The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser
‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it’ – Toni Morrison
Luckily for me, writing is not like being a pop star; you can be published at any age. It’s taken quite a while to get to the point where people I don’t know and have never met are reading something I’ve written. I first finished a proper, novel-length book when I was sixteen and, on and off, have been writing them ever since. I’ve been noticing things, collecting copy, writing a diary, listening to people’s stories about their lives, and thinking and writing about how relationships work for more than thirty years.
In 2012, a major restructure at work (I edited food and accommodation guidebooks for the AA) resulted in my role being made redundant. I decided this was my chance to be more focused about my fiction writing, to maybe produce a book that was more commercial, and, more importantly, to actually submit what I wrote to agents. (The horror!)
Eight months after leaving work, I was doing just that. By summer 2019, I’d written ten more. I didn’t submit all of these, and those I did submit were not accepted, but this is hardly unusual. It didn’t stop me writing, though – I’d never been so prolific. Partly because as a freelancer I never have to go to meetings, or worry about office politics, or use up my creativity in a work setting.
In late 2016, despite worrying that world events made the sort of books I write (about mostly middle-aged, middle-class white people with no real problems) rather unnecessary, I was inspired once again. The part of Scotland where we went on holiday that year, Dumfries and Galloway, seemed like a good setting, and Wigtown’s many bookshops suggested the sort of ‘place’ where my protagonist could find herself, post separation from her husband. A clean sheet. Only not really, of course, because you always bring yourself along.
I started work there and then, in the sitting room of the farmhouse we were staying in. I included loads of classic romantic notions, slightly skewed to my own tastes – hence Thea’s handy inheritance, and Edward and Charles’s unnecessary membership of the Upper Ten Thousand (as Georgette Heyer would doubtless put it). And the bookshop itself – people who read books, I reasoned, surely love bookshops. I chose these things to amuse myself, really, but more seriously, I also wanted to write about older people, and explore some of the feelings that come from starting again in your forties.
I thought hard about what’s appealing in a ‘hero’, and how that might work in ‘real life’. Books are not real life, but while Aragorn from Lord of the Rings seems very attractive in many ways, you wouldn’t want to go to B&Q with him. He’s too intense to be your boyfriend; it would be exhausting. In books, I like sarcastic heroes – but real men who are sarcastic can be quite tedious. Is there a way to get round this? Being grumpy as a protective measure seemed like a good compromise. Before I’d typed a word, I knew exactly how I wanted Thea and Edward’s relationship to develop.
Anyway, it was finished – sort of – by early 2017. I had a lot of trouble with the ending, (partly because I enjoyed writing it so much I didn’t want to finish it) but several of the ‘set pieces’ – Thea and Edward’s trip to The Shed, The Keith Situation, Thea’s letter from Edward – were very straightforward. I went on the list for my critique group (the Women’s Fiction Critique Group, which lives on Facebook) and eventually it was manuscript of the month and up for discussion. The WFCG is run by a couple of women I met on the now-defunct writers’ forum, Authonomy, and it’s a very helpful and supportive group. I took in some of their comments, reworked a couple of scenes, and felt the book was, more or less, complete.
Although I really loved it, and it’d had excellent feedback, I didn’t submit it anywhere. Occasionally I’d read it again and think, ‘Yeah, this is okay. I should really do something with it…’
The immediate deadline was extremely motivating.
In my covering letter I talked about my inspirations – one of which was to write about older people in a way I found recognisable. That summer the Bookseller ran a piece about how ‘40% of women over forty feel the representation of older women in fiction is clichéd’, which made me wonder if I might have done something useful.
That very same week – imagine! – Simon & Schuster wrote back and asked to see the rest of it. I’d never been asked to send a full manuscript ever before, so I was delighted, although I tried not to get too excited.
