Festival success: Joanna Cannon

Guest author extraordinaire and blogger Joanna Cannon attended our Festival of Writing in 2014. Jo walked away with seven offers from literary agents and eventually signed with Susan Armstrong from Conville and Walsh. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is her first novel, published by The Borough Press (HarperCollins), called ‘A delight’ by Paula Hawkins and ‘A wonderful debut’ by Jill Mansell.

There is a certain, creeping horror, when I look back and think I nearly didn’t enter the Friday Night Live competition at the Festival of Writing.

I was a real eager-beaver when it came to the Festival booking. I was logged in and ready to pick my one-to-ones the minute the website went live. But the competitions were a different matter altogether. They were A Scary Thing.

I’d been to the Festival before, and watched other writers on stage, reading their work out to an audience of very important people. I didn’t want to do anything quite that scary. I’d much rather stick to the brilliant workshops and talks, and the Gala Dinner and scary (but slightly more manageably scary) one-to-ones.

But right at the last minute (sorry, lovely organisers!), I changed my mind.

The agent submissions builder

Write a perfect query letter and a brilliant synopsis. In just one hour.

It’s a strange business, this writing malarkey. We write because we have something to say, but when it comes to saying it, we run for cover at the thought of anyone actually hearing us. I avoided telling anyone I write. On the rare occasion I admitted it to someone, it was always accompanied by a slight apology for being so ridiculously self-indulgent. I don’t write anything very interesting, it’s just a little hobby, nothing will ever come of it, etc. ,etc.

Yet in September last year, I found myself on a stage in York, with 500 words of my manuscript trembling away in my hands. I’m not going to lie, it was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced, and as I walked up to the microphone, I honestly felt my legs were going to give way. But it needed to be done.

We spend so long agonising and doubting, and battling with our words, we really owe them a chance to be heard. Even if it is a Scary Thing. The best experiences of my life have usually started with more than a pinch of anxiety and, as it happened, this was going to be one of them.

No matter what else life has in store for me, winning Friday Night Live is something I will always remember. Overcoming my fears, and looking out at the audience and seeing people raise their hands to vote for me, was the most incredible feeling (and if you were one of those lovely people, thank you!). It really was one of the best nights of my life.

What I didn’t realise, was within hours of leaving York and heading back down the M1, I would have seven offers of agent representation.

Seven amazing, incredibly skilled people who wanted to help me with my book.

I felt like I’d either stumbled onto the set of a Richard Curtis film, or I was having a transient psychotic episode.

After a very tense, tearful and pacey few days (I know it’s a great problem to have, but it was still very stressful!), I decided to sign with Sue Armstrong at Conville and Walsh. I met Sue during one of my one-to-ones, and I just knew we’d get along brilliantly. C&W represent some of my favourite authors, and it’s a huge privilege to be joining such a prestigious agency. Within a week, HarperCollins had offered a life-changing amount of money for my manuscript (the manuscript I was worried about showing anyone, because doing that would be a Scary Thing), and I began to spend large amounts of time staring into space and trying to believe it was all true.

That’s when the creeping horror began. When I began to imagine what would have happened if I’d listened to the internal narrator we all have, the one who tells us to walk away from the Scary Thing.

The Festival is the most wonderful, supportive, fun environment, filled with amazingly talented people, and I’ve learned so much in the time I’ve been going. I do hope I will see you there and I really hope you’ll ignore that ridiculous internal narrator, and enter all competitions.

You have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain.

The agent submissions builder

Write a perfect query letter and a brilliant synopsis. In just one hour.