How I Survived Being Out On Submission

Back in December, when I had finished a round of edits with my agent and was desperately trying to fill the waiting void and prevent myself from becoming a pestering nuisance/psychopath, I wrote about my agentfinding journey. The post went down well, and people seemed to appreciate the tiny sliver of insight I could provide into what is an impossibly unpredictable, confusing and subjective experience.

Nine months later, I’m lucky enough to be sitting here with a signed publishing contract in my iCloud drive and an acute sense of imposter syndrome that I’m trying to shift. Whilst out on submission back in March/April, I devoured resources like Submission Hell, It’s True (SHIT) and other authors’ stories of success and failure. But, while the querying journey is documented widely across the internet, first-hand reports of the subs process are a lot more difficult to find. Like drunk texts from a guy you really fancy, a post from a real-life author laying their soul bare about submissions was something to be treasured; print-screened and saved and squirrelled away for obsessive reading and over-analysing during my weakest moments.

With that in mind, I again wanted to add my two cents to the pot. However, this time, I wanted to do something different, and get some insight from inside the publishing house itself. I spoke to my lovely Twitter friend LV Matthews, who has not only been on subs herself, but has also worked on the other side. She is a rare gem, and an incredibly kind human being, whose encouraging and logical perspective helped me stay grounded during my time in the process.

Buckle up, it’s a long one.

Preparing your MS for submission
I knew there’d be edits – my wonderful agent Tanera had discussed these with me over the phone before she offered representation – and I was prepared to do the work. Tanera sent me a word document with a bullet-point list of areas she thought could be strengthened or cut, parts she wanted more of and parts she wasn’t keen on at all. She also went through my MS and left comments on grammar, continuity, inconsistencies and opportunities for restructuring, as well as notes to further explain and signpost her bullet-point ideas. The whole process took about a month, and it was difficult, but incredibly satisfying.

The version of the story that emerged was still totally recognisable – still mine, still my voice – but polished and shiny, closer to the book I had been trying to write in the first place. My first piece of advice: listen to your agent. Have a conversation before you partner with them, make sure their vision aligns with your own, and then take their comments on board. Challenge them, offer alternative suggestions if you don’t feel that something they’re suggesting fits, but do try to swallow your pride and remember that they read tens of manuscripts a month, their knowledge of the market probably far exceeds your own, and most importantly – they have a vested interest in selling your book. You share a common goal, and a collaborative process can transform your MS and teach you valuable skills and lessons for future projects. For example, I now know not to have my MC say ‘oh my fuck’ every ten seconds – it dampens the impact somewhat.

When I asked LV Matthews about her experience of pre-sub edits, she said:

My pre-sub edits lasted a loooong time. The manuscript that my lovely agent signed was rough and ready but I’m lucky she saw potential in it. She was definitely (and still is) a creative mentor for me and I have learnt so much in the process of editing, namely the ‘importance of the why’ in why the reader cares about a character.

Edits done, straight onto subs. Right?
No. Well, not for me, at least. Something I had never considered, or read about, was the timing of a submission and how it can potentially impact your chances of success. Every writer, from pre-query to beyond, has heard the phrase: you just need it to land in the right person’s lap at the right moment. Until recently I had chalked that up to pure luck, something that couldn’t be controlled, like accidentally ruining your chances by sending your MS out to an editor when their child is poorly, or their house has just been flooded.

It turns out, though, that agents can predict some of these instances of bad timing, and can speed up or delay submission to increase the probability of your MS landing at the right moment. Tanera and I started discussing submission in mid-January, on the run-up to London Book Fair. As far as my limited knowledge goes, the fair is a hotspot for rights deals, so editors are generally swamped with submissions in the weeks beforehand. Tanera and I chatted about this, and she was torn as to whether submitting before the fair would make us look confident, or whether my MS would be swallowed up and buried under all the other submissions.

Eventually, we decided (Tanera decided, I didn’t have a clue what was going on and was just grateful for her wisdom) that it was best to wait until after the fair, when things had quietened down and my MS wouldn’t be struggling to be heard among thousands of other talented voices. I went out on submission on 27th March.

