And Somewhere an Owl Hooted by Ann Evans

My three when they were little
It's true what they say about never throwing any of your old writing away. You just never know...

Years and years ago, when my three children were all young, and my writing was in its very early stages, ie, writing loads and getting loads rejected, they liked to help out now and then.

The kids all knew and liked the fact that mum was trying to be a writer, and often encouraged me – especially my son Wayne who would add a line of narrative whenever he found my computer open and I was off probably doing the dishes or making dinner.

Later as I would be reading through my story, I'd find his helpful line that was going to turn my story into a best seller ....And somewhere an owl hooted.

“Wayne!!” I'd yell.

It got to be a bit of a standing joke over the years, and he has never got out of the habit of adding his 'catch phrase' whenever he gets the chance. Now donkey's years on with the kids all grown up and flown the nest, and with kids of their own (well two of them) I still find ...And somewhere an owl hooted in whatever I'm working on if he happens to call by and spots my computer open. The most recent time only a few months ago. It just makes me laugh although I wouldn't be surprised if one day I'll be reading through something I've had published and I'll see his handiwork there in print, somehow having escaped my eagle eye.

Thinking back to the very first time he'd added his few words, it was to a story I was working on called Death Lay Waiting which was an adult novel about murder and a kidnapping. After I'd finished it, I sent it off to various publishers. I remember one rejection coming back saying it was too violent and gory and another came back saying it wasn't hard hitting enough. Eventually it got put away in a drawer and I got on with other stuff. Happily that other stuff turned into six books for Scholastic, the first being Cry Danger.

Then about two years ago as I was sorting out my old filing cabinet I came across this slightly yellowing manuscript, with the title Death Lay Waiting. Attached was a review by a writing tutor who I couldn't even remember sending it to. His comments were very encouraging, which made me wonder why I hadn't persevered with it years ago.

I think when you first start out, a rejection letter is a rejection letter. I didn't realise then that I should have taken these editor's comments on board and re-wrote/adjusted or whatever.

However, curious, I re-read my story and realised that it wasn't too bad at all, so I set about re-writing it and bringing it up to date, and off it went again winging its way to another publisher, only to have it rejected again; and then another publisher – who, to my absolute delight, have accepted it!

It's an American publisher who I hadn't heard of, but they seem very keen and there's a contract for hardback and paperback and as an e-book, with an advance – not huge, but still an advance, and decent royalties.

I'm over the moon about it, and just so pleased that a story first written, dare I say it, over twenty years ago, is finally going to see the light of day.

And now that I'm making a start on the proofs, I wonder if I can slip in there somewhere that classic line...And somewhere an owl hooted.


julia jones said…
Of course you must include the line. You must include it in every book. You could always use anagrams or something so only you (and yours) know what it is. Delightful story
Dennis Hamley said…
It's always the way Ann. I've got three separate writing projects on now, all based on failed attempts I abandoned ten, fifteen and twenty years ago. Perhaps I should concentrate on just one of them: I might finish it quicker. When I had a short World War 1 story rejected for a collection of war stories in 1988 I forgot about it - until fifteen years later I found it, reread it, remembered why I wrote it - and from it Ellen's People was born and Divided Loyalties came after it, both published by Walker. Now,rights reverted, they'll be put on Kindle after the next one's done and, at last, I'll complete the trilogy. Delete NOTHING. Ever.
Ann Evans said…
Julie, that's a lovely idea. In the adult book I'm working on now, there's an owl involved, but I love the anagram idea.
And Dennis, I agree, delete nothing. One of my old rejected romances has now turned into a success too.
Thank you for your comments.
CallyPhillips said…
Great story. And great title for a book!And somewhere an owl hooted.

I have to confess that as a young child I 'helped' my dad once by marking his students exam papers in indelible red pen. Ooops. That must have been hard to explain. I didn't read them, just marked them!

And you are so right about the gestation period. It never ceases to amaze me how things that were rejected 10-20 years ago become acceptable after that gestation period even with no or little work. Does this mean we should all stop writing 30 years before our death in order to capitalise on things being published. Or does it explain why so many authors become 'famous' after their death.
Should we add this as advice to new writers. First write. Then rewrite. Then get the rejections out of your system. Then leave to simmer for 10-20 years. THEN resubmit. Sigh.

... and somewhere... GO WAYNE.
Bill Kirton said…
Great story, Ann. I agree with Julia - use it. Make it a challenge for your readers to spot how you've included it in each new book.
And add me to the list of those who second your advice. Never discard things unless they really are demonstrably awful. I've just published a children's adventure, The Loch Ewe Mystery, which I wrote 20+ years ago. Like you, I remembered it, updated and rewrote it (explaining why no mobile phones were available to the victims of the baddies), and it's just appeared on Kindle. If they'd had mobiles, there'd have been no plot.
Ann Evans said…
Cally, I bet your dad was pleased with you!
And perhaps it's best not to tell budding writers that the gestation for a piece of writing can be 20-30 years!
Bill, love the idea of deliberately slipping the line in... and I know just the person to help me!
Wayne Evans said…
I'll waive the royalties, as long as your character is called Jasper Carrott or Robert Powell.

Those of you with a very long memory might remember a sketch in The Detectives where Jaspers character was making up confessions for crimes that hadn't been committed yet. I seem to remember the full line was:

"It was late. I saw a car glistening in the moonlight. Somewhere an owl hooted."

I never had enough time to get the full line in before you came back.
Ann Evans said…
Ah! Ha! So that's where it came from Wayne. Incidentally the new book, Death Lay Waiting is the one with the character 'Snake' in. Remember him?
Lydia Bennet said…
Sort of 'product placement' with no commercial intent - great idea! did you approach a US publisher direct, I'd heard they aren't usually keen to publish UK authors, assuming you are of course!
ABE said…
What a hoot!

And what encouragement. Thanks.

I always like the first detective novel I finished writing. Several friends read it, and I have several encouraging rejection letters (also didn't understand what that meant).

The friends made a comment which at the time I wasn't able to figure out how to use: it was a bit confusing for about the first third (these lovely people kept reading because they were friends), but that after that point, they couldn't put it down.

I've been re-reading at bedtime, and I know now exactly what that comment meant: there was a huge difference between what was inside of my head, and what I was able to put on paper - back then - and the story IS set up with way too much detail.

I can see how to fix it.

And I can also see that what I will end up with is a nice little HISTORICAL mystery - because enough time has passed, and that will suit the story very well by putting a modern frame around it.

That, and of course practice improves all the other parts of writing - rigorous editing will be needed.

But I'm so glad you posted about your success. Kudos and congratulations.
You have to include it! (Besides, it's a good line...) I think a lot of us are going back to old work and finding that it's OK - just didn't suit whatever 'they' were looking for at the time.
glitter noir said…
Great story. I'm glad to be in such good company here, going back to earlier books. Your tale is on my mind as I rework a ms. written 20 years and handled by one very big agent who sat on it for one full year without ever sending it out. He loved it but thought it was ahead of it its time. I've come to be grateful for the chance, now, to do my Perfector's Cut: turning the old version into something more accomplished by using everything I've learned about editing, character, pacing and setting...Fingers crossed--and thanks again.
Ann Evans said…
Thank you for all your fascinating comments, I've really enjoyed reading them.
And we're definitely in agreement, never throw those old manuscripts out!

And Lydia, I am an English author and I did just approach the publisher direct. I'd spotted that they were accepting unsolicited manuscripts and followed their submission process which was lengthy. Must admit I'm curious as to what changes will need to be made. I'll find out fairly soon I imagine

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