I sent off the complete manuscript and then things went very quiet. I knew from an update on Books and the City that there were a lot of submissions, so I was prepared for it to be ages before I heard any more. I also knew that if they liked it, more than one person would have to read it, as well as possibly fifteen or twenty other submissions, plus, you know, doing their normal jobs.
In October, Sara-Jade Virtue (our very own BookMinx) posted a pic of her Kindle on Twitter, with my words on it, and said she ‘couldn’t stop thinking about it’. I tried to be reasonably calm about this, taking it as a ‘good sign’ without any further expectations.
Then things were very quiet again.
In early January, I saw several mentions on Twitter of #OneDay2020. I hadn’t seen any announcements about acquisitions from #OneDay2019, and so, as it’s not a competition (i.e. they don’t have to acquire anyone) assumed that was pretty much that. I decided I’d email and just get them to confirm that it was a rejection (because I have a rejection spreadsheet).
However, when I opened my emails that morning there was one from Sara-Jade asking whether I’d be able to come in for a meeting, assuming that no one else had acquired the book.
It was a cold, grey, miserable day that was very much elevated by this development.
We arranged a meeting for 30 January and, once again, I tried not to think about it too much. Ironically that very same week I got a rejection from an agent for The Bookshop. The following week, I heard that it hadn’t been longlisted for a competition. I mention this as it just goes to show.
I was extremely stressed about the meeting, even though it’s not likely that anyone would ask you to go to a meeting so they could tell you that your book was rubbish. I had to ask all my London pals if there was anyone available to have lunch with me beforehand to prevent me having a panic attack in the street. With hindsight this seems quite odd. Sara-Jade and Alice Rodgers, my editor, were so delightful and kind – and so nice about the book.
Talking to complete strangers who like what you’ve written is, not surprisingly, a massive buzz.
Once we’d agreed that they wanted to publish it (!!) things moved quite quickly. I joined the Society of Authors, who offer a contract-checking service for writers who don’t have agents. I made some changes as suggested by Alice, sent my revised manuscript off, signed my contract, and waited for the first round of edits. As an editor myself it was really interesting to be edited – this had never really happened to me before and it’s very bracing. I definitely enjoyed the process – it’s brilliant to talk to someone about your book whose job it is to care!
It was really interesting to see the process – cover design, rights sales, the marketing plan – from the other side. I’ve been to lots of meetings about covers in my life but it’s very different when it’s your book you’re talking about. Knowing that there will be an audiobook, a large print version, a US edition… all of this is just amazing. People are reading my book, and talking about it, and writing reviews. I really didn’t expect any of this when I first thought of Thea and her collapsed marriage four years ago, or when I first imagined the ways in which Edward might be broken but fixable. Thank you so much to everyone who has made this dream come true!
Set in a charming little Scottish town, The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser is a warm, escapist, funny and incredibly relatable novel about a woman looking to put her life back together after everything she has known for the last twenty years falls apart. Jackie impressed us all with her brilliant writing, witty commentary and characters and places so real that you’ll want to jump in a car and drive up to Scotland just to browse the antiquarian and second-hand titles sold at the novel’s Fortescue’s Books. It is a gorgeous story and the perfect romantic read!
An uplifting and enchanting story of fresh starts and new beginnings, perfect for fans of Cressida McLaughlin, Veronica Henry and Rachael Lucas.
Thea’s having a bad month. Not only has she been made redundant, she’s also discovered her husband of nearly twenty years is sleeping with one of her friends. And he’s not sorry – he’s leaving.
Bewildered and lost, Thea doesn’t know what to do. But when she learns that the great-uncle she barely knew has died and left her his huge collection of second-hand books and a house in the Scottish Lowlands, she seems to have been offered a second chance.
Running away to a small town where no one knows her seems to be exactly what Thea needs. But when she meets the aristocratic Maltravers brothers – grumpy bookshop owner Edward and his estranged brother Charles, Lord Hollinshaw – her new life quickly becomes just as complicated as the life she was running from…
The Bookshop of Second Chances is out now in eBook.