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The Myth of the Debut Novel by Kate Simants

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Kate Simants

Kate Simants

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Lock Me In, my debut novel, is a thriller about a young woman who suffers from a psychological condition in which she dissociates from reality. She’ll become a different person for several hours and not be able to remember where she’s been, who she’s seen, or what she’s done. One day, she wakes up covered in mud and injuries that she can’t explain. And her boyfriend is missing.

So that’s the blurb out of the way. (Sounds like your kind of book? Good! Please buy it, my kids are starving). But what I want to look at here is one particular word in that previous paragraph. It’s a little sneak, this word, especially for us writers: a word that can play havoc with our confidence and make us doubt ourselves, incapacitate us with jealousy, or make us give up altogether. Can you spot it?

It’s ‘debut’.

Let’s put that word in a cage and poke it for a bit, shall we?

Because, look. Although Lock Me In is the first to make it into print, it’s not my first book. It’s not even my second book. I have written (and redrafted, and abandoned and rekindled) three books to date, and that’s just the ones I’ve finished. The first one, The Blanks, was written so long ago that the futuristic, mass-market surveillance technology that I basically made up for plot development purposes is now old-hat and available second-hand on eBay. It has taken me twelve years to get this far. Twelve. Obviously I worked during this time as well (customer service stuff, some freelance bits and pieces) and had a couple of babies, but mine has not been a meteoric rise, by anyone’s standards.

It’s gone like this:

2007 – I went part-time and wrote the first draft of book 1.

2008 – I had a chat with an agent who was ‘very keen’ but wanted me to make a load of changes. I spent most of the year making those changes, and the rest of the year waiting for him to reply to my revised draft.

2009 – Agent, eventually, said no. I had a baby around here, so everything went quiet. (Or very, very loud, depending on what time of day it was.)

2010 – I found another agent (after maybe 30 rejections), who did sign me up, but they wanted more changes.

2011 – The book went out to publishers, and they all said no. Some of them said no nicely, but they still said no.

2012 – I stopped revising Book 1 (and the varying attempts at book 2) and started to write Lock Me In. (Cue another baby, another hiatus because even though, yeah, some women can just ‘write while the baby sleeps,’ I just never managed that at all, on account of sleeping while the baby slept, or playing trains with the older one, or the continual pumping out of the bilges of the boat we lived on because we were so broke because I’d quit my lucrative job in TV to pursue my writing instead.)

2015 – I finished Lock Me In and entered it into the CWA Debut Dagger competition, where it made the shortlist. I didn’t win, but it was a shot of much-needed encouragement. I parked the book to study for the University of East Anglia’s brand-new Crime Fiction MA. (I cannot praise this low-residency, distance-learning course highly enough, by the way: MAs get mixed reviews but if you’re into crime and can do this one, do apply. Seven out of eleven of us got agents off the back of it, and five are now published. They have a scholarship (i.e., free) place available every year too.)

2017 – I graduated with a cool MA cloak thing on, and with a completed third book under my belt (The Knocks, which is going out on submission to publishers later this year via the new agent I secured after completing the course).

2018 – Lock Me In was accepted for publication by HarperCollins.

2019 – After edits and all the associated stuff that happens with production, Lock Me In is finally published.

Speedy, right?

No, clearly – but it’s not exceptional, either. During my time as a writer I have, obviously, made a lot of writer friends. Of those who have been published, nearly all have written and abandoned a book (or books) before their ‘debut’ was accepted. (And a quick tally of the dozen-ish people I can think of off the top of my head tells me that from starting to write book 1 to publication of their ‘debut’ has taken an average of six years.) The writer Celia Brayfield compares it to pancakes: you should throw the first one away. Writers I know who followed this advice after having nothing but rejections have gone on to have agents falling over each other to sign them up: several have snapped up six-figure deals, too. It happens, but if it doesn’t happen first time, it doesn’t mean it’s time to walk away.

If you’re struggling to get your first book out into the world, I wish you all the luck in the world, but do remember to keep writing. What debut novelists don’t usually tell you is that a couple of years ago, they were probably a bit crap. That pacy, taut, effortless writing you see on the page isn’t effortless at all: it’s the product of keeping going, of really listening to the bad feedback, of being brave and ruthless about losing material and taking risks, even if it means shelving thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of words.

There is no such thing as wasted writing. Just as a concert pianist has to start off with ‘Twinkle, Twinkle,’ like everyone else, or a professional artist learns the fine art of the stick-man before graduating to oils and easels, so too does a writer have to write a load of rubbish. Despite being devastated at the time that my first book didn’t sell, I am now immensely grateful it failed. If my first book had been my ‘debut,’ my readers would have thought that was the best I could do, and they wouldn’t have bought my next book.

(c) Kate Simants

About Lock Me In:

Whatever you do, don’t open the door…

By day, Ellie Power has a normal life. She has a stable home, a loving boyfriend, a future.

But at night, she suffers from a sleep disorder. She becomes angry, unpredictable, violent. Her mother locks her in her bedroom every night, to keep them both safe.

Then one morning, Ellie wakes up, horrified to find the lock on her bedroom door smashed from the inside. She is covered in injuries, unable to remember anything about the night before.

And her boyfriend Matt is nowhere to be found…

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Kate Simants was born in Devon. After studying English at university, she worked in TV production in London for ten years, specialising in undercover investigations (which was much less glamorous than it sounds), then moved from her little boat on the Thames to a bigger boat on the Avon to start a family and concentrate on writing. She holds two MAs in creative writing from Brunel University and the University of East Anglia, and has been shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger and the Bath Novel Award, and won the UEA Literary Festival Prize. Kate is now a land-lubber and lives between Bristol and Bath with her family and demented cat. She is a committed faddist, and her current interests include roller-skating, macrame, and Persian cookery. To get in touch, tweet her at @katesboat or visit her website at katesimants.com.

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