This week’s blog takeover is hosted by Lizzie Harwood. This is the story of her publishing journey.
The Story of Xamnesia…
I’ve always been a scribbler, but it wasn’t until I moved to Paris in 1999 that I woke up to writing groups, classes, workshops, literary salons and the like. Some expanded my writing; others got a little weird. In one class, the tutor asked us all to write a chapter of each other’s novels so we could “see” our own stylistic bugs and foibles perhaps? It didn’t feel great, reading a chapter of my work-in-progress through a classmate’s prism, that’s all I remember.
I had a literary agent, a whip-smart bubbly go-getter based in London, who enthused about my first novel and even my second, but neither sold to those starry, exotic-sounding editors at the major publishing houses. Enter a slight depression: what was I doing? I had written two novels and had an agent. Yet I was as far from publishable as I was from the moon. The novels weren’t good enough and worse, I hadn’t learned that you have to write and rewrite and learn how to write before throwing a couple of book babies into the publishing world.
So, after a stint of four half-novels full of loser characters, I started writing Xamnesia. It was called The Girl Fridays, then Confessions from the Palace, then Highness, and finally Xamnesia: Everything I Forgot in my Search for an Unreal Life. I put my one year old into crèche a couple of days per week and got serious about my writing. No more sending off the first or second draft. I wrote nine drafts and asked author friends to critique mercilessly. It took seven years to write!
But, there were still huge lessons ahead. When I started submitting to agents, some leapt on email and raised my heartbeat with requests for the full manuscript and exclusivity. Then I realised that what I’d written could get me (and any publisher) into hot water. The memoir was about a royal family I worked for in the Middle East. Confidentiality agreements were signed. Lawyers explained dire worst-case scenarios. Agents backed off. I sat there with a book I’d spent 1,000s of hours on – for nothing.
That’s when I decided not to give up. I had twigged that even recasting the story as fiction wouldn’t necessarily protect me. So I kept it as a memoir but took the focus off of my bosses and onto myself, and why I chose to jump into an insane-making job of working for oil-rich billionaires. I didn’t name anyone and I made up a fictitious country: Xamnesia, as the place I worked in. I self published in June, 2015 and nobody’s served me with summons (touch wood) because those VIPs actually wouldn’t want to raise their hands and say that they were the people in some of the scenes. It’s honest, raw and real. Nobody in any writing class could’ve written a chapter of it “as me”.
What I learned on this journey was to go for your best, truest words, get smart about what to write, stand beside it and never give up.
Xamnesia is available on Kindle and paperback. My other books are Triumph: Collected Stories, a novella Go See the Kids and Legacy: an Anthology. I’m an editor/writing coach at www.editordeluxe.com and you can befriend me at www.lizziehbooks.com, @lizziehbooks on Twitter and Lizzie Harwood Books on Facebook and I’d absolutely love to join your book club via Skype to chat books!
Thanks Lizzie. It really is a tough world out there but I think you show how sheer determination can really help you to pull through!