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The Feeling of Publication

22 March 2017
Alongside being Literature Officer here at QUAD, and various other freelance roles, I’ve always held the job of ‘writer’ pretty close to my heart. I started writing stories about as soon as I could pick up a pen, and I’ve rarely stopped since then, be it short stories, poems, novellas, novels or non-fiction.

From a young age, writing was always something that helped me express myself – I was a pretty painfully shy youngster and teenager, and fiction was a place and a realm where I can be in charge of things and a way for me – indirectly – to say what I wanted to say. And as much as I felt a long-term aspiration to have my own book out, in those early days I was more writing for the sake of writing. It was a bug that I caught, a habit I couldn’t break.

It was only when I hit my teenage years that I started to think about getting some work published, and into a place where people might actually read it. At 13 I sent my first fantasy ‘novel’ – about 10,000 words of it – to the director of Penguin and received a polite and encouraging reply. Of course, I now know nobody looked at it but to a youngster in my position it was exciting regardless. It wasn’t long after that my first poem got picked up for the Havering Poets collection – a book focused on work from around the London Borough – and I was invited to a launch ceremony where my work was read by an actor hired for the night. That was some thrill at 14 – there it was, the first book I had something in, in black and white for all to see.
I suppose what any writer would tell you is that any publication is great, but ultimately you still want more. I was in Havering Poets again a couple of years later, and when I moved to Derby to study creative writing I started to learn a whole lot more about the world of traditional publishing and what it really took to be a writer. It was around my third year that I started submitting to more national publication, a step that was terrifying in its own right. The first poem I sent was rejected, but the second was accepted – which strangely I only found out about when the magazine arrived in the post at my halls of residence on the day I was moving out. A day later and I probably would never have known about it.

It was another exciting step, and one that really set me off on the writing path after University. I was writing and submitting furiously for those first few years, with decent enough results. To date that has taken in about 40 stories and poems published to date, and each is a unique pleasure in its own way. Be it a new publication, a magazine, an anthology or something else there’s always a buzz seeing your own work in print.

But the publication bug – just like the writing bug – doesn’t let go easily. And while it was nice to be in all those collections, there was a little part of me thinking ‘couldn’t you have a book all to yourself’? I was twenty-three when I wrote my first novel – a terribly overblown Gothic love triangle by the name of Arkington Shore – and I was conscious that probably wasn’t the one. I wrote 80,000 words of an odd and untitled alien abduction story that I lost when my computer crashed. I made rather a hash of a multi-perspective demonic possession tale following that. The fourth novel I wrote came off the back of a short story I wrote for a new publisher and – gasp – was commissioned, which meant that the publisher wanted it before I had even written a word. Exciting times in the Davis household? You bet.

But nothing in writing is ever that simple, and said publisher asked me to write the book in three months – no mean task in itself – before promptly folding about a year later before putting my book out.

Now I don’t mind admitting that stung, and stung a lot. To have had a dream for 25 years, to think you’ve achieved it, and then to lose it wasn’t easy to bounce back from. But a writer doesn’t tend to stay down for long, and having processed everything I got the bit between my teeth and decided I could find a new home for that novel. I liked it a lot – it was certainly the novel I was happiest with – and thought that maybe, just maybe, somebody would want it. Having submitted it to Tickety Boo Press, I was slightly stunned when I get an email back two days later – two days – saying that yes, they’d love to publish it.

Happy Alex once again! And even more happily, this one came to fruition. It was at my annual endeavour here at QUAD, Edge-Lit, where the book was first launch and it was great to hold it in my hands and see my name on the front. Another one to tick off the bucket list!

It’s been a couple of years since that, and the latest book is going to be non-fiction, interestingly. I’ve always been one to set new goals and challenges – I hate to think of the grass growing under my feet – so book two of my own is a study of one of my favourite films of all time, the French movie Martyrs. And I’m every bit as excited about that as I first was all those years back.

Many of those experiences have been the inspiration for my new writing course here at QUAD, How to Get Published: A Step By Step Approach. You don’t write to the director of Penguin, first off. You don’t go into it blithely and blindly, without having considered your book and what the best home for it might be. Writing a great book is one thing, getting it published is another challenge entirely.

What I hope from this course – probably more than any other course – is that people can take forward what they learn over these four weeks and can apply that to making a strong submission package that can lead to publication. Having run the course a few times elsewhere, that have been some lovely success stories out of that, and I get almost as much of a thrill from that as getting my own work published. There’s nothing like knowing you’ve had some small hand in helping somebody achieve their dream.

So, if you’re at that point with the novel done, or almost done, and you’re looking at the wide world of publishing with uncertainty then this could just be the right course for you. Fingers crossed we can get that submission package just right and guide you on the next step in your writing career.

How To Get Published: A Step By Step Approach runs from Monday 3rd April- Monday 8th May, excluding two Bank Holidays. Tickets are £60/£50 concessions and can be booked from QUAD Box Office on 01332 290606 or by clicking here.