A Chat With A Friend. Kirsten Hesketh Talks About Writing, Cake And Attracting Six Literary Agents In One Go.

Posted on 3rd December, 2016

This week I am delighted to welcome my friend Kirsten Hesketh to my blog. Kirsten and I met through Twitter and we are part of a small group of writers who have our own direct messaging thread for regular chats about life, the universe and everything. I am especially pleased that Kirsten agreed to have a chat with me here, because I think her experience with literary agents will be of interest - and who knows, possibly of some use - to other writers who aren't yet published.


Kirsten, welcome. Thank you for being here today to tell us a bit about your writing life and ambitions.


Thank you very much for having me. I love reading your interviews and I’m really, really excited to have the chance to be an interviewee. I think it’s great you’re welcoming an - as yet! – unpublished author onto your blog. Thank you so much!

Let's start at the beginning. How did you start writing? Were you a child writer?


I did write a bit as a child – mainly terrible adventure stories based (heavily!) on The Famous Five. I wouldn’t say writing was a huge thing for me then, though and I either wanted to be a journalist or a farmer’s wife. (Not a farmer. A farmer’s wife. Feeding lambs from a bottle in the farmhouse kitchen. I think that was taken from an Enid Blyton book too!) Anyway, I did none of those things and ended up in advertising, eventually setting up my own consultancy. I always wanted to write a book but I just never seemed to get around to it. Then I few years ago I hit a really quiet time at work and a friend challenged me to ‘get that novel written’. Yes, that was you, Jane Almey, BF extraordinaire. Thank you for the push!



How does writing fit in with your day job commitments?


I don't know!


I’m lucky that I’m self-employed because the work tends to come in peaks and troughs and I try to make the very most of the troughs. A trough of a few weeks is not great money-wise, but it’s fab for my writing! I’m a brilliant one for procrastinating, though, so I quite like short troughs - otherwise I can spend far too much time faffing around on Facebook and Twitter!


Writing has to fit with family commitments too. Even though my children are teenagers, there’s still a fair amount of fetching and carrying to do and elderly parents to factor in to the equation. Sometimes I wish I had three lives running in parallel.


But writing is a real passion so you find the time somehow, don’t you?


Your first novel is about a subject very close to your heart - Asperger's Syndrome. Can you tell us a little about the book and why you wanted to write it?


Hmmm. Interesting. My first reaction is that I’m not sure Aspergers is very close to my heart. I suppose it must be because I have a son who is just on the spectrum and I’ve chosen to write a book about a family with an autistic child! But, then again, I don’t feel that Aspergers defines either my son or us as a family and I really hope it won’t define me as a writer either. Does that make sense?


When I first started to write, I joined an online course and the first task was to come up with ideas for a novel. I’d explored a story set in Peru, a love affair conducted entirely on Facebook and another set at Weight Watchers before I settled on a story following the lives and loves of parents who set up a support group for their special needs children.


Over time, the novel evolved to focus on one mother, Emma. I’ve really fallen in love with her - her voice, her struggle, her journey. There are a couple of twists along the way and it’s funny - I hope! - as well as poignant. It’s really about a mother coming of age. (It’s a good thing this isn’t an elevator pitch, isn’t it?!)


Maybe all that’s a roundabout of saying that Aspergers is close to my heart! Who knows? Either way, I’m very proud of the book which is called The Space Between The Words.


What about professional support you've had along the way?



Oh gosh, yes - loads of professional support. Writing’s a funny game, isn’t it? If I’d taken up painting or gardening, I wouldn’t necessarily expect my first efforts to hang in the Tate Modern or to be featured at Chelsea. But I really, really want this book to be published so I need all the help I can get!


One of the best things I did was enroll on the wonderful Self Edit Your Novel course run by Debi Alper and Emma Darwin through The Writer’s Workshop. That was truly fantastic - as was the follow up retreat based in Derbyshire. I also joined the RNA New Writer’s Scheme which includes a full critique of your novel. (I haven’t yet plucked up courage to go to any of their fantastic-looking parties yet!) I’ve also had fab mini critiques from Chris Manby and Claire Dyer and I’ve joined Reading Writers – which is a brilliant group and offers loads of support and opportunities to learn.


And I know you've had lots of friendly support too.


Starting to write and joining Twitter happened almost at the same time for me and I have to say that writers really are the friendliest and most supportive bunch. I’ve met such a fab group of people who have become my friends - yourself included here, Sue - and I’ve had such a laugh along the way.


It’s funny because I always tell my kids to be careful of who they’re talking online as they may not be who they seem to be. And then there I am meeting my Twitter pals up in London. Talk about ‘do as I say, not as I do!’ So far, though, everyone has been exactly as they come across online.


