The Highs and Lows of Writing

June 4, 2014 | By | 22 Replies More
Caroline Sandon

Caroline Sandon

When Women Writers, Women’s Books  suggested that I should do another blog I was cautious. What should the subject be? Perhaps I could write on the pleasure of getting an option for a three part TV series for my novel Burnt Norton, but there are many options taken out each year on many books.

Some of the options get taken up and are made into that wonderful series or film, and others stay on the table causing much disappointment. Some books are treated with sensitivity, and the final film is true to the original, while in others, the book, your baby, has changed beyond recognition.

No I must not write about this, for though I hope that quite soon Burnt Norton will be a glorious adaption on Sunday night TV, I must not tempt fate and relegate it to a sad script that languishes eternally on the producer’s table.

Another option for this blog was to show how my own personal experiences have influenced my writing.

I believe and hope I speak for authors generally, that much of our writing is shaped by our own lives. Most of us have known triumph and tragedy, and I have had my share of both. I am not sure that I want to do a blog on my lost baby son Charlie. He is immortalized in Burnt Norton and for me that is enough.

No, I have found my subject. I am going to tell you the truth about my experiences of getting my first novel to the bookshelf. It would be a  lie to say it has been easy and always exciting. It has actually been a journey of highs and lows and that journey continues. Perhaps some authors have that rare confidence that gives them the ability to focus, knowing their work is brilliant, for most it is not like that.

Burnt Norton

Burnt Norton

Once a month I meet with two other writers, and we call it our A.A for authors group. One of us has had at least six novels successfully published, but she had ground to an emotional standstill, unable to put pen to paper.

She is now writing again and I would like to think our support has helped. Another is an ex policewoman with an extraordinary insight into people’s minds. She will soon be on the best-seller list, I am sure of it.

Our meetings are something we all look forward to, because not only are we friends with the same goals, but we are able to understand the loneliness and insecurity of writing. These insecurities are usually the same: are we any good? Are we writing something people may want to read, and after all the sweat, pain and excitement, will our books get sold?

It is a bit like a roller coaster, one minute you are thrilled because you have been booked to do a radio appearance, the next you have sunk to an all time low because your book has been rejected by a publisher and you are not sure if it is good enough anyway.

Caroline Sandon

Caroline Sandon

There are of course wonderful, incredible moments. When Sheila Crowley from Curtis Brown rang me to tell me she loved my book and wanted to represent me–I was actually up a ladder hanging curtains for a client. (I am also an interior designer.) My tears ran over the cream linen fabric, not ideal for my client but a great moment for me!

I remember when she rang me to say that Head of Zeus wanted to publish my book, and I remember that marvelous moment at the launch when my books were stacked on the table and I was doing my first signing!

But there were other moments when I read a review on Amazon that was really unkind. No one had prepared me for the hurt. It is after all so utterly personal. Emma Fellowes told me that she still takes Julian’s reviews away so that he can’t see them, unless of course they are glowing…

Writers on the whole are an emotionally unstable bunch,  always at the mercy of the reader.


Read Caroline’s post on the research involving Burnt Norton here

About Caroline’s Novel Burnt Norton:

Gloucestershire, 1731. When his youngest son is killed in a tragic accident, Sir William Keyt, master of Norton House, busies himself in his fortune. The building of a second mansion in his grounds defies expense and denies mortality; an emblem of the Keyt name for generations to come. 1741 his beautiful new mansion becomes his funeral pyre.

‘A powerful story, beautifully told, of love and betrayal, greed and tragedy, which is all the more intriguing because it is rooted in truth.’ 
JULIAN FELLOWES, creator of Downton Abbey

Caroline Sandon won her first national poetry competition at the age of ten, and from that moment dreamt of being a writer.  At eighteen she began a law degree and only a year later got married. She left the law to become a model in the fashion industry and a few years later she gave up modeling to devote more time to her children and to become an interior designer.

Fifteen years ago she moved with her husband and seven children and stepchildren to Burnt Norton. With the children growing up, Caroline had at last the time and the material to write her first novel, Burnt Norton.

Follow her on twitter @CarolineSandon Find out more about Caroline on her website

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Category: By Current and Past Sponsors, Contemporary Women Writers, On Writing

Comments (22)

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  1. Deborah Canto says:

    Thank you, Caroline, for writing this article. You are so fortunate to have two friends to share your experience of writing with, especially during the more discouraging times. I experience times when I wonder why I keep writing, not because I do not believe in myself as a writer, but because I have serious health problems. I feel an agent/publisher wouldn’t be interested in publishing my book if they knew I was ill and incapable of being able to promote my book publically (ie. book signings), so I keep my health matters to myself and figure I’ll worry about what I’ll do when the time comes. I don’t think art should be limited by health in this way, at the same time I know it’s a big investment for publishers, and they need the author to get out there and promote their book. Social media helps in marketing but from what I’ve read, it’s not enough and agents/publisher require you to be active outside of social media as well. I read lots of blogs from writers but wish someone would write about being a writer with health problems. I’d love to hear how other writers managed to get published while they’re living with debilitating health problems that limit them. It’s not knowing where I stand with this that makes me insecure about my future as a writer.

