Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

The Story of My Novel So Far


I started writing a novel in January 2008.  I had a germ of an idea and a burning feeling that if I didn’t start writing a novel Right This Minute, I would never do it and would one day die old and bitter and angry with myself. I spent all of January writing, and at the end of the month, submitted my first page to Nathan Bransford’s Suprisingly Essential First Page Challenge. Then I went on holiday.

I spent the time fighting my fear on the ski slopes and not thinking about my novel, but back home I logged on to discover that there had been 645 entries in the competition and I was one of the six finalists. I felt faint and a bit nauseous and an incredible joy. Someone, somewhere, thought my tiny germ of an idea had legs. I didn’t win the competition, but being a finalist gave me the confidence to carry on.

That was not to say it was without fear. It wasn’t. Every time I sat at the computer, I had dizzying anxiety that I had to force down. But there were moments when it flowed and that felt so good that I kept writing, right until the end of the first draft, fifteen months later. It took that long because I am a pantser and also because I write in the cracks and corners of my life, between school runs and play dates and writing for money.

At that point, my novel was literary fiction, written from the perspective of three different characters. On rereading I had a strong sense that it wasn’t pulling together, but I wasn’t sure how to fix that, so I went on holiday. Driving home from Berlin, a brand-new character popped into my head, complete with voice and attitude. I wrote a storming new first chapter, and as I did so, it dawned on me that the vehicle this story needed was not literary fiction. I was writing crime! A murder mystery! Six months later, I finished the second draft. On the advice of my online writing friends at Litopia, I put that draft in the drawer and concentrated on writing other things.

I started the third draft in January this year, a process of weighing and balancing, and posted my early chapters on Litopia for critique. Receiving critiques was exquisitely painful, but incredibly useful. I learnt what my tics were, began to understand why telling was bad and showing was good, and started to think about my story at word level.

I gave it to two other people to read: my husband, who is clever, loves books and crime fiction in particular, and another friend, who has been my writing mentor. She has always encouraged me to find the time for my writing, to make space for it my life.

I finished the third draft and then mailed Nathan Bransford, to collect my prize from February 2008 – a query critique from the lovely NB himself. He agreed, I sent it, he sent suggestions and then wrote some words that made my heart skip several beats: ‘Is this ready to be considered? If so, I’d be happy to take a look at the first 30 pages.’  I quickly made his suggested changes and sent him my new query and the first 30 pages.

My novel was not for Nathan. He sent me a very polite email saying, ‘I think you have an intriguing premise and this is an interesting setting, but …’ Disappointed, I decided to ask the advice of a dear friend who is a very successful talent scout. Her words were tough: lots of rookie errors, too much tell not show, first person is all wrong.

After a couple of days of rubbing my solar plexus where the punch landed, I started on draft four, changing it from first to third person. I sent the new version to my beta readers, who agreed with me that Maggie, the novel’s protagonist, was coming alive. However, one of them told me that she was still not relating to Maggie and the reader needed some back story to understand why she was so prickly. I wrote draft five, threading in some back story, giving Maggie a history and a reason for so passionately wanting to solve this particular mystery.

My husband and my mentor said, ‘It’s ready. Submit.’

In July, I wrote an email to an agent in Berlin. We had had a brief conversation in 2008, when I had confidently told her the novel would be finished by the end of the year. In my 2010 email, I said there had been many drafts since then, but that I was now feeling ready to submit. She said, ‘Sounds intriguing. Send it to me.’

Dear readers, the long and the short of it is, you are now looking at an agented writer. I signed the contract this week and have started on the revisions requested by my agent. I’m still fighting the fear, but the joy in my belly is beating down the nausea and dizziness.

Writing this novel has been a long journey. It is by no means over. Many revisions and changes lie ahead of me and publication is not guaranteed.

But I love what I do. I’m proud I took that first step into the abyss 31 months ago. And I’m grateful to the kind, intelligent, wise, thoughtful people who have helped me get this far, from the ones who’ve been shouting encouragement into loud-hailers since I was six to the ones who’ve read this blog and listened to me talk about the process to the ones who’ve picked over words and helped me write better sentences.

