Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Dot Lumley, agent and friend

This is a very very long overdue blog, partly because I have been thinking about the best way to write it, and haven't known where to begin...

The beginning I suppose would be good.

Dot Lumley was my agent for 13 years, and we always got along so well, I couldn't imagine not being with her. Sadly she became ill last year, and in January this year, she told me the unwelcome news that she was terminally ill. She faced her illness with fortitude, bravery, calm and humour, but unfortunately in October she lost her battle, and I lost my wonderful agent and friend.

I first heard of Dot, when I was looking for an agent. I had had more rejections then hot dinners, from people who loved my writing, but didn't love it enough to take it on, and a very good publishing friend suggested Dot. I was pretty much on the verge of giving up (I had ambitiously, and foolishly decided that two years was the longest I should attempt this writing lark, not realising quite what a long haul it was going to be), and I tentatively sent off three chapters and a synopsis of the first manuscript I had written. I should say the first ms I wrote was pretty rubbish. It was a real, How Not To Do It kind of experience. I started to write it when I went freelance in 1998, and wrote in between editing projects. I had no focus, and my personal life was in some array, so the first draft was VERY gloomy. Thanks to some huge amounts of help from Hilary Johnson, I was able to knock it into an okish shape after nearly two years, but though I had lots of people telling me I could write, like I say, none of them loved what I was writing.

Then along came Dot.

I got a fax (yes it was that long ago!), to say she loved White Wedding, and would I like to be represented by her. Would I? Would I, hell! (I still have that fax...)

The only slight drawback was that I was very heavily pregnant. In fact, no 3 was due the following week. So I wrote a delighted email back, and said if she could bear with me, I would be back in the writing saddle the following year. As it turned out, Dot had to bear with me for rather a long time. She sent White Wedding out to lots of different people, and got a lot more thanks, but no thanks rejections. In the meantime I had a go at a few other things, but lacking time, didn't finish anything. Then, I fell pregnant again. So there was a hiatus of a whole year, when I didn't write a thing (though I did manage to work out the plot of what was to be my first published novel, Pastures New), and Dot patiently stuck with me, giving me encouragement, telling me it would all come good in the end.

After nearly four years without a deal, I decided the time must come for me to tackle another full length novel, so I sat down and wrote my second book, called Coming Full Circle about young mums and their family dilemmas - a kind of prototype for the sort of book I write now, I guess. This one got a bite. Someone was interested, and I went and had a very enjoyable lunch, sadly no contract, but the request to cut all but a third of the book and rewrite. Which I did, and Dot rang me and said, "Fingers crossed, I think we're 90% there!" I was as you can imagine, rather excited. But Dot, being steady, kept me on an even keel, which is just as well, as book no 2 fell on the final hurdle.

At this point, I really felt like giving up. There were many good friends in the RNA who kept me going, and encouraged me, but without Dot's faith in me, I don't think it would have been enough. She always thought I could do it, and finally after six years, her persistence and patience paid off and I had my book deal.

During all that time, we'd only met a couple of times - the first time bonding over a shared love of Carrie (which I'd read as a teenager) and which she'd pulled out of the US box at the publisher's she was working at in the 70s, fantasy and genre fiction in general. She got me as a writer, and understood what I was trying to do. She gave me space to do my own thing, and generally had faith in me that I would eventually get it right.

As the years went on, we would meet regularly - usually at the London Book Fair, often at publishing parties, and once a year or so in London for lunch. Our meetings were always full of publishing chat, wine, and generally way too short. Until last year, I foolishly imagined those meetings would carry on indefinitely. It was with great sadness I attended LBF this year, and didn't get to meet Dot, as she was too ill,  but I'm pleased she made it to the Harper Collins Summer Party, where we were able to sit and chew the fat, and I got the chance to tell her how grateful I was for the faith she'd always had in me.

Publishing can be a fickle business, but Dot was one of those people to whom loyalty is paramount, and it is tantamount of the high regard that she was held in, that none of her thirty authors left her when they found out she was ill. Not only that, but I have so many friends throughout the publishing world who've told me of her kindness and encouragement, even when she didn't take them on.

Dot passed away in early October, and I went to her funeral in Torquay. She had a low key non religious ceremony, as befitted her nature, and is buried in a green cemetery in a wood overlooking Torquay. A lovely peaceful spot, which seemed entirely in keeping with her life and beliefs.

Life moves on, and I am in the process of doing so too, but I will always miss Dot, and be grateful that she had faith in me, before anyone else did.

I simply couldn't have done it without her, and I shall miss her wise counsel very much.

 Dot Lumley
16th September 1949-5th October 2013