    • caroline sandon says:

      Dear Deborah,

      I have just read your post thank you. Firstly a Happy New Year.
      Don’t be put off by your health issues. They are obviously part of who you are and any good agent would see beyond them. Yes some of the endless self promotion may be difficult but so much today is done on the internet. When Burnt Norton was published I had no idea where the road ahead would lead and I learnt quickly that so much is up to the individual, but with twitter and facebook and the huge variety of tools at our fingertips, you should be able to achieve a great deal. My children have just told me that actually I need to take my foot off the peddle. I think it is very easy to become obsessed with it all, but actually the joy is the writing so Deborah remember that and write.

  2. Rae Reeves says:

    Enjoyed reading this blog so much. I’m just at the begining of this journey, I’m in the process of writing my second novel: my first at this moment is being read by a selection of friends and so far most have loved it. But the self doubt and highs already have me biting my nails,going over the words trying to find the courage to send it off to the stranger that could end the turbulence or send me to a deeper pit. So reading all the comments have really helped me find the courage to open that door. Thank you.

  3. Caroline, I love your description of shedding happy tears on a client’s new curtains! That is a great overall symbol for the theme of your post. LIke you, I also have had a hard time with negative reviews, even though I know that not all books are for everyone — nor should they be!

    When I was younger I thought that once I got my book written all would be rosy … then I thought once I got an agent all would be rosy … then I thought once I found a publisher … well, you know the rest. Thanks for writing about this process, the highs as well as the lows. It helps me remember that the writing is the joyful part; all the rest is gravy.

  4. Victoria Abbott-Fleming says:

    Hi! Loved your article on the good, bad, high and lows of your writing.

    I know I can most certainly relate to what you have said, because in a way my roller coaster is the actual writing. What I mean is that my book is about me and my life which wouldn’t be I suppose too bad, however the main part it is the severe chronic pain condition that I suffer from after I had a in the outside a ‘simple’ accident at work, the subsequent extreme treatments, the ‘pigeon-holing’ of the National Health Service in the UK and above all the amputation of my leg- and all of these lows leading from that.

    So… I seem to end up in floods of tears when I write about different incidents through the journey. But I know that when the book is finally finished, hopefully published and read by others then I will know and feel proud of what I have achieved not only going through the horrendous journey I’ve travelled with the condition and which it still goes on, but also the fact that I have achieved something great in my writing.

    In short I believe all writers go through ups and downs, highs and lows whether they are writing an epic novel or a short story.

    • Dear Victoria, I am so sorry it sounds as if you have had a very difficult time. I am sure you will achieve something great because you obviously have a gift and your journey has not been easy. Passion, sadness, pain all these things add to your writing. I don’t think you can write without any life experience.

      Good luck and I hope that you will let us know when you get that great letter or call to say you are to be published.

      Very best wishes


  5. Kate Foster says:

    I really enjoyed reading this blog and, like many, can totally relate to Caroline’s words. It’s always reassuring to read how fellow writers, successful ones too, doubt themselves, what they’re doing and fall victim to low moments over nothing more than another person’s opinion. Thank you, Caroline, for sharing your feelings and insecurities. Makes me feel normal!

    • Thank you Kate, I have had a great response to this and its very comforting to know I am not alone. Only this week I was given an anecdote on the precarious moods of an author and the various stages of our neurosis by Siobhan Loftus. Unfortunately I didn’t write it down but it was hilarious. It’s so very true, one moment we are up and our novel is great, the next we believe the novel is rubbish, we are rubbish in fact why did we ever bother at all!!!

      Very best and thank you


  6. I agree with you so much about the value of other supportive writers ~ ones who listen and really take an interest in a two way street. I started a writers’ group and that’s what it has been. So many different journeys – highs and lows. We bounce ideas off each other too and help each other to avoid pitfalls as well as share successes. Well done with your achievements.

    • Thank you Diana that is so kind. A very wise man told me at the weekend that I must take every day as it comes and not get so obsessed with numbers, after all I have a book on the shelves and should be content. There is a wee problem however, once you have one on the shelf you are desperate for the second book to be accepted and it is not a given! Oh Lord why do we put ourselves through it. Of course I know the answer. I love writing.

