Where do old stories go to die?
Today I went walking with a friend near the tiny Lake District village of Troutbeck, and it reminded me that my first novel that was good enough to interest an agent (a good many years ago now) was set there. My friend asked me what had happened to that novel and I said, 'Nothing. It's just on my kindle.' But the 'nothing' is not strictly true. That story has not been forgotten. Today I saw the places where the characters walked, where they despaired, where hope bloomed again, and it came to life in my mind as clearly as when I first wrote it.
I have written sixteen complete novels (just counted them!), and only Keeper of Secrets has achieved the dizzy heights of publication. So what about the other fifteen? Are they now nothing more than rubbish, representing years of wasted time, consigned to the graveyard of old manuscripts?
Far from it! Each of those is just as important as the one that is to be published in less than three weeks time, and here are the reasons why:
The first one proved that I had the staying power to write a full length novel;
The next few enabled me to learn the craft, receive feedback and improve;
Around the fifth or sixth one, I got requests from agents for the full manuscript, which told me I was improving along the right lines;
One of them got me an agent, which boosted my confidence hugely. It didn't sell and we parted ways but it was a very valuable experience;
Some of them have been read and enjoyed by friends or family.
But the most important reason is that I have loved writing each and every one. There are few things comparable to losing yourself in the world you are bringing to life, with characters you enjoy being with, seeing the way the story weaves itself and surprises you. Publication doesn't give you that; creation does.
So, to my fellow writers, published and unpublished:
Yes, it's really tough sometimes and you lose confidence in your ability to write anything decent, but the stories you have told, the characters you have breathed into life, the disasters and triumphs that happen to them....those stories now exist where they didn't before. No matter whether anyone has read them, they are real. And that's because you took the time to think about them, to work on them, to pour out the words, to change them, cut them and add to them.
Your stories are as important as any other in the whole world, as important as the prize winners and the best sellers, because you took the time to tell them. Not everyone has the ability - or the patience to do that. You are a storyteller.
And a story, once told, lives on forever.