When I spoke to LV Matthews about her knowledge of the impact of timings, she said:

Submission timing is a funny beast. There are key bookfairs, predominantly LBF in March and FF in October but also more recently and upcoming is BEA in New York (May) and the kids book fair in Bologna in April (I think it’s April?!) so submitting just before these might mean falling into a bit of a void. During the kids summer holidays tends to be a no-no because a lot of editors are on holidays with their families and an agent will want to go out to editors on a fair keel. The Oct-Christmas period is also likely to be avoided by agents because publishers are focusing on the authors that have their big Christmas titles out.

The waiting game
This was a weird one for me. I am, in almost every area of my life, an enthusiastic, dogged control freak. I am also afflicted with a crippling awareness of my own potential to be really fucking annoying in my pursuit of answers and reassurance. This made for an interesting test on my psyche, and, more pressingly, my patience.

I have read almost everywhere that most people’s go-to coping strategy during the subs process is to write something new. This is sage advice, and a brilliant way of focusing your energy on the next project and giving yourself a ‘backup’ if your first round doesn’t go well. If you’re a sane and rational human being (which, being a writer, I’m guessing you’re not) then you can probably go about your daily life, get some hoovering done and sink your teeth into your new WIP without refreshing your inbox every sixty seconds, biting all your nails off and crying in the shower.

know what I’m like. I am very conscious of my inability to switch off and hand control over to somebody else. I had read that this process can take months, even years, and I was pre-panicking about the panic I knew I would be feeling as soon as Tanera hit the ‘send’ button to all those editors.

But something strange happened.

As soon as I got the email through from Tanera, telling me that the MS was out there, being judged like a cow at the fair, I just… pretended it wasn’t happening. I thanked her, closed my computer and somehow transported myself back in time twelve months, to when I was writing alone and nobody else had ever seen it.

I got stuck into my second project and made myself believe it was the first one. I forgot about my emails, went out with friends, got my head down at work and honestly, I almost convinced myself the entire thing wasn’t even happening. When Tanera would email with rejections, I’d blink at the screen like, ‘Who is this woman? What is she talking about?’ before remembering that my book was out there and I was in the middle of a process I wasn’t even letting myself think about. I think I figured that if I took myself back to the start, I couldn’t be worried or disappointed when no news, or bad news, popped up. I also think a part of me was so convinced that I wouldn’t make it, that it almost became like the last question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – I’d got this far against the odds, there was no way I was getting the top prize, but whatever, let it run its course.

This says only terrible things about my self-belief and confidence, but it was easier to assume failure than to allow myself hope that could be crushed. I’m working on it.

LV Matthews had this to say:

Oh man, the waiting game. The process for an editor (this is my experience from the big houses and every division will have its own system but as a general rule) tends to be: 

  • Editor reads and decides if it’s a fit for them. If not, politely declines to agent. 
  • If yes, they will take it to an editors meeting to discuss around the table. If they all agree to take it forward, it goes to an acquisition meeting where key people in the following departments have a read and then discuss.
    • Sales (domestic and international) 
    • Rights 
    • PR 
    • Marketing 
  • If everyone agrees to buy it, sales crunch some projected sales numbers and editor sees what they can afford to pay as an advance. 

The offer
Almost a month after going out on submission, I was watching Chris Lilley’s Lunatics (strange, the things you remember), when I got an email from Tanera. We’d had a spattering of rejections in the weeks prior, and I knew there were about half left to hear from. I didn’t open the email, but I looked at the preview in the notification bar and saw something along the lines of: ‘Are you free for a chat today? I have now heard back from all the UK publishers and…’

I put my phone face-down on the table and I knew that they were all rejections. She wanted to talk through our options, think about next steps and work on an idea for book two. I was sure of it.

After about thirty seconds of hating myself and wishing I’d never bought a computer or written a single word in my entire life, I decided to actually read the email, like a normal person.

The next words were: ‘…I am pleased to say we have an offer on the table – congratulations!’

