I’ve been busy putting together
begging covering letters for agents. Nothing prepared me for this fiendishly difficult task. It is infinitely more difficult than writing my book in the first place; at least, that’s how it seems. The situation is not made any easier by the fact that each agent appears to require slightly different things from prospective clients, which means each letter needs very small, nuanced differences.
I’ve read tons of blog posts on the subject and naturally have squeezed every last droplet of advice from the pages of the Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. They all scream the same thing: this is your one and only opportunity to promote yourself! And the covering letter is the place to do it. Forget the manuscript – or the three chapters of it they ask for, along with the synopsis, personal details, bio and bribe – it’s what you say about yourself that seems to matter. It’s up there with writing a CV and covering letter for prospective employers: it’s all about selling yourself and highlighting the most interesting and bankable quality you have to offer.
This leads me rather neatly – and here’s a tenuous segue if ever there was one – to my topic for this blog post.
Last week I was down in the Languedoc region of France. Whilst there I visited the charming town of Pézenas. This is a town with a past: old houses leaning across narrow streets; pretty squares surrounded by grander maisons; antique shops; artisans around every corner; charming cafés and bistros. You would have thought that these features alone would be enough to sell the town to prospective visitors. However, in a region which is packed with charming and historic destinations, not to mention beaches, the canal du midi, and the nearby Pyrenees, smaller towns such as Pézenas have to do everything possible to stand out and be heard. In short, they need to promote the most interesting thing about themselves; the thing that will make a prospective visitor stop and take a look.
In the same way that I have (I hope) created an original and interesting story which (I hope) will cause an agent to stop and take a look, so Pézenas has Molière to provide a similar role.
I didn’t have a guide-book with me on this trip, so was quite unprepared for the revelation that this is a town which seems to live and breathe France’s answer to Shakespeare. At first, I didn’t notice. Then a pattern emerged. Every other building appeared to have his name on it.
There’s the Brasserie Molière.
Le Grand Hôtel Molière.
Something called La Scénovision Molière, which was a sort of interactive exhibition put on by the local council. I’d imagine you can immerse yourself in all things Molière inside: wear a frock coat like The Miser; powder a wig like Tartuffe; play a hilarious game of mistaken identity. That sort of thing. I couldn’t say for certain because it was shut.
I passed at least two buildings which claimed to have had the great man himself inside their walls. One of these proudly asserts by means of a wall-mounted plaque, that the barber Gely, friend of Molière, lived here.
It is unclear whether the dates refer to how long the barber lived there or how long the two men were friends. It is equally unclear whether Gely was Molière’s barber, or just a friend who happened also to cut hair. Perhaps he was famous for his styling, otherwise why mention the man’s profession at all? Didn’t they all wear wigs then anyway?
I swear another building actually stated that Molière visited this place’ once’ in such and such a year. I can’t back this up with pictorial proof, but I know what I saw. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere else laid claim to hosting the playwright for a pee one day. I’ve been to Stratford…I know the lengths people go to for a piece of the money-spinning literary pie!
And of course, there’s a suitably grand monument to the man.
So, Pézenas cannot be accused of not trying, (although there was no rue Molière, which would seem an obvious choice). This place is doing everything it can to link itself to France’s best known, most performed, most famous literary figure.
And to think…he only visited the place briefly. And then as an actor in a touring troupe. They say he must have found inspiration for some of his characters in the townsfolk, and I’m sure he did. But the fellow didn’t make his name there. That happened much later, back in Paris. Where he was born. If anywhere can lay claim to him, it’s Paris. Stratford-Upon-Avon claims Shakespeare as its own because he was born there, married there and lived there a lot of the time. Pézenas claims Molière because he passed through and stopped a while!
Now that’s selling yourself. Can’t think of anyone famous enough actually from your town? No problem. Search the archives; find someone famous who had a wash and cut. Once.
Good on you Pézenas. You’ve found something which makes people stop and take a look. I just hope I’ve done the same in my pitch to agents.
And who knows, if I ever find a publisher and make my mark on the world with my writing, there will one day be plaques bearing my name adorning walls all over Scotland. I’d settle for that, no matter how tenuous the link.
Yes, even if it’s as tenuous as the link between the beginning and end of this blog post.