to pay my tax bill and keep the bailiffs from my door. It won’t be easy, but I’ve done it before. Perhaps…Perhaps I can do it again.

March: I self-publish The Magpies. I throw a launch party on my Facebook page, which has 100 members. They all buy a copy on day one and I am – yet again – optimistic. But then it starts to drop, sales dwindle.

It’s not going to work. It’s too hard. I can’t even sell 1000 copies, let alone 20,000. I feel the bailiffs creeping closer to my front door.

April: Good Friday. Desperate for cash, I am working, sitting at home on my own while heavily-pregnant Sara and the kids are at her mum’s. Feeling depressed, I check my sales and think, Hold on. I hit refresh. Whoa. Something’s happening. Again. My magpies are taking flight.

By the end of the day, it’s in the top thirty.

By the end of the month, it’s number one.

2014 – 2022

The Magpies went on to sell 500,000 copies. It not only cleared my debt, it paid for my long-delayed wedding and allowed me to finally write full-time. In 2014 I signed a contract with Thomas & Mercer, part of Amazon’s empire, and have since written at least one book a year for them, including two with Louise. Almost all of them have reached number one in the UK and a couple, Follow You Home and Here To Stay, were huge bestsellers in the USA.

Dear diary, would I have bought those A4 pads and started writing in 1994 if I had known how hard it was going to be? If I had been able to see all the pain and disappointment ahead? Yes, of course I would. And maybe it’s easy to say that now, from a position of success, but through it all there was one thing that kept me going. The love of writing. Of creating stories. Escaping into alternative worlds with characters I had invented.

It’s what still keeps me going now. Because although I have achieved my dream of being a full-time writer, with lots of readers (I’ve sold four million books), I don’t spend my days floating on clouds of bliss. I work harder than ever, aware that every book has to be at least as good as the last one. I still have ambitions; there are lots of things I have yet to achieve. I, at 51 ½ years old, am having to compete with all the 23 ¾ year old sexy debuts.

But I have eighteen published novels on my shelves, and I am proud of all of them. And I’m proud of my own tenacity, my bloody-mindedness, my determination. And I hope it will be comforting or inspirational to other aspiring authors. Here are my words of advice, the two things you need to do:

Write; and never give up.

(c) Mark Edwards

No Place to Run by Mark Edwards is published by Thomas & Mercer (£8.99) 

Author Photograph: © Tim Sturgess Expressandstar.com 2016

About No Place to Run:

No Place to Run by Mark Edwards

In this exhilarating thriller from four million copy bestselling author Mark Edwards, Aidan’s spent years looking for his sister. Will he ever find her?

Two years ago, on a trip to Seattle to visit her brother Aidan, fifteen-year-old Scarlett vanished into thin air. After years of false leads and dead ends, Aidan has almost given up hope. But then a woman sees a girl running for her life across a forest clearing in Northern California. She is convinced the girl is the missing Scarlett. But could it really be her?

Heading south, Aidan finds a fire-ravaged town covered in missing-teenager posters. The locals seem afraid, the police won’t answer any questions and it looks like another dead end—until a chance meeting with returned local Lana gives Aidan his first clue. But as they piece together what happened, Lana and Aidan make deadly enemies. Enemies willing to do anything to silence them.

Only one thing matters now: finding Scarlett—even if it kills him.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers in which scary things happen to ordinary people.

He has sold 4 million books since his first novel, The Magpies, was published in 2013, and has topped the bestseller lists numerous times. His other novels include Follow You Home, The Retreat, In Her Shadow, Because She Loves Me, The Hollows and Here to Stay. He has also co-authored six books with Louise Voss.

Originally from Hastings in East Sussex, Mark now lives in Wolverhampton with his wife, their children and two cats.

Mark loves hearing from readers and can be contacted through his website, www.markedwardsauthor.com, or you can find him on Facebook (@markedwardsauthor), Twitter (@mredwards) and Instagram (@markedwardsauthor).

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