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Last Updated: Monday, 23 April 2007, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
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By Stephen Dowling

Even in the age of MySpace and blogging - where innermost thoughts can be made public without the help of an agent or publishing house - every year thousands of people in the UK start writing a novel. It is a journey few will finish, so why do they bother?

There are over 450 people crammed into a room at the Earl's Court Exhibitions Centre on a blazingly bright spring morning. Many are here because of that most potent of writer's fantasies - walking into a bookshop and seeing their name on an upright spine.

Below, the Magazine brings you extracts from three unpublished novels - but which deserves publishing?

At London Book Fair's seminar on novel-writing, the vast majority of questions being posed to authors Joanne Harris and Tim Lott, and agent Simon Trewin and publisher Antonia Hodgson, are about debut novels.

Those gathered here are but the tip of the iceberg. Every day, in front of computers in the study, in coffee shops and cafes, on kitchen tables and in idle moments at work when the boss isn't watching, someone begins a novel.

It remains one of the most long-winded and difficult of contemporary creative endeavours. Unlike that dream of being in a rock band, most of the writing process is done in isolation, without being able to bounce ideas off the bass guitarist or the drummer.

She draped her cool fingers on his arm, making the hairs spring up like unleashed coils

Few of those who begin have the discipline, stamina or patience to complete their tomes.

Beyond that initial flash of inspiration - Stephen King's first published novel Carrie came from a newspaper piece about telekinesis being most commonly reported in girls who had begun menstruating - lies many months, if not years, of research, writing, drafting and re-drafting.

It is a tough process, and even established authors sometimes struggle. Virginia Woolf took five years to write her final novel, The Years, and in the process suffered a mental breakdown.

Mr Trewin sees as many as 6,000 manuscripts a year - most of them novels - and he is just one of hundreds of literary agents in the country. Most of the 12 major fiction publishing houses in the UK are unlikely to publish more than one debut novel a month. The odds are stacked against you, even if you are able to turn watercooler daydreams into a finished novel.

The apartment building had been built in the 1920s, huge, solid, and with massive windows gazing towards the sea - not that there was much to see today apart from filthy grey mist hanging over the water

"The truth is that many of us write novels for the same reason that George Mallory gave for climbing Everest - 'Because it's there'," wrote novelist Sheila Doughty recently in the Daily Telegraph. "There is nothing more satisfying than doing the hardest thing, even though you may risk all in the attempt."

One of the most difficult things - after the initial excitement of an idea that lodges in your brain and doesn't disappear after a more critical second look - is to keep it going.

Creative writing seminars and coursebooks will tell the budding novelist to write every day - practice makes perfect, and character development and a sense of pace come easier to those who are writing constantly.

Pile of novels
Some novels' destiny is the remainder pile

But what if you can't? Even those who have been published find the daily discipline difficult. Douglas Adams' last manuscript was 15 years overdue.

The hunger to write a debut novel should not be under-estimated. It is a lonely job. Social lives, gym routines, families and career plans can suffer in its wake.

And beginning a novel in the hope it will pay off the mortgage is, in most cases, a false hope.

Simon Trewin says: "People shouldn't sit down to write a novel because they want to make money. They've got to wake up with a fire in their belly."

Lott, who won the Whitbread in 1999 for White City Blue, warns that the process of wrestling a novel into shape over many months can be exhausting.

"It's work. As much as climbing up a ladder with bricks on your back. I'd rather run a corner shop, but I have to do it," he says.

Somebody else hit someone for hitting someone else, and soon no one knew who had hit who or why, but they knew the beer was worth fighting for so they kept hitting each other

Jamie McCabe, 41, a copywriter from East Sussex, has finished the first draft of his comic novel One of Our Clowns is Missing, about a troupe of laughably bad clowns.

"Many of the events are actual things that happened to me in my early 20s. Memory is very unreliable, particularly from a distance of at least 20 years, and I liked the idea of mixing truth and fiction to create something quite other."

