I recall… when I read to 300 people.

… at York Writers’ Festival. The audience included writers, agents and publishers. The reading was a competition organised by HarperCollins – called ‘Autonomy Live’ – entry was open to authors from the (now defunct) writers’ website, Authonomy.

It was nerve-wracking for one who’d never really shown her work to others to stand up and read to not just an audience of 300, but also a panel of judges consisting of agents and publishers. I seem to remember having at least two double vodkas before starting.

I didn’t ‘win’, but that was okay. Funnily enough, I’m editing that same book now (published in 2013) for a second edition, and I recall what the judges said about this particular extract being too abstract, that it needed to be happening now and not recounted. I took on board very little of what they said at the time, or of what another agent said later in a harrowing long phone crit, or of what HarperCollins’ editors themselves said when they reviewed it on Authonomy… I took in very little of ANY negative comments because I was a proud writer, I’d finished a book, and negative comments were akin to a stranger telling you your baby’s ugly…

Now, seven years on and re-reading the book for the first time in years – recalling all the professional advice I was freely given – they were right. All of them. This particular extract is horrendously over-wrought and dull. Other parts of the book now jar when I read them… other bits I adore, they’re great, and I can readily see the difference between the two, whereas before it all seemed the same (wonderful beast) to me.

Moral of story: if professionals tell you your baby’s ugly, it might hurt, but chances are they’re right.