Laura Madeleine
On First Novels, writing and the benefit of failure
Madeleine-Confectioners Tale
The Confectioner’s Tale, or TCT as it’s affectionately known, went through a huge evolutionary process before it became the novel it is now. It’s my debut novel, but it isn’t the first one I’ve written. I started my first novel when I was nineteen and worked at it all the way through university. It was a strange, sprawling thing: crammed to the seams with every bit of inspiration that had ever hit me. It veered wildly in tone, black comedy, slapstick, pensive prose, family saga, flashbacks, adventure chases… and a truly eccentric cast of characters. No wonder it was confused! Rather naively and stubbornly I submitted it to agents, and astonishingly, one saw some potential in my writing. He’s stuck with me ever since.

The novel did the rounds of a few publishers, but never got picked up. At the time I was disheartened: it’s tough to pour yourself into something and then for it to stall. I didn’t really have a Plan B after university. I hadn’t gone to interviews or employment fairs. I just knew I wanted to write, and tried to find a way to make that happen. But in hindsight, that book being rejected was possibly the best thing that could have happened to me. Now, I look back on that first manuscript with a combination of cringing embarrassment and fondness, and I can see that the publishers who rejected it were right. I had a lot more work to do before I was anywhere near ready to be published.

Around this time, a friend of a friend who worked in publishing gave me some advice. She said that first books written are rarely the first ones published, and that if I was serious about writing, and could bear to, I should put the first book aside and write something else.

So that’s what I did. I originally had the idea for The Confectioner’s Tale when I was in Bordeaux in summer 2010, and came across canelés – little French custard pastries – and discovered that they had a fascinating, three-hundred-year history of rivalry and craftsmanship. The story was intended to be a novella. Then it morphed into a novel. Originally, there was a third strand to the story, detailing the lives of Gui’s ancestors in French Revolution-era Bordeaux. Thankfully I had the sense to listen to my agent and ditch that, in order to focus on what was becoming the real heart of the novel: the relationship between Guillaume and Jeanne.

Petra’s story came shortly afterwards, and helped me ground the narrative in familiar territory, as well as providing an interesting lens through which to view the repercussions of the past. It was definitely a case of “write what you know”. I studied at Cambridge, and so by setting it there in 1988, I was calling on a landscape both intensely familiar and distant. Modern, yet not so technologically advanced as to destroy the sense of old-fashioned detective work, discovery and adventure.

Writing stalled during 2011 (I was working a full-time job and working away from home a lot) but picked up again in 2012 when I quit that in favour of freelance work. Less money, more time to write! Finally, many, many, drafts later we had the book in decent enough shape to submit to publishers. This time it worked, and in September 2014 I was absolutely delighted to sign with Transworld, and my lovely editor there, Harriet Bourton.

As I write, I’ve just finished the first draft of my next book for Transworld. Writing is like any discipline really, in the sense that the more you practice, the better you’ll get. Now when I pick up The Confectioner’s Tale, all I can see are the areas where it could be better. But that’s important, and hearing what people think about the book – what they liked and what they didn’t – can be an invaluable part of the learning process too.

When anyone asks me for writing advice, the first thing I usually say is that I don’t like giving writing advice. It’s a wholly different process for everyone; you have to find what works for you. The only advice I feel qualified to give is: write. Keep writing. And if you fail, remember that it could be a blessing in disguise.

For more information, please visit Laura Madeleine’s website.