You know who you are. Thank you.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

44 thoughts on “The Story of My Novel So Far

  1. Congratulations on becoming an agented writer. Yet another step along your writing path. I am in awe of the time and effort you put in, especially with family & work commitments. A huge cheer from this end of the world !!

  2. Congratulations! That is wonderful news, Charlotte. 🙂

  3. Congratulations – that’s terrific!

  4. Congratulations! I’m so thrilled for you.

  5. Wonderful! I am delighted for you. Looking forward to reading it.

  6. Many congratulations, Charlotte, that’s really wonderful, and well-deserved. Enjoy!

  7. I have said it before, but will say it again. CONGRATS and I can’t wait to get to finally read Maggie’s story and the ones that come after this.

  8. Bravo! Well done Charlotte! Let me know when you publish. Regards David (Graham)

  9. Congratulations! I’ll be one of your many readers.

  10. Wow Charlotte, that is wonderful news. I am so happy for you and very proud!

  11. Wow. And huge congratulations. Very happy for you!

  12. Wow, what great news!! I want to buy this book!

  13. That is extremely exciting. Congratulations. My stomach flipped over for you, reading that.

  14. Congratulations on getting so far and having the grit and determination to keep on with draft after draft. Will be keeping fingers crossed for you on the rest of the journey. Hurray!

  15. This is such exciting news! You must feel so proud of yourself undertaking this journey and going with the process! Can’t wait to read this novel!

  16. Oh Charlotte, this is fantastic news, I am overjoyed for you! Wow, what a ride – actually pretty smooth, and very, very exciting. I can’t imagine that sense of validation and joy and overwhelming nerves that you must be experiencing, but I’m sure it’s very sweet! That’s fast progress – all of it – and it bodes incredibly well for your future. I’m so proud of you!!

  17. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, you did all the leg-work before taking off on the race to get your book published. That in itself is quite a feat. Nothing worse than a writer receiving rave reviews (like those you will undoubtedly get) and having only the one story about how they whipped off the final draft in three months time. You can now bore your audience with minuscule details of your long journey (lol). Great news! Congratulations.

  18. That is fantastic, Charlotte! Congratulations!!!

  19. Congratulations Charlotte, I’m so pleased for you! I can’t wait to read your book and when I see it in the shops I can say, “I know her!” 🙂

  20. That is *fabulous*. The encouraging thing (in a weird way) is the amount of hard work and honest exposure to tough criticism it took you to get this far. Hard work and persistence (and not forgetting innate talent!) pays off!

  21. That’s fabulous news! It’s been great sharing the journey with you!

  22. Squee! Squee! Squee! I am sitting here at work trying not to yelp too loudly but I am so incredibly happy for you! Your hard work, persistence and talent have paid off and no one deserves it more. Cannot wait to hear about the rest of your journey, and to someday soon buy your book!

  23. Congratulations! So exciting that you have an agent and may end up with a novel published between shiny covers for all to see.

  24. Congratulations! That’s excellent news. I wanted to say, 15 months is by no means a long time to spend writing a first draft. The fact that you’ve had five drafts in 31 months – when not writing full time — is amazing. I’m impressed by your dedication and hard work!

  25. Congrats, Charlotte! You are an inspiration to me!!!

  26. Thanks, my lovelies! Can’t tell you how much your words mean to me.

    And now … to revisions!

  27. Congratulations! Hard work that is bearing sweet fruit.

  28. Waahoo… I’m absolutely delighted for you. It’s lovely to hear all your hard work and effort has clinched you an agent. Hope you’ve celebrated in style. Love to all

  29. CONGRATULATIONS! I am so, so, so happy for you. Hard to believe I’ve been reading about your novel ever since you began it.

  30. Well done Charlotte

  31. Oh Charlotte… what an achievement! I have nothing but pure admiration for you, what a woman! A huuuge big hug and see you soon!

  32. Char – well done. However I must tell you this is not a surprise to me. Before I even met you this was foretold (by KLD). in fact I suspect this is a clever decoy, & you are merely ‘coming out’, having had many published bestsellers under pseudonyms! I am looking forward to my first crime novel. Will I be able to pre-order it on my kindle?