I’ve also been on a couple of wonderful writing retreats run by Jane Ayres and Moira Please at The Place to Write. I should perhaps have included them in the section above because they have great tutors and you get masses of professional support, but I’ve put them here because they are such fun. And there is cake. Lots of cake. And wine.


I agree. Moira and Jane's retreats are just wonderful.


Earlier this year, you felt your novel was ready to be submitted to agents. Do you mind sharing your experiences?


Not at all. It's all good (I think!).


So, yes, earlier this year I’d finished my third draft and was itching to get going. You know how it is!! So I decided to submit the usual first three chapters plus synopsis to eight agents in the hope of getting some useful nuggets of feedback to help with draft four.


I was flabbergasted when six of the agents asked for the full manuscript. I was also absolutely thrilled. Really, really thrilled. Agents liked my writing and thought I had a story worth telling! It felt fantastic.


In my heart of hearts I knew the book wasn’t ready to go out. Not really. But I sent the whole thing out to a couple of agents anyway. I know. I know, what can I say?! I’ve always been impulsive. So it was disappointing, but not a huge surprise, when they came back and said it needs a bit more work and would I please resubmit when I’ve made the changes.


So that's where I am now.


What are the most important things you have learned?


Not to be impulsive?!



Seriously though, I guess I learned it’s all a journey with plenty of twists and turns along the way and that I need to try and ride out the peaks and troughs and not to get too over-emotional by either. Hard though.


Also, once the sting subsides, any information – even the negative – is incredibly useful going forward.


What is the best piece of advice you can give other writers who aren't yet published?


Keep going. Keep learning. Keep the faith.



There will be days when you think that everything you write is a pile of poo and days when you think it isn’t half bad.


I’m beginning to think getting published is as much about tenacity and perseverance as it is about talent. I have met so many hugely talented aspiring writers.


We can do it. All of us!


What is next for you and your writing?


I'm editing!


I’ve had a professional critique done by the wonderful Debi Alper and it has been like gold-dust. I’m excited about making this book as good as it possibly can be and .then I’ll be re-submitting. Fingers crossed!



Kirsten, thanks for being here today and sharing your experiences. I hope to invite you back to talk about your fabulous publishing deal!


Thanks you very much for having me. That was great fun!



Follow Kirsten on Twitter



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Comments (33)

Thank you Christina. I really appreciate you commenting and all your support and encouragement. And I LOVED Minty xx
Christina, how lovely to hear from you. I'm pleased you enjoyed the interview. I think the response to this blog has shown there are plenty of people now looking forward to seeing Kirsten's book in print.
What a thoroughly inspiring post and so much great advice, too! Thank you, Susanna and Kirsten. Your book sounds great, Kirsten, I hope to see it on the bookshops in the near future. C x
Thank you so much Rae and for your support on Twitter. It would be lovely to meet you at an RNA event soon.
Jane, you're lovely! I think I have been banging on about writing a book since we met in 1991 but the conversation I recall was a few years ago in Cafe Roige in Henley. Either way, thank you so much for your friendship and support over the years xx
You're right, Rae - Kirsten's submission must have been a cracker. Attracting the interest of six agents is an extraordinary thing to do.
To be asked for the full manuscript by six agents must mean you're doing a whole bunch of things right, Kirsten. Well done and good luck. Hope to meet in person at a RNA conference or party one day. : )
Thanks for your kind comments, Jane. As Kirsten's longstanding friend, you must be so proud of her. I'm glad you feel this interview has given you an insight into her writing world.
What an interesting and uplifting read!

Thanks for writing this Susanna and thank you for enlightening us all about the stages that have taken Kirsten to the stage she is at now - and her planned next steps... It sounds like a wonderful adventure that Kirsten has embarked upon... At last! I found out about Kirsten's love of writing when I first met her in 1991, I think. So glad she is now on her way.

...I for one, am longing to read Kirsten's first book. To my mind, if it provides just an ounce of Kirsten's experience and personality it will be a novel that cannot be put down!

Good luck to you both - and the rest of your writing friends....

