I watched a quiz show recently, which featured a group of famous writers, including Jilly Cooper, the bestselling author of the Rutshire Chronicles, Polo, Rivals, Riders and many more. She told the story of how she lost the early manuscript of Riders when on a bus to Putney, a devastating loss which took her 15 years to rewrite! It was quite a revelation, as it reminded me of a remarkably similar situation that happened to me several years ago.
My wife and I were just starting out on our journey to the Yucatan in Mexico for our daughter’s wedding, via an overnight stop at Gatwick Airport. Unfortunately, our travel agent in Belfast had issued travel tickets with the wrong flight times. By the time we reached our local airport the flight had left, creating the dilemma on how we were going to get to Gatwick in time to catch the connecting flight to Mexico.
The scene between my wife and a few female members of staff at the airport, when they learned that we might miss the wedding, elicited a great deal of interest and sympathy. Then, very much to our surprise, a lady from another airline told us she could probably get us on to one of her flights later that evening – at no extra cost. The catch being, that it would be the last flight, leaving crew to Heathrow. From there we would have to take a coach or taxi to Gatwick; probably arriving there after midnight to catch the early morning flight to Mexico.
Well, that’s what we did, and we eventually made it in time for the wedding. But what’s the link you might ask, with Jilly Cooper?
As it happened, I had spent three months working on my first Timecrack Adventure book, and as part of the story takes place in the Yucatan jungle, I had brought the manuscript (the only copy) with me while I continued my research. Unfortunately, with all the hassle of getting to London, I left behind a small case containing the manuscript in the hold of the coach that took us to Gatwick.
We were on our way to the plane when I realised what had happened, but it was too late to do anything. Later when we returned from Mexico, I checked coach lost property at Heathrow, only to learn there was no sign of it.
It took me another year to rewrite and finish Timecrack, but taking a positive look at the outcome of this experience – and readers’ comments – I feel that the story was much improved by the time I spent in the Yucatan. As I learned, the hard way, writing is all about rewriting.
The important lesson here, of course, if you’re a writer, is to keep at least one extra copy of your work, somewhere safe and secure!