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  • An Obituary: A Shawl for Mary Ann

    Posted by Patrick Cunningham on 31 October 2023 at 12:20

    It is with deep regret that I have to announce the demise of ‘A Shawl for Mary Ann’.

    The book was born long ago, on the 2nd November 2010. It was an easy birth; the gestation was long but pleasant, a period of exciting research into the history of the Howes family. At birth it had no name, but soon it became ‘The Three Weddings of Benjamin Howes’, a name which initially fitted it well. But as it grew it became apparent that it was suffering from a sexual identity crisis; what had initially appeared to be the story of a man and his young wife became instead the story of a young woman, albeit a story told mainly from the husband’s point of view.

    Several times as it grew it tried to find more direction. It was offered to agents when still very young, in 2013. Though they were encouraging they insisted on waiting for it to grow to full length before they would even consider representing it. It was accompanied in its growth by Sue, the writer’s partner, who was a constant companion and critic. Others offered advice and support as it neared completion.

    Its writer, like many first-time writers, was not well versed in the process of writing a novel, but had strongly-held views on what was appropriate and what he did not want. Unfortunately his views were not shared by the professionals who came into contact with the book. Although somewhat reluctant to do so, he tried to move towards conformity with their strictures, remodelling the book to fit more closely with their preconceptions, despite feeling some pain in having, he felt, to undermine its individuality. But he was not prepared to mimic the poor writing, weak characterisation and faulty plotlines of many of the books he had read, including some which had mystifyingly won prizes. And try as he might he could not find a way to persuade the book to show its face, as he was repeatedly advised to do, in those first three chapters. It was the kind of book which was a little shy at first and incapable of expressing the brashness needed to compete in the 21st century marketplace. It might, he mused, have been better received in the early 19th century, when it was set, when people had longer concentration spans and less choice of reading material.

    After a brief visit to York in September 2022 the writer thought he understood some of the issues he still faced and again re-worked the book, giving the voice of Mary Ann more prominence. At this point it gained a new title, ‘A Shawl for Mary Ann’, to better reflect its true nature and the acceptance of its true sexual identity.

    In its new guise it went off to visit several carefully researched agents, bearing various different letters of introduction. Sadly, none was even interested enough to want to look beyond the first three chapters, even with its revitalised direction.

    Not being human there is no legal impediment to euthanasia, and so, having accepted that the book must be fundamentally flawed and unpublishable it was decided that the kindest thing – kindest both to the defective book and to its writer, who had by now tended its every need for thirteen largely rewarding but often stressful years – was to put it out of its misery. It has therefore been laid to rest on a USB stick, placed in a cardboard archival box along with other family mementoes to gather dust as it slowly decomposes.

    Nicky Sargent replied 3 months, 3 weeks ago 5 Members · 8 Replies
  • 8 Replies
  • Rose Blakeney

    31 October 2023 at 16:20

    Hello Patrick

    A sorry tale but one with which many people can identify, I’m certain. Remodelling the book, with no reward for it at the end, shows the peril of being so eager to see the book on sale that you conform to what the agents or editors want. Stick to your guns next time and, unless you see the truth of what they say, don’t take their advice. You’ll just be doing it to comply with their tastes and spoiling what you were trying to do with the book in the process.

    Whatever you do, don’t be discouraged. Keep writing. I hope you’ve got another book on the go. You could always try self-publishing.😃

  • Karen Vincent-jones

    31 October 2023 at 17:09

    Oh dear – I do sympathise, Patrick. It must be hard to give up after all that time and effort.

    But you could always do as Rose suggests and self-publish – that way the book appears how you want it to, rather than some not necessarily knowledgeable publisher or agent.

    Good luck!

    • Patrick Cunningham

      31 October 2023 at 19:52

      The problem with self-publishing is that it will only work if you are prepared to commit endless hours to doing the social media promotion, and I’m not. And to be a successful self-publisher, according to the illustrious (and doubtless correct) Harry Bingham, you need to have a bunch of books on your list, which I don’t, and which I now never will. So it’s not a realistic option form me.

  • Rod Francis

    2 November 2023 at 00:32

    Are you sure ‘A Shawl for Mary Ann’ is in the right medium?

    Could it have the makings of a radio drama series?

    Don’t tell them you adapted it from your novel.

    • Patrick Cunningham

      3 November 2023 at 09:00

      Thanks for the suggestion. Several people who have read it say that it is extremely visual and would make a great costume drama TV series; but that world is even more rarefied than book publishing, I have no experience of scriptwriting and I wouldn’t have a clue where to start.

  • Rod Francis

    3 November 2023 at 13:55

    Costume dramas are expensive, radio is more accessible for a first time writer

    ‘So You Want to Write Radio Drama?’ by Claire Crove & Stephen Wyatt

    Nick Hern Books – 256 pages – ISBN-10 : 1848422830

    There are copies on eBay for about £3.00

    • Patrick Cunningham

      3 November 2023 at 23:23

      Thanks – I’ll see if I can get a copy on Better World Books. Even if I don’t commit to doing it I will be curious to learn how it’s done!

  • Nicky Sargent

    6 November 2023 at 19:02

    Dear Patrick,

    I feel for your loss.

    Albeit sad and too soon, I wonder if there might be a divine reincarnation as a re-edited book 2 one day?

    I hope so. My first book is twitching away in my top drawer, just waiting to go out and dance again as a very rapidly turned-around book 2 – if my next one gets off my computer and onto a shelf in a bookstore near you.

    Keep the faith!