This is a question I’ve been asking myself for several years, wondering what it would take to translate my stories and characters and settings to the screen, small or large. There have always seemed to be barriers, and I had no idea how I might achieve this very distant goal.

Early investigation told me that navigating these waters would be difficult if not impossible without either a friend who knows my work and is also well-connected to the media, or – better still – an agent who specialises in media work. As soon as the word ‘agent’ appears, my heart sinks. It takes me back to the early days when I tried to find an agent and through them a publisher. I followed the necessary route through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, found agents who appeared to favour the genre I had chosen, examined the detailed and specific instructions, sent off what was required, and waited. And waited. Sometimes a reply came after several weeks, always negative, and sometimes there was no reply at all. What was I doing wrong?

After I’d finally given up and chosen to self-publish, I began to consider the various reasons why I had been so unsuccessful. Of course, there was the possibility that my work was just not good enough for publication, but I didn’t think that was true, having read so much poorly written stuff that was commercially published and reviewed. The genre of my work at that time was a ‘family saga’ trilogy set in West Cumbria in the first half of the twentieth century could be a problem: not very ‘sexy’ is it? I’ve since written a six-book crime series, also set in West Cumbria, but crime fiction is ‘common as muck’, so that probably wouldn’t get an agent salivating in anticipation.

I slowly came to the conclusion that it wasn’t the process of looking for an agent that was the problem. So what else could it be? One clue about other reasons for my failure came in a conversation with an agent at a conference in London. ‘Have you come far?’ she asked. I thought it was only the Queen who said that. ‘Cumbria,’ I replied. ‘Ah, yes,’ she said. ‘Cumbria. That’s central Italy isn’t it?’ My effort to explain that Cumbria is actually in north-west England didn’t help, although mentioning ‘The Lake District’ seemed to illuminate the issue a little. To this agent at least, and for how many others, the setting for all my books is an unknown world, perhaps, not exotic and mysterious, but just off the  radar of the 90% of agents who live in London and the south-east.

Another issue that I couldn’t do anything about was my age. Agents earn their money through selling their client’s work. The more prolific and successful the client, the more the earnings, for both writer and agent. An agent therefore will be on the lookout for a client with a long writing life ahead of them, and this is less likely for a writer who is already over sixty, as I was when my search began. I was clearly too old, living in and writing about the wrong place, and ploughing an already well-worked furrow.

Self-publishing was in many ways a good decision for me. I was able to have more control over the production quality of my own work than I would have had otherwise, and much more of the selling price came back to me than would have been the case with the usual royalties. I didn’t make much money, but I covered my costs and enjoyed the creativity of the project. With a modicum of advice I was able to get my books onto shelves and into the hands of readers, which is what I’d set out to do.

Getting the books onto the screen was clearly a much more specialised process. ‘Self-filming’ is not an option. To penetrate that world I would need a guide, and the idea of a ‘media agent’ felt like a step too far. ‘Your books should be on telly’ said many of my readers, and I agreed, but told them it was not going to happen. No agent, no deal.

By 2022 I had written and published nine novels and they were all selling steadily, both in paperback and ebook formats. In the summer months I would sell direct to the public at Cumbria’s many shows, and enjoyed doing so. So it was that I was standing in the Craft tent at a Lake District show in August 2023, listening to the commentary from the Cumbrian Wresting competition outside and having the usual conversations with readers old and new who stopped to chat, when a very striking person approached my table. She looked carefully at the books displayed on my table, reading the back covers, leafing through, asking the occasional question. Finally she introduced herself: a London lawyer specialising in links between writers  and publishers and the media, both film and television. We talked about the Hollywood writers’ strike and its impact on the industry, drying up the flow of good stories on which these media depend. ‘You’ve got some good stories here,’ she said. ‘We need to talk.’

And talk we did. Read my next post to see what happened next