Tuesday, 29 January 2013

 Literary Agents and a wee sample of my writing from 'If Everyone Knew Every Plant and Tree'

[Here's the link to my *top ten Amazon best-seller* book (grab a copy for just £2.99!):

Sooooo, as the Americans start sentences—I was on about literary agents and publishers and that...

Just after I’d sent my novel off to the first few agents, the very talented and mucha intelligenta Nicola Morgan (author of ninety books and avid blogger/tweeter ) critiqued my novel. It was a wonderfully useful and highly recommended exercise, though when I first read her notes, I felt like giving up. To my amazement, she initially said, ‘I was really taken by the original and clever voice and very competent writing. I was actually quite blown away.’  But... you have to sustain the voice and the readers’ interest, and she questioned (somewhat firmly) whether I had managed that. Well, cards on table, she didn’t think I’d managed it at all. It’s vital to develop a thick skin at this point as it’s givvy-uppy time.

Her detailed analysis was like a mini course in creative writing, so there was a lot to take in/take on. After bolstering my self-esteem with a few black Russians (of the cocktail kind, you understand—vodka, kahlua & coke) and squeezing my head over how I’d tackle a rewrite, I got down to business after a week or so and edited away.

Before I had been sent the critique from Nicola, I had a request for the full manuscript from David Higham Associates, so I was able to incorporate some of the suggestions before I sent it out. They didn’t take me on, more or less echoing what Nicola had said—that the initial sample was ‘very promising’ and that they were interested, but I hadn’t sustained the voice well enough or kept up the pace. Dem and blarst. BUT, I had only incorporated a fraction of the proposed amendments at that point.

Of the thirteen submissions I sent out, mostly over a six-month period, I was asked for the full manuscript from four different agencies. Apart from these, I experienced the full gamut of responses. Mulcahy Conway took over a year to get back to me as I waited on tenterhooks for their response: ‘Sorry for the delay—another Johnston confused the two submissions.’ Ah, right, nee probs, ta very much. And Eve White won the prize for the speediest reply, which was an automatic email rejection. I had hardly stepped away from the computer screen when their email yanked me back and socked me one. Whoa, ouch, okay then, cheers. It did say, "I do assure you that we have considered your work carefully," so maybe the agency is just super efficient. All part ut game. Actually… I shouldn’t count that one, should I? Sooooo, I sent twelve submissions out, not unlucky thirteen.

Will tell more riveting rejection tales in the next instalment, but for the moment, why don’t I let you read a snippet for yourgoodselves?

If Everyone Knew Every Plant And Tree
 Julia Johnston

Excerpt from Chapter six, 'Saved by Lily' Main character fourteen-year-old Oliver Campbell is fretful; his little sister, Lily, is ill in hospital and now his older brother, Nathan, has gone missing. Ollie and his best friend, Kamal, plot the next move...

