A Red Letter Day

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.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Amazon:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08VHCFFKD/



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21 thoughts on “A Red Letter Day”

  1. What fantastic news! So pleased for you. (The Germans gave you a cracking cover, too. Hope the new publisher keeps it.) Not at all surprised they loved Crossing the Tamar. So did I. Could definitely give Poldark a run for his money.

    I remember our writing trio with Jean with much affection. I learned a lot from the comments you both gave me. I keep finding them now I aim returning, with some trepidation, to the book I abandoned because I thought it was too big for me. Too big to write doesn’t seem quite real any more, during lockdown house arrest.

    1. Thank you, Sophie, for your kind words. Once we’re out of lockdown we ought to consider reviving our writing trio. I want to get back to ‘Tressilian’ at some point.

  2. This is such wonderful news. If I have helped in some small way, it has been my pleasure to make sure your fabulous books are made available to new readers.
    It’s wonderful how writers help each other. There is a fellowship among authors that is a very precious thing.
    Ever onwards and upwards.

    1. Thank you, Janet. The helpfulness of fellow authors has always been highly valued by me – and I try to pass it in. It’s a virtuous circle.

  3. All good news seems to come in bolt from the blue form! So pleased for you, Elizabeth. There is a lot to be said for persistence and hanging on in there.

    1. Thank you, Gilli. I can’t honestly say it was persistence, though, as it never occurred to me that Johnson & Alcock would ever be in touch! Still, getting my back list into e-books has certainly taught me to hang in there – and Janet Gover (bless her) certainly needs endless patience to cope with my IT ignorance!

  4. I am so pleased for you with this news, Elizabeth, and I am sure it is well deserved, but all the more thrilling when it has come out of the blue without any of the usual sending off and waiting for the reply. Well done and best wishes.

    1. Thank you, Gwen, and welcome to my blog. I think that Helene, who re-sold the rights, deserves a medal! I can’t help but think that it must have been something of a long shot – especially in the middle of a pandemic! Unfortunately, Weltbild are only taking foreign books that have already been translated into German – so it’s a one off.

    1. Thank you, Jan. Red letter days are so called because in Medieval Church almanacs saints’ days were written in red and other. normal days were written in black!

  5. You thoroughly deserve this, Elizabeth! What an object lesson in refusing to keel over in the face of disappointment; and instead carrying on doing the things which matter. I am delighted to hear of your good news.

    1. Thank you, Prem. I’m not blaming Johnson & Alcock for going so quiet; I must have been a disappointment to them. But I am delighted that we’re in touch again and that they like the fact that I blog!

    1. Thank you, Charlotte, and welcome to my blog. I’ve pinned the letter up in my study to remind me that sometimes the universe does bring both welcome and unexpected news!

  6. What lovely news! Just shows that nice things do happen. Hope this new string to your bow does well for you.

    1. Thank you, Gail. It will take me until the end of this year to get the rest of my Elizabeth Hawksley historical novels into e-books – but it’s very cheering to know that my agent might be able to do something with my reverted foreign rights – I sold four books to a Polish publisher, for example. Well, we’ll see! I think my job is to become more comfortable with Facebook etc.

  7. That is fantastic news! I shall have to tell all my German friends over here to buy your book. I remember reading Crossing the Tamar and I really enjoyed it, I daresay the Germans will too. I suppose it will be published exclusively on the WeBook platform, is that right?
    Good luck with all this or as the Germans would say “Viel Glück”.

    1. Danke, Huon. It won’t be out in Germany until the spring of 2022. Jenseits des Stromes will be launched on the new Webook platform in an e-book only subscription service. That’s all I know at the moment.

    1. Hi Liz, Good to hear from you. The Cornish Regency is called ‘Crossing the Tamar’. It is currently out of print but I’m pretty sure you could find a second hand copy. On the other hand, the e-book will be coming out on June 7th if all goes to plan.
      Elizabeth x

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