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  • Barbara Copperthwaite

‘The editor said my novel was too dark? Dammit, I’d make it darker.’ Debut author Nicola

Debut author Nicola Martin tells of her #SetbackComeback struggle, when she took what others saw as a flaw and made it into a saving grace…

Nicola’s psychological thriller, Dead Ringer, is about meeting your doppelganger (and the spiralling calamity that goes with it). The Daily Mail called it “tense and compelling”. She lives and works in Bristol, UK, and prior to that she studied literature at the University of East Anglia and the University of California, Berkeley.

Nicola, over to you!

I was meeting with an editor at a restaurant in London.

It was a fancy restaurant: high ceilings, marble everywhere. The editor was from one of those publishers I’d grown up seeing on the spines of books. I ordered from the menu at random, and ended up with a few pieces of pasta arranged artfully across my plate. As I ate and chatted, I tried to appear normal and not like I was going to implode.

I’d been writing seriously for 10 years at this point. ‘Writing seriously’ did not mean I had much to show for my efforts. It was my dream to be an author, but my hard drive was a graveyard of half-finished novels, ideas that might have been good.

I always had the drive to write, yet I was plagued by self-doubt. I’d start things and not finish them. I couldn’t bear editing or rewriting or receiving tough feedback.

Exhale. Things were different now. I was in the fancy restaurant. My agent was sitting beside me. I was about to be offered a book deal!

Except the meeting wasn’t going the way I’d hoped. The editor was saying she liked my book, a YA thriller, but she thought it was too dark. YA was all about parents buying books for their kids. What would the parents think of my novel, with its drugs and violence?

I finished my pasta. (There wasn’t actually enough of it to constitute a lunch, so I had to cut up the last of it into small pieces, to appear like I was eating for an appropriate amount of time.) The truth was becoming clear: the editor wanted my book, but only if I completely rewrote it as something lighter and fluffier.

I was tantalisingly close to getting the thing I’d always wanted. (A book deal! With a big name publisher!). But it would mean compromising my novel completely.

I could say this was a big decision, a great crossroads in my life, but it wasn’t. I never even considered doing the light-n-fluffy rewrite. It wasn’t me.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I left the fancy restaurant, got on a coach home to Bristol, just me and my rejected book. Over the weeks that followed, my agent continued to shop my novel to publishers, but none of them were interested.

I’d spent 10 years chipping away that this writing thing and I felt like I was still at square one. Indeed, there’s another version of my life story where, at this point, I gave up.

In this alternate universe, I got a full-time career job, one with a good salary and a clear path upwards. I found a regular-person hobby, like canoeing or crocheting. I stopped spending every day trying to untangle the lives of the imaginary people who lived in my head (and in my novel).

Forget that alternate universe. For better or worse, I’m a writer. I decided:

I wasn’t going to quit. Instead, I made peace with the idea of being back at square one. The only way to make it to square two was to keep writing.

The editor said my novel was too dark? Dammit, I’d make it darker. Instead of tiptoeing away from the disturbing parts of my novel, because I worried they were too raw, too revealing (what will the parents think?), I ran at them headfirst. I wrote what scared me.

Just like that, I became a crime novelist.

It took me a couple of years to completely rewrite my novel, and a couple more before it was published. Dead Ringer, a novel about the disastrous consequences of meeting your doppelganger, is not a light-n-fluffy tale. What readers have told me they love about the book is its darkness, its disturbing denouement.

My setback might have left me devastated for a while, but it contained within it the seeds of my growth. Rewriting a novel from the ground up forced me to improve my craft. It also nudged me into a different genre. Crime writing fits me so well, I can’t believe I ever wrote anything else. (What will the parents think? Who cares!)

Most of all, I learned resilience. We might think we want the bells and whistles of publication (the fancy lunches, the big name publishers), but what we really want is that icky-sticky internal growth. We want to be able to hold our heads up high and be proud of what we’ve written.

WOW! THANK, NICOLA, FOR SHARING THIS INSPIRING STORY OF HOW YOU TOOK A ‘NEGATIVE’ AND TURNED INTO AN INCREDIBLE POSITIVE THAT HAS CHANGED YOUR LIFE.

  1. IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ NICOLA’S INCREDIBLE DEBUT PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER, DEAD RINGER, THEN CLICK HERE.

  2. TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT NICOLA, FOLLOW HER ON TWITTER OR INSTAGRAM

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