Jane x
What a friendly blog, Susanna :D Kirsten : That is very heartening that they said similar things, don't you think? Yay. Down In the Editing Trenches, I cannot see the trees for all this wretched wood at the moment and so have had a rest for a week or so whilst I wrote utter garbage for 50,000 words. x
Jen, it's lovely to hear from you, as always. It's a small world, isn't it - you in Wokingham Writers and Kirsten with Reading. The support of other writers is something you touched on in your guest blog last week. We all benefit from one another's encouragement and support.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Vanessa - and thanks to Kirsten for all the extra information in her answer to your question. I have to say that Kirsten was an absolute delight to interview. She was happy to answer anything I asked. Hope your own editing goes well, Vanessa.
Thank you for your lovely comment, Jen. How interesting that you were once part of Wokingham writers and the joint critique sounds like a great idea. Yes, Susanna has done as great job with this blog hasn't she and she is so friendly and supportive around Twitter - and in person, of course! How is your writing going? I can't wait to read The Cottage at Firefly Lake
Hi Vanessa, Thanks for popping by and for your comment. I thought you would empathise! So a bit of detail on the agents who received the full. All three wrote really lovely comments about my writing - voice, story, humour. characterisation - which was very thrilling. But .... One agent gave me quite detailed feedback on what she liked and on what she felt wasn't quite working - and, interestingly, that dovetailed almost exactly with what Debi said. One loved the premise but felt it wasn't quite ready - and would like me to resubmit in due course. And one liked it but it didn't quite fit with her list .. so she's sent it an agent at another agency which I thought was very kind of her. So all very exciting and not a disaster at all. How is your editing going? xx
What a lovely glimpse into your life and writing journey, Kirsten. I wish you every success as you revise and resubmit. You're fortunate to be part of Reading Writers. They're a fabulous group. I was once part of Wokingham Writers and we did a joint critique with Reading which helped me a great deal.

Whether published or unpublished, the writing journey is filled with twists and turns and you're right, although talent is important, tenacity and perseverance are crucial, too. So too are the friendship and support of other writers - something Susanna has fostered so beautifully via her blog and on Twitter.
Great interview, Susanna and Kirsten. With a lesson for everyone including me who's got to the: just-get-the-wretched-wip-out-so-I-can-get-on-with-my-life stage of editing. A question, Kirsten: did the agents ask for the same changes, or were their requests all over the place?
Thanks for your encouraging comment, Kate. I think that submitting too early is quite a common thing to happen and no writer should let it put her/him off editing and trying and again.
Thanks for your lovely comment, Kate. I am proud of myself and my book - just smiling ruefully at myself for jumping the gun a little early!! But we can do it! Both of us! Good luck when you feel the time is right for you and maybe see you at an RNA party? xx
This is such a lovely interview. Don't be too hard on yourself for submitting too early, Kirsten. Be proud of yourself for being brave enough to submit at all! That's something I've always struggled with. Good luck when you submit your book again. x
Thanks for your kind words, Jan - an example of how generous and supportive writers are towards one another. And good luck to you with your novel.
Wendy, I remember your blog about your first RNA party, in which you said how friendly everyone was. Thanks for dropping by.
Thanks very much Jan - I really appreciate it xx
This is such an interesting interview containing invaluable advice. Thank you, Kirsten and Sue. Congratulations on attracting six agents. Wow! Good luck with the final editing and polishing before re-submitting. :-)
Thank you Wendy. OK - deep breath - I'll go to the Summer Party! Will start the diet now and look forward very much to meeting you in person there!! xx
Well done for attracting six agents, Kirsten. I am also n the RNA NWS and you absolutely must go to one of their parties - everyone's so friendly. How about the summer one.
I'm so glad I'm not the only one who has submitted too soon! You too, Moira and Susanna?! At the time it feels like a disaster, doesn't it? But a couple of weeks down the line I can see that it's just part of the journey.At least, I hope it is - not the end of the road! And at least I didn't send the full to everyone who requested it!! Thanks again for all your support.
Thank you all for your really lovely and supportive comments. See what I mean about writers being fun, fab and supportive! xx
Have you done it as well, Moira - sent out a submission too soon? I know I have. My book didn't find an agent until I had written the fourth draft. I agree that Kirsten's novel is founded on a strong and intriguing idea. Keep editing, Kirsten! We'll all be at your book launch.
Catherine, thanks for commenting. You're right - that piece of advice about not submitting too soon is spot on. I'm sure that submitting a book before it is fully polished is a trap many writers fall into.
Karen, I do agree with you. Writers are so supportive of one another. It is something I particularly appreciate, having lead a solitary writing life for a long time before I started finding writer friends. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Lovely blog and some very thoughtful answers. We've all done it, sent that novel out into the world too soon. But its a great premise for a book and sounds fascinating. Get that editing done Kirsten! Can't wait to see The Space Between the Words out there in Waterstones!
Great interview, top tip about not being too impulsive when submitting. I'm looking foward to reading your book when it is published
What an uplifting interview. I found myself smiling and nodding in agreement throughout. Writers do seem to be a particularly friendly and supportive bunch, don't they? I'm looking forward to seeing your book published before too long, Kirsten :) Thank you for another lovely blog post, Susanna x