The Book that Almost Never Was
“All human wisdom is summed up in two words - wait and hope”
Alexandre Dumas Père
It’s embarrassing to admit, but when I was younger and got frustrated, be it by an unconjugable French verb or a smudged pencil line on my latest art masterpiece, I’d launch into spectacular hissy fits involving ripped pages and dramatic drop-to-the-floor howls. To these Golden Globe award-winning temper tantrums, my mother always responded by admonishing me with the old rhyme:
Patience is a virtue, preserve it if you can,
It's seldom found in woman and never found in a man.
I can’t say her words helped—they usually set me off into even higher pitched maniacal rants—but she was right (at least about the virtue part if not about the men, many of whom have incredible forbearance), and patience would prove to be the one virtue I would need most as a writer.
Releasing my debut novel has been a long, windy journey on roads that were full of unexpected turns and mostly uphill. There were days I worried Simon’s story might never be published, and I still wake sometimes to see the book with its beautiful cloth binding and ribbon page-marker on my bedside table, and am newly amazed.
The truth is that I had a chance to cut the journey short, but didn’t. Five years ago, when I had what I thought was a decent draft, I got THE call—a small press wanted to publish the book. But when I sent the manuscript to my agent to get her opinion, her advice was to let it pass—the book wasn’t good enough yet.
To say her news was crushing was an understatement, and that little girl who wailed over art assignments was not so grown up as to be unable to handle the news without a teary angst session. But after a few glasses of wine accompanied by dark chocolate (which worked much better than motherly admonishments), I re-read the book and knew my agent was right. The book wasn’t ready, and what was more, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t yet skilled enough as a writer to handle such a complex and unreliable character as Simon. To tell the story I really wanted to tell, I simply had to work harder, and do the one thing in my life that I hate doing—wait.
Letting that offer go was the hardest decision I ever had to make, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t regret it many times during the next five years. Four of those years were spent honing my craft under expert mentors in the Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at UBC, and two years into the program I abandoned Simon and his secret past to write an entirely different novel. I’d given up at this point, chalked Man & Other Natural Disasters up to one of those learning experiences, and turned my attention to other projects.
But despite what people claim, there are such things as second chances. Five years after my first refusal, the same press approached my agent with an offer to publish Man & Other Natural Disasters. I was nervous at first, unsure that I could fix what five years earlier had seemed impossible, but along with the fantastic editorial advice from the staff at Enfield & Wizentry, I resolved the problems plaguing the original version and finally got down to the real truth of Simon’s past.
The lesson was a hard one, but one many experienced and established writers often reiterated to me—that to write well takes time, commitment, and above all patience. To answer the oft-asked question, ‘would I do it all over again’, I would have to say yes. But now I know the blood sweat and tears are worth it, I would probably do it with less angst and tears, and a lot more chocolate.
Nerys Parry's debut novel Man & Other Natural Disasters was a finalist for the Colophon Prize and tied for seventh on the CBC Giller Prize Reader's Choice Award. Her previous writing has aired on CBC radio and been shortlisted for several awards, including the Kenneth R. Wilson Canadian Business Press, Event Creative Non-Fiction, and FreeFall’s Fall Fiction Awards. Nerys holds a Bachelor of Engineering from Queen’s and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from UBC and lives in Ottawa with her husband and family.