About a month ago, a letter fell onto my doormat which completely knocked me for six. It was from my agent at Johnson & Alcock and I hadn’t heard from them for over 10 years. They hadn’t published a book of mine since Highland Summer came out with Robert Hale in 2003 so why had they written to me now? It didn’t even look like the previous letters I’d had from Johnson & Alcock – the heading was far classier, for a start. For a mad moment, I wondered if it might be a scam.
Elizabeth giving a talk at Caerleon
A lot of water had gone under the bridge since I was last in touch with them.
Jenny Haddon and I had co-authored Getting the Point. A Panic-Free Guide to English Punctuation for Adults which was published independent of Johnson & Alcock by the Edinburgh publisher, Floris Books in 2006.
I had also completed two other historical novels, neither of which had found a publisher. I had assumed that my agent had quietly dropped me – which was fair enough. After all, I hadn’t been earning them anything. We had exchanged Christmas cards for a few years and then that petered out, too.
I am now on the Press Preview guest list of various museums and art galleries – and I blog about it. The men’s shoes above were in the V & A’s 2016 exhibition ‘Shoes’. They date from 1725 and they belonged to a man who had been to Versailles.
I’m a great believer in the adage: If one door closes, another opens. My life had moved on. I had been busy elsewhere: reviewing for the Historical Novels Review and The Islington Archaeology and History Society Journal; lecturing; taking workshops; reading for The Hilary Johnson Authors’ Advisory Service; and, since 2016, blogging weekly.
2020 saw the birth of my lockdown project, that of getting my back list into e-books – thanks to John Hocking and Janet Gover’s insistent prodding. One of the last communications from my agent had been to tell me that I now had my Elizabeth Hawksley books’ rights back – I’d asked for them with the intention of getting them into e-books – so I was free to go ahead with that.
Tea at Brown’s Hotel with Janet Gover and John Hocking to celebrate the successful launch of our lock down e-books project (the tea and cakes were delicious – and we liked the ambience.)
I had also been part of a small writing critique group comprising myself, Jenny Haddon, who writes as Sophie Weston; and Jean Fullerton. We met regularly and discussed our work in progress which I found both supportive and helpful with regard to Tresillian, one of my unsold novels set in Regency Cornwall. I soon saw that it needed attention – with the result that it became a lot sexier!
Until lockdown, Jenny Haddon, Jean Fullerton, our good friend, Janet Gover and I, met for lunch every few months to discuss things writerly. We managed to meet back in mid-September – masked and socially distanced, of course – for lunch in an Italian restaurant but then things closed down again.
So, one way or another, I have been busy.
In the intervening years, Johnson & Alcock have been busy, too. They now have a Head of Rights, Hélène Butler, whose job is to look at J & A’s authors’ backlists to see if she can re-sell the foreign rights of books whose licences have reverted to the author. And it was Hélène who had written to me.
‘Jenseits des Stromes’, the German translation of ‘Crossing the Tamar.’
Her letter was about Jenseit des Stromes, the German translation of my Crossing the Tamar which had been published in paperback by Wunderlich Taschenbuch in 2000; the license had reverted in 2004. And, her letter told me, the popular – and large – German publisher, Weltbild, had, ‘fallen in love with my novel’. They wanted to re-publish it in e-books with their newly-launched Webook platform, an e-book subscription service mainly concentrating on romance and suspense/mystery novels. Jenseit des Stromes fitted in nicely.
Hélène advised me to accept Weltbild’s offer, and added, ‘This e-book model has been very successful in Germany.’
The first thing I did – after re-reading the letter several times – was to ring Edward Wilson at Johnson & Alcock. I had actually met him briefly in about 2006 and I recognized his name. He was delighted to hear that I blogged regularly, and was dipping my toes into tweeting. I told him about my lock down project and that The Girl Who Liked Giraffes, my fourth e-book, would be out on February 1st.
‘The Girl who Liked Giraffes’ which has just come out in e-books
Suddenly, it felt that my life had, quite unexpectedly, opened out. I once more have an agent. I told Ed how my venture into e-books had come about and introduced him (electronically) to John Hocking. Ed now has pdfs of my four e-books – I learnt that publishers no longer want to see hardback copies of books they are interested in, they want pdfs. So we shall see what happens.
I am thrilled that Andrew, Ed and Hélène are now following me on Twitter, and, I, too, am following them. I have signed the contract Hélène sent me and the e-book of Jenseit des Stromes will be coming out in the spring of 2022.
You can see why it was a red letter day.
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