Friday, 8 January 2010

How I Got Published (Part I): Nicola Morgan

We all know the many-times-published, human-whirlwind, footwear-obsessive that is Nicola Morgan. Our favourite crabbit old bat recently posted this beautiful piece about getting published, inspiration and support on her own blog: it is now my great pleasure to give you Nicola's own account of how she first got published, and how that publication has changed her life. This is the first part of her moving and inspirational two-part story, which will conclude next week.


It took me a horribly long time to get published. Twenty-one years. I blogged here about why I failed for so long. Now I pinch myself. Was that really me? That screwed-up, jealousy-riddled person who wanted to strangle every hot-shot debut author after a prolonged session of torture?

How did I get from that darkness to here, where I find myself invited to write things? And sometimes say no. No?!

Aged twenty, wondering what the hell a Cambridge degree in Classics and Philosophy was for, I decided that I wanted to be A Novelist. I knew I couldn’t earn a living immediately (hollow laugh) so I needed a job. I went to London, where streets are paved with all manner of wondrousness, and got a job cooking for an advertising agency, and dinner parties for Belgravia ladies who wanted strawberries only in December and smoked salmon if it was twice as expensive as the stuff their neighbours had.

And I wrote. Stories aimed at women’s magazines, none of which got published, because they were completely wrong for their market. I got something published in Reader’s Digest — incredible payment: £150 for about 50 words. My photo was on page one — fame and fortune, I thought. I was almost right about fame: on a bus, I saw a man reading it, looking back and forth between the picture and me; I grinned; he asked me to sign it. My first signing!

Meanwhile, I was writing The Novel. And revelling in the sound and fury of my own prose. Meanwhile, meanwhile, I had one of many entrepreneurial ideas: I would devise a creative writing course and offer it to schools. (I did have some teaching experience — long story...) One school asked me to see them, and I found myself being interviewed by the head and deputy. At some point I realised that they thought they were interviewing me to be an English teacher (actually head of English, as the school was so small that there was only one teacher in each subject). I explained their mistake... but got the job.

Between terms, the novel grew and was finished. I sent it off. And received it back. Often. Each time I “improved” it. Trouble is, sometimes they said it was too long, and sometimes too short, so I was confused. One praised the original plot and another criticised its traditional nature. There was no internet and little advice available. I knew no one in the business, no one who was published, no one who was even trying.

Every time it came back, I dissolved. To most people, I seemed fine. But inside I was devastated that I couldn’t find the key to publication. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I failed every target I set myself. I felt useless.

For three years I handled the English department in that little school. But I decided to give myself a year of writing full-time, really going for it, because being a teacher was incredibly exhausting and time-consuming and I couldn’t write enough. I also wasn’t particularly well — I had glandular fever, toxoplasmosis and a couple of knee operations. So, supported by my lovely husband, I gave in my notice for the end of that third year.

A month before term ended, I discovered I was pregnant. So, I didn’t get my full year of full-time writing — what I got was a lovely daughter. But, that’s no excuse — and I was still sending off that bloody novel, still getting it thrown back. I’d revised it endlessly and didn’t know what to do. So I did the right thing and started another one.

We moved to Edinburgh and soon had daughter No 2. I tried to carry on writing. But my health wasn’t good — I now believe that this was down to the gnawing pain of failure. I wanted publication so much; I was trying so hard. I felt I was good enough, so why wasn’t it happening? It wasn’t enough to be a mother/wife/perfect houseperson — I wanted more and I wanted it so much that it was making me ill. Postnatal depression was diagnosed, followed by a wrecked thyroid, followed by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. OK, the thyroid was true, and I still take thyroxine, but the rest wasn’t: it was Bruised Soul Syndrome. I was damaged where it matters. I was happy as a mother and wife, loved my family, (should have been grateful for all that) but I had a chasm where “myself” should be. The odd thing was that to everyone else I was Mrs Efficiency, Mrs High-Achiever, Mrs Get-Christmas-Sorted-in-October — all the failure was hidden inside.

Then, a dull government organisation offered me work, writing documents. Oh joy, I hear you say, but I sailed out of that interview feeling fantastic. Energy flowed through me. I still remember that. God, those documents were boring but they gave me my life back.

But that is obviously not the end of the story....
You can read the second part of Nicola's story next Friday, and if you're anything like me you'll need to get your hankie out before you start. It's a wonderful piece. But I'm not surprised: Nicola Morgan wrote it.

20 comments:

www.katherinemay.co.uk said...

Thanks, Nicola, for being so honest. I was really interested in your comments about the link between good health and success/happiness. It's such an obvious, intuitive link, really, but we often forget that our brains are located in our bodies. I felt like I was rotting away before I started writing.