  33. Wonderful news. Can’t wait to see it in bookstores.

  34. So glad I came across this. A lovely account of putting a novel together.

    Joyous giggling here at what they did to you and how you bounced back. Bravo. I go down on one knee before you. A bit of a problem because my nose barely reaches the table and I’m having trouble typing.

    What comes across is that everyone liked what you had and urged you to work at it.

    Accolades on the many revisions. You’re in good company. Jane Austin’s stuff needed ‘much revision’ before it was accepted. Harper Lee’s Mockingbird was thrown back at her because each chapter was an entity on its own with no beginning/middle/end thread tying the plot together. She was obliged to do a total rewrite. Ernest Hemingway’s early writing was baroque and he was sent packing with instructions to write plainly. He then bounced the other way with short stories so abrupt, they were painful to read.

    You ain’t got nothing to fear, girl.

    Your brand new character popping into your head. Oh yes, acausal solutions must have happened to you often. Karl Jung coined a word for this phenomenon, when the human mind works hard enough at solving a problem, the solution comes to that person unexpectedly and not from where they were seeking it. Jung called it synchronicity. Today, the dictionary defines synchronicity as acausal connections. The more one thinks, the more frequently it happens.

    Writing in the cracks of time. It’s the only way. Nice work. We can’t write twenty four hours a day, but we can think twenty four hours a day by living inside the book while performing daily chores. Makes the writing easier, but you’re probably already doing that.

    Astounded at how quickly you got an agent. Another accolade. Thousands of writers on Authonomy been struggling for years without success. Only about one writer in five hundred is accepted by a literary agent. I still haven’t got there. Thus acceptance of the indie’s offer.

    Do you remember Tadpole swimming in Froggy Pond? A shadow flits over him. He glances up and sees Sailplane gliding toward a thermal. She catches it and soars into the heavens until she’s oughtasight. Giggling because now it’s happened.

    Don’t fear setbacks. They are nothing more than opportunities to progress to higher levels. They make us stronger.

    Okay, I’ve wasted enough of your time. You better go write. Otherwise you gonna be in big trubbel.



    (A thirteen year old girl with an IQ of 175, born in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, grew up with Masai children, blows bubble-gum bubbles, is smarter than anybody else, flies in crop-dusters, understudies the local veterinary surgeon and proficient in tracking spoor. Boy of boy, is she giving me a hard time. But lots of fun. Still trying, after two drafts, to work out how she should speak.)

  35. Congratulations! That is wonderful news and well deserved after all your hard work.

    I’m also writing to tell you about something strange that happened last night. I’ve got the flu and my partner made me dinner though he’s still recovering from the flu too. He put the plates down and then swapped them saying “You have this one, it has more peas and I know you love peas”.

    “I do” I said, “I love peas, but I love you too, and I love you more than peas”.

    A bit later that last phrase came back to my head, with a feeling that I had heard it before. It took me a good couple of hours of pondering to remember your wonderful post about a letter from your daughter. A happy coincidence.

  36. Congratulations, this is a wonderful achievement! I have sent a link to this post to a friend going through the same process, as encouragement and inspiration.
    I have followed your very interesting blog for a while now, but this is my first time to comment. I am a fellow South African living in England and now just starting to blog about my experiences here. Would love you to drop by some time!

  37. Hi charlotte
    have always followed (and enjoyed) your blog and your life (throught Kerry H) Was very surprised when, on hearing of your book contract also heard that you were surprised by it. Me, not a bit surprised. You write so well, and are always entertaining. the mark of a good story teller. fantastic stuff. well done.
    Am secretely madly jealous.

  38. Thank you so much for your comment on my latest writing blog post. Congratulations on getting an agent. That makes such a difference. I’ll be following your story…

  39. Imprssive persistence and willingness to listen to difficult feedback. I’ll buy a copy.

  40. Very impressive! I look forward to the publication so that I can read it. I’m always looking for a new author to read. . .

    Your story encourages me. Perhaps I should get back to my book. I have been mightily distracted by life and the garden.

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