At some point in my life, I didn’t know when, probably when I was a teenager, I decided to be a writer. Not to write and try and get published, I was just going to be a writer. A famous one. A Booker prize winning novelist. This dream didn’t come true but it sort of did.
At the age of 27 I’d finished my degree in English, Drama and Sociology and began my first proper novel, hand written and typed out on a friend’s computer. It took five years to completer and was a long, dark crime thriller. This was the nineties and not everybody had laptops. After an aborted teacher training degree I decided that if I was going to be serious about being a writer then I needed to buy my own computer.
On this computer I was going to write my Booker prize winning exploration of mental health issues. I worked in a psychiatric unit and had half an idea for a book. However, the other idea I had about a guy who takes acid in a stone circle was not a Booker prize winning novel, it was a trashy horror. One Friday afternoon I decided to start writing this trashy horror novel to see how it went. I typed solidly for five hours and had enormous fun. I found, strangely, writing could be fun. The ideas were strong, the setting a place I wanted to spend time in, the characters I wanted to spend time with. And so Bad Acid began.
I spent a happy summer in the first year of the new millennium typing Bad Acid. I’d return from the night shift at the psychiatric unit, sleep all day until two pm then get up, make a coffee and write the next chapter of the novel, go to work, get home, read and edit the chapter, sleep, wake, write, go to work etc. My other book, this dark thriller, had taken five years to write. Bad Acid took nine months. All sorts of things around me in reality seemed to feed into the novel. That year was the only year I have ever been to Glastonbury and probably ever will, now that tickets cost three million pounds and you need a blood sample and reference from a trusted professional just to buy a ticket. The whole atmosphere of the place just fuelled the writing of the novel. The colours, sounds, people off their heads, staying up all night. That kind of thing
I finished the novel and after messing about editing it was finally ready in 2001.
So, with the novel written all I had to do was send it off to a literary agent. Back in the early zero’s you had to send a covering letter, a synopsis and the first three chapters of your novel plus a stamped addressed return envelope. (I sound like a granddad trying to explain to a teenager what a record player was). I duly did this, pouring thought the Artists and Writers Yearbook 2000 to find literary agents that dealt in horror. I found three. To my shock one of them wrote back using my stamped addressed envelope and asked
- For me to ring her for a chat
- To see the next five chapters.
I was on the point of handing in my notice from my job as my huge advance would no doubt be coming through the post in the form of a cheque. Our conversation on the phone was brief; she wanted to know if it was violent, a good thing in her view and asked me a bit about my job. I sent her the next five chapters only for her to send them back with a few comments, some advice but she wasn’t going to take it any further.
I think that word sums up my feelings at the time. Sometime later another literary agent asked me to ring him after submitting the piece. He wasn’t going to represent Bad Acid as he handled romance but knew a literary agent that handled horror and gave me his details. He did this on a Friday and he rang me at work wishing me a good weekend.
I never heard back from his literary agent friend. I think I waited a year then went back to sending my A4’s off to London literary agents. Over a period of around ten years about three more wanted to see the rest of the novel before deciding that it wasn’t for them.
I briefly changed the title to more commercially friendly The Deities, thinking the original title might put the agencies off. When I came to self-publish it I kept its original title which I much preferred and it kind of rhymed, both ‘A’s in bad and acid corresponding with each other.
The last literary agent to contact me was an agent listed in the Artist and Writers Yearbook. This guy was American and left me a message on my answer phone. He sounded like John Barrowman, I remember. He said that he thought the book was great and he could definitely find me a publisher. However, to guarantee this, certain expenses would need to be covered such as postage and packaging. Basically, he wanted two hundred quid. Being in a writer’s group with published authors and publishers I knew this was a scam. You may have dealt with this individual yourself. I won’t give his name but you may recognise the description. Let’s just say that he didn’t get £200 quid from me. I moved on from that one pretty quickly.
So, for fifteen years Bad Acid sat there on my hard drive. A few people read it and really liked it, saying it was a page turner and good holiday reading. Two work mates read it, one a guy in his twenties covered in tattoos and the other a guy in his fifties. The both liked it and discussed with me how a sequel might work.
An artist friend of mine who thought everything I did was pretentious and ego boosting read Bad Acid having found it laying around in my house and liked the novel so much she did a painting of what the cover may look like, a stone circle with light snaking upwards of into the night sky.
When electronic publishing arrived I became very excited at the prospect of Bad Acid becoming available to the public. I love that story and it brings back memories of that easy summer writing it in my shared house in Northampton. I still don’t think it’s going to win the Booker prize anytime soon.