For Michael Byrne, 36, a journalist from south London, the question "why write a novel" is something of a mystery.

"Why do you get up in the morning? You don't have a choice, you just have to - it's hard-wired into you."

He has finished his second attempt, a thriller called Snowflakes in Summer, and is already writing another.

"As a working parent, it's hard to write every day," says Mr Byrne, "but when I'm not writing, I'm editing, or taking notes or doing a little blue-skies thinking about where the book is going. The characters and the storyline populate your thoughts day in, day out and it's quite hard to escape them."

Scene from film adaptation of Joanne Harris's Chocolat
Joanne Harris had to wait a long time for major success

But is it fun? "Fun? Is climbing a mountain an inch a day using only fingertips fun? Not fun, but worthwhile. As you create characters, do all sorts of things to them and watch how they react, you learn more about life, and your own place in it."

Mr Trewin's advice is that you don't have to be published to be able to call yourself a writer. Finishing a novel should be recognised as an achievement in itself.

Mr McCabe, still trying to wrestle his novel into shape, recognises that achievement.

"I've managed to make myself laugh out loud at times and that's the best I could hope for. I've loved it when the story has at times taken on a life of its own."

Below is a selection of your comments.

A friend of mine did some work experience last summer at a well known publishing house, her job was to look at the unsoliticited manuscripts that came in and decide which ones the publishers would have a proper look at. An unpractised, unskilled, unpaid, 21 year old used to read the synopsis and first page of someoneżs work and decide whether it was worth looking at further by the experts. Quite a disheartening thought. I think Iżm happy in the knowledge that while Iżm driven to write and will continue to do so, Iżm far too terrified to show anyone else what I write so shall not have to worry about the rejection letters.
Estelle, Edinburgh, UK

Comdedian Peter Cook summed up the aspiring novelist best. When he was at a party and a man proudly announced he was writing a novel, Cook responded, "Oh really? Neither am I...".
michelle olley, London, UK

It must be hugely frustrating for aspiring novelists to struggle to even get their manuscipts read by agents, and then see third-rate newspaper columnists walk into book deals, simply because they know the right people through family connections or from having gone to Oxbridge together. I don't want to read about these self-obsessed bores' lives in Hampstead and their tedious partners and offspring in the weekend supplements of newspapers. So I certainly don't wwant to read barely disguised rehashs of this material masquerading as a novel
Pete, Oslo

The advent of word processing has encouraged too many talentless people to believe that they can write something that other people want to read. What a shame that so many trees are cut down to publish this self-indulgent rubbish.
Al, Weybridge

It's hard but it can be done. My first novel - Objects of Desire - took over a year to write, months to attract an agent and nearly a year to find a publisher. All worth it though, to see it on Amazon and in bookshops, to get the added bonus of foreign language rights sold, to keep fingers crossed for the film rights. The mass market paperback comes out in August - oh happy day - and those so-far nugatory royalties will start rolling in, I have no doubt. If you have the fire, then keep on trying. The end result is well worth the pain.
CJ Emerson, Monmouth, UK

I am approaching the halfway stage in the writing of my first children's novel. I didn't begin it with the misguided impression that I would one day waltze into a publisher's office and have them begging me for the next instalment. However, it was really disheartening to read some of the comments here - has no one got anything more positive to say? JK Rowling was turned down nine times before she was published and then she was only given £2500 for her first efforts. The war wasn't won in a day - come on, some positive vibes please! Thank you Dean Crawford from Guilford, you give me hope.
Anna McNally, Rickinghall, Diss, UK

Writing novels can be hard work with little reward except the knowledge that you've achieved something by reaching that point where you type 'The End', but good things can happen - I've now sold two novels to a major publisher. It takes perseverance and an unshakable belief in yourself, though - I've written twelve novels altogether!
Andy, Bournemouth, UK

