Mopping up the Java

It was a surreal, nerve-inducing moment. ‘Like a weird doctor’s surgery,’ someone said. ‘Or speed-dating.’

I thought: We’re subs at a league game. Waiting on the side, half scared of being called, but hoping for the chance to play.


There we sat, poised to to meet publishers and agents, next to a hall at The University of Winchester’s Writers’ Festival set out like a school parents’ evening. In the corridor, a pensive string of writers waiting to discuss our word-babies.

Nobody spoke much. I tried to chat with the guy next to me. He looked faintly ill.


‘Ok, everyone, next wave,’ said an administrator, and we entered the hall like birds migrating to the sun.

As I sat down, my bag nudged the publishing director’s coffee cup, pouring thick brown liquid over her business cards, the table, her person. I was mortified. She was gracious. ‘Just talk me through your novel while we’re clearing up,’ she said.

Over lunch she had read the first chapter, synopsis and the A4 sheet stating my interest in her publishing company. I said: I like that it’s small, established, independent. I thought: I can still see a chocolate-coloured pool beneath your papers.

She handed the chapter back and told me what she liked, what needed work. Her comments were more promising than I had braced myself to expect.

‘Finish writing your novel and then send it to me. I’d like to read all of it.’

It felt like a goal from fifty yards. I won’t be celebrating with a coffee.


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