As a writer, you spend hours scouring the listings in The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, signing up for newsletters to hear of the latest story contests and magazine markets, sending off your official submission packages to anonymous editors, getting rejections and tweaking the story or the cover letter or the synopsis and sending it all out again.
Sometimes, of course, this pays off. Winning the Luke Bitmead Award and getting my first novel published was the result of just such an official submission. So were other breaks, like short story publications or, looking further back, my job at The Wall Street Journal.
Often, however, the opportunities seem to come from unexpected sources. Here’s an example of how it can work.
One grimy November evening back in 2010 I went to a local photography exhibition near my home in north London. I liked the images a lot and intended to blog about the event, but only remembered about a month later, when it seemed too late to be worth bothering. Besides, I don’t really do art reviews on here. I almost canned the whole idea. In the end, in a bit of a rush, I posted a short article, more to cement it in my memory than for any other reason.
A few days later I got an email from the photographer, Roelof Bakker, thanking me for the post and wondering if I’d like to meet for a coffee in Crouch End, where we both lived. When we met, over a couple of strong, strong coffees at the fabulous Coffee Circus, he told me about an idea he had to do a photography book featuring short stories inspired by his images. It sounded fascinating, a combination of words and text that I hadn’t seen before. I told him I’d be happy to contribute a story, and also put him in touch with a few writers I know who I thought might also be interested.
Roelof then went into overdrive, contacting a whole load of great writers from around the world, and now he has managed to collect 26 stories, each inspired by one of his images. We met a few more times for coffee last year, and each time I watched the book edging closer to reality. It’s now so real that it has a publication date, 10 September 2012, and a couple of top-notch editors in Nicholas Royle and Ros Sales. More details nearer the time.
Update: you can now get more information from the publisher, Negative Press.
The image I chose to write about was this clock, the one I included in my original blog post a little over a year ago. It really resonated with me, as the rust or whatever that is streaming down the wall reminded me of blood, and so I decided to write a story based on the themes of time and blood, and it ended up involving a criminal trying to invoke the ancient right of sanctuary in a modern-day church on the Kilburn High Road.
It’s interesting how these things work – for all the necessary hard work of researching markets and going through the right channels, sometimes the opportunities come about through a process as apparently random as the creative process itself, the sort of process that starts out with a clock on an office wall and ends up with a criminal claiming sanctuary in a church. You can’t explain things like that, only be grateful for them when they come about. And still keep putting in the more conventional hard work.
For a list of other projects I’m involved in, click here.