I started writing A Mighty Dawn in earnest on 28 June 2012. I know the exact date.
This had come about because of a conversation I had with a friend of mine, Tilly Bagshawe. Tilly is a bestselling author and I wanted to understand what the life of an author was like. How do you become one? During that conversation we talked about some ideas I had, including the one that would eventually become the Wanderer Chronicles. She put her finger on that as being of real commercial value – both as a genre and as an original idea within it. She said I needed a proposal – basically a synopsis of the story – beginning, middle and end.
So I went away and wrote one. In fact, the basic narrative that spans the first two novels – A Mighty Dawn and A Sacred Storm – was conceived when I was driving around the back roads and woods of northern Jutland in the spring of 2012. Appropriately enough this is where A Mighty Dawn begins. Tilly, once she had read my draft proposal, was enthusiastic enough to forward it on to her agent in New York, who read it, liked it and contacted me to ask when a first draft would be ready. I said three months.
It didn’t take three months. It took twenty. To be fair to myself, it turns out I had actually written two draft novels during that time – a behemoth manuscript of 367,000 words.
At which point, I thought to myself, “Well, there you go. Job’s a good ’un.” I’ve just got to submit my manuscript to this agent again and I’ll notify my bank manager to ready the coffers for filling.
Needless to say, it didn’t quite work like that.
The agent (this one based in London) eventually waded through my doorstop of a novel. He said how great it was, how much it had going for it, etc. etc… but it wasn’t for him. Mainly because it still needed a lot of work to get it to a publishable standard. He wasn’t wrong there. However, fortuitously, he put me in touch with his sister – a freelance editor – who read the whole thing and gave me some incredibly helpful notes, the main one being that this was not one book, but two.
Thereafter followed a lot of re-writing the first part of the book. I sent it out to a handful of other agents, a couple of whom liked the concept, but weren’t grabbed by the material – at least not enough to sign me up. It was around this time that I happened upon a name in The Bookseller (the industry mag for publishing) that I recognised. I had met Charlie Campbell many years before. His name appeared in an article about the rising stars of the publishing world and that he had recently set up his own literary agency, Kingsford Campbell, with Julia Kingsford.
I reconnected with him (through Facebook, what else?) and sent him what I had. He read it, liked it, had some notes. I went away and re-wrote a large chunk of it over the summer and, at the urging of my wife Natasha, re-submitted the first two-thirds of A Mighty Dawn to him (and a couple of others) in September 2015. Charlie read the whole thing within about six hours and called me back that night to ask me to meet.
When we met, his enthusiasm and belief in the book were so convincing that it shut the door on any other takers. I was delighted to sign up with him.
He put the unfinished rewritten manuscript out to a short list of publishers, and within about a week Sara O’Keeffe, editorial director at Corvus Atlantic, made an offer for a two-book deal that we soon accepted. It was nearly a further 18 months before A Mighty Dawn was at last released.
If I’ve learned one lesson from the whole arduous process, it is that the doors of the industry do at last open once the quality of the material is there. The key is not to give up.
Something I heard on the radio when I was struggling through my quagmire of a re-write and feeling particularly demoralised was this: “The arts industry doesn’t need to make it easier for people to enter it. Quite the opposite. We only want people who are prepared to break down the doors to get inside.” That sounded and sounds pretty harsh, but actually hearing that (whoever said it) spurred me on to beat against those doors even harder until at last they gave way.