Today, I’m very excited to welcome on this blog Sarah Butler, an acclaimed author, and also one of the kindest, most perceptive creative writing teachers ever, who helped me with my first ever published story.
In January this year Sarah’s debut novel Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love, was published by Picador in the UK. It has sold in 15 other countries, and was Book of the Week on Oprah.com when it was published by Penguin Press in the US in July.
Her journey towards publication with Picador is nothing short of a fairytale in terms of the amount of perseverance it required of her. If you’ve ever thought of giving up on your book, or finding an agent or a publisher– you might like to read her story below, in her own words. (All emphases in the post below are mine). Take it away, Sarah!
Thank you to Damyanti for inviting me onto Daily (W)rite.
Damyanti asked me to write about my journey to publication, which has been long and obstacle-strewn. I started writing seriously in 2003, and took an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in 2003-2004. The year after graduating I finished my first novel, got an agent, but didn’t get a publishing deal.
I worked on some short stories and focused on getting them published, in order to raise my profile and give myself a bit of a boost, and then I industriously started writing a second novel (I was working 3 days a week for a youth literature organisation and writing 2 days a week). When this novel was finished, my agent wasn’t keen on it. We parted ways, and I spent months trying to get another agent to represent me. No luck…
This was now 2007. Two novels down. No publishing deal. And then, in October 2007, I was on a residential writing course in the UK when a new novel (which would end up as Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love) fell into my head – complete with plot and character names – like a gift. It took me four years to write (while I was also working and studying for an MSc in Urban Studies).
In the summer of 2011, I started sending my new manuscript out to agents. I got rejection after rejection after rejection. However, that August I was teaching creative writing at an international summer school in Cambridge, UK, and met Francesca Main (then editor at Simon and Schuster and about to start a senior editor job at Picador) at an event.
Extraordinarily, she asked me to send her my novel. She read it, and a few weeks later sent me a lovely email, saying she loved it, but that “it didn’t quite feel ready yet.” She asked me some very helpful questions which enabled me to look at the novel afresh and see – quite suddenly and quite clearly – what I needed to do. I restructured the book, cut 15,000 words, and sent the revised manuscript back to Francesca in January 2012.
Three weeks later Francesca offered me a two book deal, and two weeks later Picador had sold rights in 7 countries (they’ve since sold the novel in a total of 15 countries).
It has been a long journey to where I am now, and there were times when I felt I would never get published. However, I think if you have the drive to write and tell stories that gives you something to hold on to. First and foremost it has to be about writing the best book you can write, and then persevering when it comes to getting it out into the world. I learnt a huge amount by writing those two novels which weren’t published – so nothing was wasted!
Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love tells the story of Alice – a wayward, wandering young woman – and Daniel – a homeless man on a quest. Alice is in many ways more homeless than Daniel – called back from a worldwide trip to her dying father’s bedside she is forced to face the things that made her run away: a failed relationship, her two difficult sisters, and a sense that she’s never quite belonged. Daniel is at home in London, though he has no physical space to call home. Driven by the desire to find the daughter he has never met, he paces the streets of London creating messages from things other people have thrown away. The death of Alice’s father brings Alice and Daniel together and they gradually discover just what they are able to offer each other. The novel celebrates the everyday and the overlooked. It is an exploration of love and loss and what home can mean.
Sarah Butler writes novels and short fiction, and has a particular interest in the relationship between writing and place. She has been writer-in-residence on the Central line and at Great Ormond Street Hospital. Her novel, Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love, is published by Picador in the UK and in fifteen languages around the world. Find Sarah on twitter @SarahButler100 and also on the Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love Facebook page.
Have you read Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love? (If you haven’t I suggest you change that immediately– it is a book that would appeal to everyone who likes to be moved by the books they read). Have you ever been on the point of giving up in your writing journey? Does Sarah Butler’s story inspire you?