Nicola Morgan said...

Yes, I just didn't realise it at the time. To be honest I might not have believed it (or been grateful for the advice) if I'd been told then that all my ill health was rooted in my mind/spirit. It wouldn't have empowered me, just made me feel more helpless. So I am always cautious when talking to someone who I think *might* have the same causes of illness.

Keren David said...

This is fascinating, very powerful and I'm sure will ring true for many people. Looking forward to part two.

Guinevere said...

I can't wait to read part two -- beautifully written, and it's always nice to understand the path of published authors.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite bits of Nicolana, for anyone needing another shot: http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/2009/02/slow-death-by-coffee-grinder.html

P

Catherine Hughes said...

Nicola! I had no idea that one of my health problems also belonged to you! I do hope that I will soon have other things in common with you - like being published, for example!

The health thing I completely agree with. I've often written about how writing helps me deal with my various issues including chronic pain. Even though I am unpublished and, these days, mostly unpaid, I am what I always wanted to be - a writer - and I am so much better for it.

A little bit of success would do me the world of good, but, in teh meantime, just trying helps me immeasurably.

Can't wait to read part two.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I enjoy reading Nicola's blog. She might be a crabbit, but it's always fun and informative to read.

Rebecca Knight said...

Thank you for sharing this peek into your life, Nicola :). It's wonderful hearing about and learning from another writer's journey.

I've recently been there this year with some stress-induced illness, so this hit home. It's odd to realize that being hard on yourself can result in a physical malady. Something all of us chasing our dreams need to be watchful for!

None of us are superhumans, and that is just fine :).

Nicola Morgan said...

Catherine - yes, I knew you also had the thryoid problem because you've blogged about it, but I didn't mention it to you because mine is completely controlled by thryoxine, whereas I know that yours is really complicated, so it didn't seem right to claim to have the same problem.

Thanks all you others. And Rebecca, I do hope you're better / getting better. Anonymous P - yep, it was a memorable day in that un-named coffee shop!

Thanks for all your lovely comments, and to jane for inviting me to write it, and more strength to all our muses.

Lost Wanderer said...

Nicola, thanks for sharing your story. I find it truly motivating. I follow your blog, and you sound so knowledgable and great about writing that it's impossible to think of you as a beginner. This reminds me that even professionals started out somewhere. I am looking forward to reading the next bit.

Sophie Playle said...

I can see some parallels here with my own life. Can't wait to read the conclusion to this!

catdownunder said...

I empurrthise!

quixotic said...

Looking forward to part 2.

Sarah Hilary said...

Ah, Nicola, you do me good. Your honesty, the symptoms you describe, physical and emotional and the fact you Made it Through. Amazing. You're my heroine. Thank you for this post.

Christine Coleman said...

I've already read a lot of great posts on your blog, Nicola - you always express yourself so well, but I think this is the one I've enjoyed most - am really looking forward to seeing next Friday's.
Quite a lot of what you've written there echoes my own experiences of rejections, but fortunately not the related ill-health.

I've been lucky enough to have had one of my novels published and have thoroughly enjoyed the state of being 'a published author', but I quickly realised that some of the next steps can be equally (if not more)frustrating. Still,I guess it's all part of being a writer!

Tania Hershman said...

Nicola,
thank you for sharing your story with us, I really feel for you, I understand so much of this. I just wanted to say that when you say the thyroid problem as "real", I too had thyroid problems for years, as did/do a lot of women I know, and one of the healers I went to thinks that it is linked to not creatively expressing yourself, being situated in the throat. I can really believe that. It's all part of Bruised Soul Sydnrome! Thank goodness this story has a happy ending, looking forward to Part 2!

Nicola Morgan said...

Everyone - thanks so much for your lovely, lovely comments. I'm blushing.

Tania - that's really interesting!

I should stress, btw, that when I said the thyroid prob was "real", I did not mean to suggest that mental health probs are "not real", just that the other diagnoses were not true. Well, I suppose CFS was true enough, just too vague to be useful.

Mystica said...

Waiting for part 2. You obviously have hidden depths of courage and tenacity to hang in there. Lots of us would have just given up. Very encouraging for everyone out there not just would be authors but anyone.

sophiabennett said...

Hi Nicola. This was a fascinating blog - such a joy to read, although so painful. It took me 20 years too. Can't wait for part 2. My Eureka moment was so special - it'll be wonderful to hear yours.

Hodmandod said...

You and I appear to have an enormous amount in commong. I also cooked for a bit both during and after Cambridge. I took a long time to be published and actually gave up because the one I had faith in of all the things I had written, was rejected so much. That is the one, oddly, that was finally published. Now reading Part II.