Luck, and The Beggar’s Opera by Peggy Blair

Well, gang, for those of you who have been following my travels (and travails) of getting published, it’s looking very good. I can’t give you details yet, but I’m pretty excited by my most recent discussions with my Canadian agent.

So much of what has happened around The Beggar’s Opera (and the second in the series, as well) involves sheer luck. And timing.

I’ve never lost sight of the fact that I wouldn’t have representation, that I wouldn’t be about to be published, if I hadn’t been standing in the bar on the last night of the CWA conference in Harrogate (having lost the Debut Dagger) at the very moment that Ian Rankin walked by.

The bar was almost deserted. Everyone else was in a session. I was having a last glass of wine before I went back to the hotel room to pack for my trip home.  Unusually, I asked him if I could take his picture, which I almost never do — if I see a celebrity, I leave them alone. But I’d promised the Crime Writers of Canada that I’d take pictures.

He was kind enough to say yes. He asked me where I was from. I said Ottawa. It turned out he had just returned from Ottawa’s Bluefest the week before,  where he’d been with his son. Now how weird is that?

If we hadn’t had that five minute chat about the crazy 40 degree heat that week in Ottawa and how great the Bluesfest was despite it, I doubt he would have asked me why I was in Harrogate, or if I had an agent or a publisher.  But he did. And then he offered to let me use his name to contact them. And with his reference, I found my UK agent, and through him my Canadian agent, both of whom I adore.

‘I worked so hard that I got lucky,’ is the phrase that comes to mind. But some things about this book (and this series) seem to be tied much less to hard work than to a very benevolent Lady Luck indeed.

For example, this weekend I was stuck on a plot twist that had the pathologist in my second manuscript (The King’s Indian) uncovering certain medical information that allows him to solve the case. A friend of mine is a cardiologist, so I sent the sections to him to review.

“Nope,” he said on Sunday. “You wouldn’t find those results.” Unfortunately, he couldn’t think of any way to make the plot work.

Crap, I thought. I really needed those findings or something like them, or I’d have to rethink the whole book.

A few hours later, a Toronto friend I haven’t seen in three years, emailed me out of the blue. He wanted to know if I was free for dinner on Monday, as he was planning to be in Ottawa. His specialty (which I had forgotten) is pathology.

When we met last night, not only did he volunteer to read the manuscript but he was hurt that I hadn’t asked him.

This morning, I emailed him the fictional situation that was causing me the problem. Within minutes, he’d found a way for me to keep my plot intact and solve the case in a way that’s not only medically correct but meshes almost eerily with the rather unusual background of the victim.

What’s odd about that is that he didn’t know that backstory: I haven’t yet sent him the manuscript. And yet the information he gave me fits those facts to a tee.

It reminds me of how I came up with the title. My protagonist likes opera. So I ‘Googled’ opera. And then since my victim is a child beggar, I ‘Googled’ that, too. And up popped The Beggar’s Opera.  The opera turned out to have a plot that mirrors the one in the book. And yet I’d never heard of it before (I don’t even like opera, myself, one of the many differences between me and my characters). So it’s not as if I heard it somewhere before and stored it away. The whole thing was uncanny.

It happened again when Esau, the placeholder name I’d assigned to the Cuban god mentioned in the book, turned out to have a real-life parallel in Eshu. Eshu is a Cuban orisha with almost exactly the same characteristics I’d supplied to my fictional god: small, dark, carries a staff, is skilled at medical diagnosis. Wow, I thought at the time. Now that’s weird.

Sometimes I think  there is something mystical at play in this creative process.

I’ll update with more details when I’m able. But right now, I’m feeling blessed.

So many wonderful friends have stepped up to the plate to read this book (sometimes several times) and offer advice. Thelma Farmer takes the absolute record: I think she read the manuscript at least a dozen times. Then there’s Bill Schaper, Lou Allin, Debbie Hantusch, Mike Hutton, Mark Perrin, Brian French, Beth McColl, Mark Bourrie, Kaye Fulton, Paul Olioff and of course, my daughter, Jade. Thanks to all of you for helping make this happen. I really am extraordinarily lucky to have all of you in my life.

One thought on “Luck, and The Beggar’s Opera by Peggy Blair

  1. Alan Carter

    hey Peggy – sounds like you’re going from strength to strength. I’ll keep tuning in now I’ve come across “You’re Booked” – yes, surfing during my own bout of writer’s block with the ongoing adventures of Cato Kwong.