‘Dead Man Walking’ appeared from nowhere looking grey and severe, his murky fish-eyes trained on us.
“You’re late for assembly. Thought I’d scoop up some deadwood out here. Always some dozy floaters lurking round reception.”
He managed to say all this without moving his mouth. He was an experiment gone horribly wrong: a ventriloquist’s dummy crossed with a serial killer.
“Hop it!” he shrieked.
We ran to the hall, which was only about ten seconds away. We were just taking our seats on the ‘late row’ at the back of the hall, when assembly began. It was exciting in a way, going to the latecomers’ row. I would say it’s actually the best place to sit. You had to sneak in through a door at the top of the slopey seat section—raked seating, it’s called—so you were at the back, higher up than anyone else. It was definitely a top spot for spying. Once sitting down, I was completely distracted by this sea of fidgeting in front of me. I went to a play with school once where they had binoculars behind every chair. Well that wouldn’t be a bad idea in schools, for when you’re not interested in the assembly, which is about 99.9 per cent of the time. I had just spotted Bill Owusu rolling a cigarette two rows in front of me, when the proceedings kicked off. Usually all the teachers sat on chairs on the stage, but Thursday was ‘performance assembly’, so we had some sort of show or short play or something to look forward to (not).
Kamal nudged me and pointed out Poppy. The boy to her right whispered something and she turned, slow motion, towards him, her hair snaking round. Her fringe was in her eyes, brushing her eyelashes that were caked up with thick black gunge and it sounds rude but her upturned nose reminded me of a pig just then, or, I suppose a piglet. Not that she wasn’t pretty, by the way. I wanted her to continue turning her head so that her gaze would fall on me and she’d wave, as if she somehow knew where I was, but all that happened was she shoved the boy’s shoulder and turned back to the front.
My attention shifted to ‘Dead Man Walking’, who had spookily materialised on the stage, even though we’d just seen him in reception. His real name was Dr Spark, deputy head and Chemistry teacher, nickname chosen because he never changed his facial expression from one of gloom. My dad told me he wasn’t a medical doctor (thank God—he’d probably end up poisoning his patients), but one with a PHD. To become one, I think you’ve got to learn a heap of stuff about one massively particular area, like ‘How an Ant carries a Crumb’ or, ‘The Use of the Word ‘the’ in the Works of Shakespeare’ and write a humongously long essay-type thing about it. He stood in front of the microphone-stand and started,
“Notices first:
·        Tonight’s Year Nine Girls’ hockey match cancelled
            [I hadn’t rung Mum! She was going to be sick with worry.]
·        First Eleven Football Team lost thirteen-nil
            [Should I pretend I’d seen Nathan? No, stupid. Bonkers idea.]
·      says here ‘Danielle Bell who left last year has given birth to triplets — Chanelle, Sherelle and Rochelle. There’s a card to sign in the sixth form common room. Only sixth-formers to sign.’ I don’t want to see anyone else hanging about over there. You’ve been warned.
            [Should I go looking for Nathan? He would have come looking for me.]
·        from now on, anyone caught smoking behind the bike shed will report immediately to the headteacher, Mr Hickey.
            [Yes, I would bunk off school and go looking for Nathan. He couldn’t have gone far, but he did have that naïve side to him. What if some weirdo had lured him off somewhere?]
Now all eyes to the front to watch a number from Year Ten’s new show, ‘Killer’. I said all eyes to the front! ”           
            [Oh my God, he could be dead. My Mum and Dad would lose it completely!]
“What an inspiration this man is!” said Kamal. “I wonder what his second choice of job would have been? Someone high up in chemical warfare maybe?”
I just wanted to leave immediately, but I had to sit through this whacky show that I didn’t get whatsoever. I would ring Sam. He was always ultra sensible in panic situations.
I wasn’t in the mood for Kamal’s banter:
“Lucy Pool’s got socks down her bra! It’s a dead cert. Look at—”
“Shush for once, will you?”
“Ooh! What’s up with you today? Sorry, I know. Look, he won’t have gone far. Probably at Manchester skate park.”
He was right. Kamal always sussed things out really quickly.
When Mr Hickey got up afterwards, praising Year Ten’s efforts and gushing how proud he was of them, I wondered if he’d seen a different show. At least he was a positive kind of person, I suppose.
 I had to text Mum and Dad. That way, one of them could go looking for Nathan too. As we walked out of assembly, I told Kamal what I thought. He said,
“Yes of course we’ll leave school together. Better that more of us are looking, Olvo.”

[Here's the link to my *top ten Amazon best-seller* book (grab a copy for just £2.99!):


  1. Julia,

    It's a voice from your past, Va from Passyunk Avenue in Philly.

    I can't believe I'm reading your novel! Without a doubt, it's totally ready to be read! I really like Oliver. He reminds me of the boy in Catcher in the Rye, a massively popular novel. I am hooked on the story - have no idea why Nathan has gone off and what will become of him and I can't wait to find out. Will you be posting more chapters?

    Glad to see you are well. Your blog is fun for me as a writer. I still write songs, but now I'm also whipping up tabloid/soap-opera style historical novels that go into the private lives of the suffragettes and many other feminist babes. I wrote about the brilliant Pankhursts, who are from your neighborhood. I publish my novels on Kindle.

    I still live in Philly, moving to LA.

    Hope you post another chapter! Soon!


  2. Will keep this short as it didn't post last time! Wow - amazing and lovely to hear from you! Thank you so much for your kind comment.

    Will check out your work - what name do you go by??

    My book will be on sale at Amazon very soon so I'll keep you posted...


  3. Hi Julia - the name is VA Harington Hutton and I am enjoying this blog!!

    You are a delightful writer...keep it coming baby!

    You can reach me directly at thecbrclub@gmail.com