I am astounded that so many such as I are in existence, nervously approaching their innermost feelings through a fictional character in the mind's eye. To see the events unfold in the written word before your very eyes is a pleasure be it your, or some other soon to be great novel from another. Keep striving. I myself have penned numerous short stories; a few childrens bed-time wonders; and three thrillers all for my family and friends (and of course myself). Yes I would love to be the next JKR and there are times when I nearly send one of them off. Still, my nervousness would not be the same if I were to actually publish now, would it!
Harry Stephens, Hillingdon, Middlesex, UK

Now well into my third novel, my journey can best be described as a modification of ambitions. After completing book #1, I expected to get published. After book #2 I set my sights lower, representation becoming the goal. When book #3 is complete, I imagine I shall be more than satisfied if the manuscript is requested by anyone. Yet despite the dawning reality, I'm proud I started and would encourage others to do likewise.
Stephen Mitchell, Stratford upon Avon

I have been writing for 15 years and now have an MA in Writing. I recently took a year off to write a book and self-published it, and I am now sending the book out to agents and publishers. It is much easier for them to envisage it as a book when it is a book! I recommend this approach as a great marketing ploy, but only do it if you are confident the material is up to scratch, otherwise, it's a couple of grand wasted. The key to success is, I'm convinced, sticking with it. There is no monopoly on talent, but those with talent AND perseverance will ultimately be those that succeed. But good luck to us all.
Ian Carroll, Liverpool

Yes, I too was like John Beverley. Ever since primary school I wanted to be a writer. Put my whole life on hold because I didn't want to 'sully' my creativity and I wanted to maintain my integrity. It was a big mistake. I wish I'd worked hard at school and become a solicitor now, at least I'd have a career and be earning good money. I wrote several novels and childrens' books but nothing ever came of it and I have a disorganised sort of life and the one thing a writer needs is peace and quiet. Now, just turned 50, I still have ideas but I can't face putting in all that effort for no return. I've become more interested in visual arts as that offers more instant gratification. As Rebecca points out so much of what gets published is utter tosh so one feels cross at the waste of the world's resources. I guess the thing is that it is fashionable tosh about smart people that panders to the novel reading public.
Sue Rochester, London

Writing is anything but lonely! I don't think my writing is any good or even of a standard to be published and I still haven't finished any of the books that I've started (of the major ones). But I LOVE writing them. I love getting lost in the characters that I have created and wrapped up in the story lines. I have one book out there with an agent just because it was finished and I didn't know what else to do with it. I don't expect it to be finished but I wrote because I was enjoying myself. That is I think all you can expect. I will never be discouraged by the fact that I'm unlikely to ever get the attention of a publisher who are so narrow minded and publish to satisfy the market not recognise the talent and imagination.
Kate, London

I've written three novels one of which - "Immoral Consensus" - I've self-published and which is available worldwide, well, provided you shop online. Few bookstores accept self-published books unless they get a huge cut. Like publishers, they're more bothered about the bottom line than with content. I could sell more with a decent deal, but at least I'm selling. Still, I'm working on three more ideas right now, because perseverance is key. A terrible thing happens without effort. Nothing.
Richard Faith, Bath, UK

Keep going, folks! My first novel (called "On Angel Mountain") was turned down by 53 publishers and about as many agents. So I went it alone and self-published. It turned into an instant success, and went through three print runs. Now it has sold 12,000 copies. I followed it with four sequels which considered together with my first novel make up the "Angel Mountain" saga. Then Corgi sent me a fax out of the blue and asked to buy the books. In the last year they have published the first three -- the first has already earned out its advance, which is more than can be said of 95% of books published. The moral of this tale? Going it alone may well pay dividends -- and if a book has strong characters, a rip-roaring story line, a sense of place and time, and enough atmosphere to affect the reader, it has a fair chance of succeeding. It helps if the book is well written!
Brian John, Newport, Pembs, UK