  7. It’s always great to read of a writer’s success story, and yours was really inspiring. I’ve written a trilogy and looking for an agent but it’s a waiting game. Have got so close so many times which is incredibly disappointing. Do I give up and go the self-publishing route? Will it feel like second best if I do?

    Yes, writers do put their very being into novels. I always fall in love with my hero, I cry when I throw something awful at my heroine, especially when I’m not sure how she’ll cope and I have to leave her in a bad situation until I can figure out how she solves it. I laugh when my characters are having fun, and get cross when he or she’s behaving badly. It’s amazing how real they all are. Writing is a very strange way to spend one’s time but it’s still the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done.

    • Oh Denise I would say keep going, but don’t dismiss self publishing because there are also so many success stories, it is just a different route. For me getting a publisher was the most traumatic and then exciting experience. The weeks waiting for the letter, will they accept me won’t they. What will they say? Keep on submitting to agents because once you get an agent your route will be easier. No, not easy, but a little less rocky!! it is never easy for us new authors but certainly you will get publishers looking at your book.

      I hope this is of some help because I understand every word you say. On some days I am so miserable that I want to give up, but the next, someone tells me they love my book and it has made their day and I am on top of the world.I am learning that this is the life of a writer!!

  8. Amy Kierce says:

    Thank you for writing! I loved hearing your wonderful story of being on a ladder when your agent called. I have imagined other such stories and as soon as I send out my ms, will be hoping for the same. 😉
    Also, you hit the nail on the head with: “Writers on the whole are an emotionally unstable bunch, always at the mercy of the reader.” So true! We are at the mercy of the reader, and everyone has a different opinion. We have to be tough! So hard to do… Thanks for writing.

    • Thank you so much Amy. I hope you have a similar story, but maybe it would be better if you were not on a not on a ladder when you hear the good news! We really do put our hearts into our writing, so if the criticism is harsh, it is tortuous. However hopefully this does not happen often. It would be great to have a thick skin, but then could we write? Possibly not.

  9. I loved this post and I am going to read Burnt Norton, my sort of novel. Yes The Handfasted Wife took me a long time to write, was part of a phd programme and when I was offered publication which came out of the blue I was thrilled. It was before my viva with Fay Weldon and another. She loved and supported the novel. My publisher for this trilogy is a small one but Accent have done well by me. I shall think again after this first trilogy on the Royal women of 1066 which is signed with this publisher. It was a wonderful feeling to see my novel in print for the first time. The second novel The Swan-Daughter was a shorter write . It took 18 months. It comes out in September. This is the thing. Will the success of the first novel be repeated. That for me is as yet unknown. You are only as good as your last book. But here’s hoping. Thank you for this post. I really identified with it.

    • Thank you so much Carol. You sound as if you are already very successful, well done you. I would love you to read Burnt Norton thank you, and I look forward to Swan Daughter. Sometimes I wonder about this success, but you need it to be able to continue. If the book fails who wants you afterwards?. It is an emotionally draining process, but to get lost in your story is worth all the pain. I no longer look at the sales figures, as I believe it is better to just keep on and write.

  10. Thank you for sharing this with us. Truly appreciated. I can relate to many of your emotions. Now, when I have the time and space, I am unable to focus, but am determined to get ‘restarted’!

    • Do, it is worth it Jayshree. Sometimes I believe I cant do it, that I can’t write, but then the words flow from me and it is if an invisible hand is doing all the work. Find that hand and you will keep going.

  11. Lani says:

    Congratulations. It’s always lovely to hear a success story. I also think writers groups can be really empowering and uplifting. At least, that has been my experience, too. Cheers.

    • Thank you Lani, I appreciate your comment. Yes fellow writers, aspiring writers, in fact anyone who loves to write will understand the mental process. It is hard and emotional but fortunately there are the highs that make it all worthwhile.

  12. Anora M says:

    Caroline, I was so happy to see the new cover (paperback) of your book up again as a supporting sponsor on our site. I really related to this:

    “Perhaps some authors have that rare confidence that gives them the ability to focus, knowing their work is brilliant, for most it is not like that”

    I loved reading about the crowing moments of getting a literary agent, selling the book, and the book launch. Those details, especially being high on a ladder with tears running down your face, let us share in the moments with you.

    You’ve had many lives. Award-winning poet in grade school. Law school graduate. Model. Interior Design. Mother. Author.

    The other women in your writers group sound interesting too. Thank you so much for sharing your life and book with us. – Anora McGaha, founding editor, and co-editor with Barbara Bos, Women Writers, Women Books

    • Thank you so much Anora it is a pleasure working with such a great group of women who have been a support and always seem to be there to give confidence. Now of course Alessandra’s War will be going out there, and the roller coaster begins again!!

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