I won international deals for my debut Recipes for Melissa (by auction at the Frankfurt book fair ) just a few months after he died.
That breakthrough followed ten long and tough years of trying so my dad certainly saw all the heartache en route, as did the rest of my family and friends.
All the time I was trying to become an author, I felt a little guilty inflicting the rollercoaster of near misses and rejection drama on everyone around me. I had a good life. It felt unfair to moan. I was a journalist and TV presenter and had always earned my living from words. I was lucky. Right? But the truth is becoming an author was always this big dream deep, deep in my heart. Right from childhood. And because of this every rejection really hurt.
I’m currently sorting out my office – shredding a lot of early manuscripts which go years back and are now stored digitally. So it stopped me in my tracks when going through old writing files to come across this very special letter from my father that I had long feared lost. (I have looked in vain for it many, many times since he died.)
OK; so my dad and I didn't have a perfect relationship ( who does?) but we loved each other very much and were fiercely loyal. We were always especially careful to be there for each other when the chips were down.
And he sent this special letter to me when I had just suffered a particularly difficult disappointment in my writing life. A major publisher had been championing one of my early novels. The whole editorial team said they loved my book. And so I agreed to do some editing with them out of contract, by which I mean unpaid and with no promises. I worked like a lunatic for months – stupid hours on top of a full-time job (and two children). The book finally went to an acquisitions meeting (crucial stage) where it was much praised...but, ahem, fell on a close vote.
My literary agent of the time had been sure we had a deal in the bag. So had I. And this one was such an especially near, near miss that I cried bitterly, not least because I was leaving my television work and I needed a new source of income.
And so yet again I had to make the round of calls to family to say that in my writing life, it had gone a bit pear-shaped; from a delicious 'maybe' to a 'no'.
I lost my mother to cancer as a teenager so it was my dad who then sent me this special letter to try to buoy my spirits ,enclosing a newspaper article about Dan Brown’s writing struggles before The Da Vinci Code success.
My dad wrote : ‘ even bestselling authors struggle before they make headway…I am sure you know this but seeing it in print might help to slightly sweeten disappointment…’
I found the letter in an old file with the email telling me that the acquisitions meeting had turned down that early book.
The letter has brought tears to my eyes today. And it has only just hit me how spooky and especially wonderful it is to read dad's words again in such different context. For my debut is about a woman hearing from her mother years after she'd died...through a journal which helps the daughter to go forward in life.
Letters are rare these days...but so very special, aren’t they? It is something about seeing the handwriting and imagining the person with the pen in their hand...
I remember that when I read my father’s letter that first time years back I thought he was just being loving and kind but that things, writing wise, were looking hopeless.
So thank you, dad for believing. And I hope you are somewhere smiling ....that you were right. I did keep going, and I did get there in the end...
No surprise perhaps that my two books so far shine a light on the theme of loss…and how we learn to carry the sadness because the love lives on in our hearts.
I will be keeping this letter very, very safe.
And to all writers reading this and still waiting for your break, I hope you have someone very special cheering you on too.