"It's taken me twenty years to become an overnight success" is so true it's not surprising that so many people lay claim to having said it first. All I can say is that I spent 18 months pouring my heart and soul into writing a novel and it got absolutely nowhere; then, ten years later, I spent a matter of weeks writing a very short book indeed about a subject that was always a hobby-horse of mine, and found myself with an agent and a deal with a major publisher pretty much immediately. So there is light at the end of the tunnel, but you can never say exactly when; and in the meantime ou have to keep at it.
Warwick Cairns, Windsor, UK

I have two god-awful novels that I wrote stuffed in the back of a cupboard. I am finally getting published because I wrote a non-fiction 'how to' book. I am thrilled anyway!
Pat Tunstall, Buffalo Grove, Ilinois

Samantha David is being unduly modest. I know her quite well and she is enormously talented. Unlike me. I've been tinkering with words for years with no publication in sight but a lot of wisdom acquired in the process.
Anton Darby, Belgium

I've written three novels - not for other people to read but just for the sake of it. I find that having an epic creative project to work on helps me to see beyond the day-to-day. I don't write because I think I'm good at it; on the contrary, I've heard it said that if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly. That's something we forget in this age when we watch Premier League football rather than playing in the park, and play CDs rather than instruments. Hooray for the internet and sites like blogger, NaNoWriMo and YouTube which free people up to be mediocre.
Tom di Giovanni, Leamington Spa, UK

There is nothing worse than spending a year drafting a novel, sending it to an agent or publisher on Monday as per their guidelines, spending Tuesday hoping for the best, only for the manuscript to be delivered back to you on Wednesday with the standard "thank you but no thank you" letter...at least have someone read the synopsis! Give it a chance. This has happened to six of my colleagues who all sent their work to the same agent to see if the result was the same. I won't mention the agent's name but the whole thing is Hogwarts! New writers just don't have a chance anymore!
Joe Charmer, London

I think many aspiring writers are spurred on by the fact that so much of what makes it to the bookshelves is complete tosh. I have finished my first two novels, written for fun, but one day I might try sending them to an agent... after all with so much junk out there, why not my junk too?
Rebecca, Cambridge, UK

It may be hard for an unknown to get published, but I managed it - my first novel I Married a Pirate is published this July. If I can do it, so can anyone... the trick is just keep writing. The Pirate is the fourth novel I've written. There are two more on the slate.
Samantha David, France

Does Mr Trewin read 6000 manuscripts a year, or does he consign potentially excellent reads straight to the bin? I've never written a novel, never will, but I love reading and discovering new authors
Christine Bowles, Milton Keynes, England

Well I've written 2 novels now, neither of which have been published- not that I'm going to let that stop me starting work on my third. It is very lonely sometimes, but then the fact that writing is such a solitary endeavour is probably one of the things some people like about it- if I succeed it's all down to me. I consider just writing 2 books an achievement- but I would love to be published someday, even if all it ends up as is a cheap book in the bargain bin!
Paul Starkey, Nottingham

S'true about the fire in the belly. I wanted to write from being 10 years old, and from my late teens into my early thirties it remained all I wanted to do, and so I did it. I wrote a whole (derivative) novel, many many poems (some quite good) and a sheaf of short stories. Never got published, never seriously tried, but I was getting better and anyway, writing was the point, not publication. Then one day it all stopped. Don't know why, the fire just went out, and I've not written a thing for the last fifteen years. I can't even remember what it felt like, but I know I have lost something very real.
John Knight, Beverley UK

It's tough, no doubt about it. I've got a novel doing the rounds with agencies right now. Two agents requested the full manuscript last year, both turned it down, but with helpful editorial notes. Now it's ready once again and the waiting begins... It's taken me nearly 10 years to get to this point, being taken seriously by agents. You need a hell of a lot of perseverence to make it, but the results, in my opinion, are more than worth it.
Dean Crawford, Guildford, UK

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