A short tale of a story close to my heart.
In my twenties I accidentally became an actor. I was in a handful of decent plays, did countless auditions and some bad TV, and, as Alice in Wonderland, toured schools in the Australian outback with a theatre in education troupe. Doing auditions and reading scripts was the beginning of a lasting interest in how and why we tell stories, which gave me lots to think about whilst I became an experienced waitress.
I wanted to write, but this seemed even more irresponsible and unrealistic than be-ing an actor, so I didn’t take the aspiration seriously.
Then I was asked out by an actor who was also a writer, who later told me that I had written ‘the most perfectly composed rejection letter he’d ever received.’ I tactfully didn’t ask him how many he had received. He offered me some work script editing, and then re-searching a television series he was developing about three powerful men who were rivals for the Saxon crown in the eleventh century.
The series was never made, but in the process of researching I became preoccupied with a nine-hundred year old embroidery called the Bayeux Tapestry. Its unknown origin and cipher-like artwork captivated and enchanted me. The more I read about this embroi-dery called a tapestry, the more driven I was to discover who had made it and why. In the absence of satisfactory answers I formulated my own, inspired by some under-appreciated eleventh century women.
By this time I was working as a production secretary on a television series, and part of my job was to operate script-formatting software. I was reading a lot of scripts, so it seemed natural that my writing should take the shape of a screenplay. I was fortunate to find a friend in the producer of that series, Denny Lawrence, who suggested to me that writing a first screenplay set in medieval Westminster and present-day Canterbury was quite ambitious, and perhaps I would consider writing my story as a novel instead?
I thought he was mad. Write something as lengthy and complex as a novel? As if.
Several drafts of my first novel later I was living in Bristol in the UK. I had now, on and off, been writing and rewriting Tapestry for almost ten years and I understandably thought it was finished. I sent some chapters out to several literary agents and waited. Fi-nally, Kate Hordern & Associates, called me.
With the support of Kate Hordern, whose knowledge of the publishing business and book trade is singular, Tapestry underwent another makeover or two before the novel was finally finished.
One night I received another significant phone call from Kate. Tapestry was being auctioned between two major German publishing houses. Kate, whose publishing back-ground was as Foreign Rights Director at Victor G0llancz, had a hunch the manuscript would interest German editors because German readers like historical novels and intricate plots.
Given the response in Germany, we thought a UK publisher would soon follow, but months went by and editor after editor turned the novel down. It either wasn’t commercial enough or wasn’t literary enough; its parallel stories were too difficult to market; the cen-tral character in the contemporary storyline, Madeleine, was not a mainstream heroine. The reasons seemed boundless. Meanwhile, several more foreign publishers bought Tapes-try, which was eventually published in eight languages and became a bestseller in Ger-many.
I got over feeling dispirited each time a rejection letter from a UK publisher arrived, and concentrated on writing The Secret of the Ninth Stone. That was fifteen years ago. I have since written three other novels.
Today, Tapestry is released by my UK publisher, Head of Zeus. I am delighted and excited and a little nervous. This story has been with me for a long time. It was, in a sense, my coming-of age as a writer. In writing and rewriting Tapestry I learnt technique and a craft. I spent so much time with its characters that they became like friends.
Serendipitously, as I write this, the Bayeux Tapestry is itself creating news as it pre-pares to return to England from Normandy for the first time in almost a millennia. The enigma of the Bayeux Tapestry has been revived.
Tapestry is available on Amazon worldwide in print and ebook. If you read the novel – and I hope you will – and like it, please consider writing an Amazon review. It really does make a difference to authors.