Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Whatever Happened to Naming Names?

Plenty... And nothing at all.

Nothing at all is what happens to most writers and most books. I think it’s pretty rare for so much to happen to one novel and for nothing at all to come of it.

I’m sure you all remember the story of Naming Names.

It all started when the husband began having seizures, and we spent four long months waiting for a diagnosis of epilepsy. When it came we were very relieved, I can tell you.

Those four months were stressful, of course they were, but they were also some of the most extraordinary of my life. I stopped almost all of what I was doing to spend that time with the husband, and we assessed our lives together in a way that few couples have the opportunity to do.

I also wrote Naming Names.

As writers, we all pick our stories, and we all have our reasons for doing so. For a mother of daughters to write a novel about maternal sexual abuse is, perhaps a strange choice, but I had sound reasons for wanting to tell this particular story.

During a period in his working life, my father was regularly served tea by Myra Hindley. A writer cannot know a thing like that and not weave stories. I was probably in my teens when I first knew that my father had been in a room with the most notorious female sex offender and murderer in British criminal history, and I was in my forties when I finally wrote Naming Names.

While I was looking for an agent for the novel, I decided to post a couple of chapters on Authonomy the, then, relatively new writers’ website. It got mixed reviews. Within hours of me posting the first chapter, Names was being propelled up the charts by some very active readers. It was a hit. Only a day or two later, it was the first book ever banned on the site for content.

It was the first sign of the roller coaster ride this book continues to take me on.

The next high was the Mslexia novel writing competition. Naming Names was announced as a runner-up. Great news! I started this blog on the strength of it, and met my lovely agent.

The winner of the competition, Rosie Garland, quickly signed a very impressive first book deal, and the other runner-up, Rebecca Alexander, soon followed suit.

Meanwhile, I was in talks with my lovely agent, and rewrites of Naming Names were well under way.

I should have spotted the signs, though. My lovely agent was far too confident. My lovely agent was talking about me in the same sentences as some pretty heavy hitters in the publishing world. I even remember asking my lovely agent if that was wise. We talked about my plans for my next novel. We talked about the possibility of a bidding war, and we even talked about book prizes. It all seemed far too good to be true.

When something seems too good to be true, there’s always a good reason for that.

My lovely agent put together an impressive list of editors to send Names  out to from a very impressive list of publishers. The big names were all there... All of them!

I didn’t understand it. This was the book that had been banned on Authonomy. This was the book that at least half of my beta-readers hadn’t been able to read. This was the book that I’d struggled to have in my house, let alone in my head... Why was everything looking so damned good?

Then the rejections started coming in.

WOW! Were they some rejections?

That was what took the sting out of the process. That was what saved my poor heart from breaking over my beautiful, brutal little book.

No one was indifferent to Naming Names. No one simply passed on it. Everyone who read Names had a visceral, heartfelt response. Everyone saw the intensity in the work, everyone saw the pain. They said I wrote well. They said I engaged brilliantly with the subject matter. They said it was devastating.

They said they wouldn’t publish it. They all said they wouldn’t publish it.

So Naming Names remains a file on my computer, unloved and unpublished. It took courage to write it, and it would have taken courage to publish it. 

I am immensely proud of it, and I will always be immensely proud of it. It has ‘been seen’ now, though, so it will probably never be published.

I could blame my agent. I could say that my writing career was mismanaged. I could say that I should have been advised to write another book or two first, and build a reputation that Naming Names could comfortably have stood on. I could say that there was never a hope that a publisher would take a book like Names  from a first time novelist. I could say that I was let down... that Names was let down. I could say that this should always have gone to a small press...

I could say any of those things.

The fact is, I had choices, and perhaps I wasn’t as smart about them as I might have been. 

I wanted to see Naming Names published and, even though personal experience told me not to expect too much, I was carried along by the process and by my own vanity. After a long time and a lot of experience at the commercial end of this business I was still naive.

I have only myself to blame.

One day, I might write another book for myself, another controversial book, another book that will engender another visceral response. I hope that if I do I treat it with more respect than I treated Naming Names, and I hope I put it out into the World with more care.


  1. I can't imagine you could have done any more. It haunts me to this day, it is a beautiful book, and deserves to be read by more people. All I can do it hope that you will carry on writing wonderful books, and one day, someone will see it and add it to your list of published bookswhen its time has come.

  2. Out of curiosity are you ruling out ever going alone and self publishing it in a digital format?

    Seems the way around the issues surrounding the lack of action concerning the book as all told it sounds like a decent interesting read.

    1. Lovely of you to ask, but I'll refer you back to this blog:

  3. Hmm. You're harsh on yourself.
    Two scenarios (three actually).
    1. Self-publish.
    2. As Rebecca says, keep writing in the sure knowledge that, once you are a famous author, publishers will BEG to publish Names. It is a superb book. Publishers are cowards. But ALL publishers? Maybe the big ones but does it have to be a big one?
    3. (afterthought) I don't totally believe the 'it has been seen' argument. Careers are short now, in publishing as in everything - editors move on. Give it a while and then try again.

    1. Hey Jane!

      I'd almost sooner be damned than self-published, and I can't help thinking that those self-publishing right now are almost certainly damning themselves to a fate that I'd rather not join them in.

      I'd be very happy to see Names go to a committed small press. It's a special book to me, and I'd love to work with someone who believes in it to get it out to an audience. Money was never an issue with this book. I can earn every day of the year with all sorts of commercial stuff.

      I've been tempted to throw the towel in more than once recently, on my own writing, at least, but there's little hope of that for those of us who can't help but whittle away at words. Perhaps one day Names will appear in print. Who knows?

  4. I dunno but my feeling is that publishing will shift and that we will see a rise in small but beautiful presses - who will be the new gatekeepers. Wishful thinking? Maybe.
    I am undecided on self-publishing. I don't see it as the evil I used to, although there is a monumental amount of flotsam and jetsam out there swirling around for sure. I feel everything is becoming more fluid.
    I hear you and feel the same regarding my own writing...but, as you say, who knows?
    I sincerely hope Names gets out there, one way or another.
    Hmm...maybe you should start your own small press? :)

    1. Can't help thinking that between us, you and I, and a few of our friends and contacts could probably put together a rather effective little publishing house, complete with talent-scouting arm... What do you say?

  5. It crosses my mind. Would need someone with a bit of dosh though. :)

    1. Yet another good reason to give up my own stuff and do more of the commercial business that's so good at paying for everything.

  6. I have just read your Blog, and there really are no words...

    1. Ah, but that's the point. There are always more words, more combinations of words... Better combinations of words. There will always be the possibility of another book, perhaps even a better book, and, almost certainly, a book that someone will find easier to publish.


  7. This is the very definition of a shot in the dark, but have you or your agent considered looking at some Canadian presses? Now, there are all sorts of very good reasons why this might be a silly suggestion, primarily that many presses have a specific mandate to publish Canadian authors. But there are some exceptions, and the thought occurred to me because we have our own, more recent answer to Myra Hindley in the person of Karla Homolka, and she haunts our national consciousness in a particularly toxic fashion because of her light prison sentence. At any rate, your description of the novel made me wonder if *perhaps* there might not be some interest on this side of the pond in a story that appears to tackle some of the issues/themes that trouble us so about the case, without actually being a fictionalization of those events (with all the ethical problems that attendant upon that). Good luck in all events.