In a fit of irrational exuberance just before I left Switzerland I booked tickets for three events at the Dun Laoghaire book festival Mountains to Sea. I took one look at the line-up and lost the plot, so to speak. Margaret Atwood (exclamation mark, exclamation mark), I cried. Téa Obreht (exclamation mark, exclamation mark), I added breathlessly. Oh and look Jennifer Johnston at lunchtime (click on two more tickets).
A while later back in Dun Laoghaire and real life, it quickly became apparent that I couldn’t spend week two of my big trip to Ireland waltzing from literary event to literary event. There were other things to consider, not least of which was settling the children into their new school and temporary new home.
In the end all I can boast is that these writers I admire were just down the road from me, a mere eight-minute cycle or 24-minute walk away.
But every bookshelf has a silver lining. On Saturday afternoon, miraculously and unexpectedly, I did manage to attend a festival talk called New Voices – with my three year old. We had to hop in and out of the room a bit to keep the peace but I came home motivated and encouraged, mainly by the contributions of Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, author of Back to Blackbrick, and agent Caroline Walsh from David Higham Associates. My daughter was equally happy with her blue Mountains to Sea balloon.
It’s the first time I’ve heard a real live agent speak and it was reassuring to see that she was no big bad wolf. What struck me about Walsh’s submission advice was that it was all familiar. There is no secret formula for getting published. Agents are just looking for good work and a professional attitude. Walsh’s agency gets 60 submissions a week and they take on 12 new authors a year! Anyone who goes up against those odds has to be an optimist.
Moore Fitzgerald spoke about self-belief and how to hang on to it. A successful academic, what put her off writing fiction for so long was the perceived impossibility of the challenge. She warned against sharing too soon and reminded the audience that ragged first drafts are not meant to be compared to award-winning published works.
Next Monday I will be making my way to the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin city centre to start the Finish Your Novel writing course. By hook or by crook I will have my one-line killer pitch ready by then!