I put my phone down again and paused Lunatics. I stared at the wall for a bit. Then I started vibrating and biting my nails and going ‘shit, shit, shit, shit’ like Hodor trying to keep that bloody door closed. After about a minute of this nonsense, I picked up my phone again and told Tanera she could call me whenever she wanted.

We talked the offer through and Tanera gave me all the information I needed, as well as a balanced viewpoint and the important advice to take time to think about it. This was particularly useful, as my gut reaction was to answer the phone and go, ‘Yep, brilliant, sorted, where’s the contract? I’ll have it signed within the hour.’ This would have been foolish mainly because no one in their right mind can read a publishing contract within an hour, and I also knew nothing about the editor or imprint.

So I took and week and did my research against all my instincts (I am not well known for thinking things through). The editor’s name was Phoebe Morgan, and the publisher was Trapeze, an imprint of Orion. This all meant nothing to me, as I hadn’t looked up any of the editors Tanera had told me we were submitting to (I told you – as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t happening). So I activated stalker mode and found out everything I could. I discovered that Trapeze was a relatively new imprint, and that they had recently published Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, a book that was doing incredibly well. I looked at Phoebe’s history, the kinds of things she had acquired in the past and the general edits she had suggested via email, which Tanera had sent on to me.

Tanera asked if a phone call with Phoebe would help, and I said that it would. It was easy to see everything on paper, but I wanted to make sure that her ideas for the book fit with my own. She was incredibly helpful, answering all my questions and giving me information that I hadn’t even known I needed, as well as – most importantly of all – detailing the vision she had for my work. I felt reassured, comfortable and excited by the ideas she had and the collaborative process she was suggesting.

My mind was made up, so I let Tanera know and then drank copious amounts of wine and ate disgusting amounts of pasta while I let the news sink in.

Relatively, I didn’t wait long for an offer. I was prepared for months of nothingness, and the timing of the process can be staggeringly different from author to author. As far as I have learned, for the rare few, it happens overnight. For the majority, answers (rejections or otherwise) come between two weeks and five months. For another select few, it can take even longer. But there doesn’t necessarily seem to be a correlation between length of waiting and chance of success.

LV Matthews told me about her experience:

My debut was sent and received some interest but no offers. I have a second book on the go, am working hard on that one in case it’s a more viable enterprise… all my fingers are crossed for that one. My passion for writing hasn’t been dampened, far from it, but it did reiterate how difficult it is, even with an agent, to get a deal. So to all my lovely friends getting deals (M-K you gorgeous thing), my hat is tipped to you and I wish you every success with your books. And I will be buying them. 

Signing the contract and telling the world
I assumed that my contract would be sent through as soon as I accepted the offer. I was wrong. It turns out that there’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between agent and editor behind the scenes, where the best deal is negotiated for both parties. I received my contract 30 days after accepting.

I knew I had to wait for the press release to go out in The Bookseller before announcing the deal publicly, but again, I didn’t know how long this would take. I had given my quote for the release a month before, so I knew it was ready to go. It was five days after I signed the contract that the news was released, and I was free to tell the world, which was a terrifying ordeal in itself – my phone overheated from all the messages and now my bluetooth is dodgy. It was very strange to have done something in the shadows for so long, with a sense of secrecy and embarrassment, and to then have it plastered for all of social media to see. The positive responses did a lot for my confidence.

If you read Submission Hell, It’s True (SHIT), and regularly stalk other authors’ reports of their experiences, you will know that really, they offer very little insight at all into what your path is likely to look like. Like horoscopes, when they’re positive, we pay attention, but when they’re negative, we assume they’re irrelevant to us. The truth is, I haven’t the first fucking clue how your journey will go, and neither does anyone else. All I can offer by way of advice is to grit your teeth and bear it, slow down and think things through rationally, if you can.

Or, you know – just pretend it isn’t happening.

One final thing that convinced me that Phoebe was a wonderful editor and all-round brilliant human being is that she is also an author herself, with a really clear understanding of how confusing and terrifying the publishing world can be for new writers. She writes a blog where she explains how publishing works at every stage, and provides invaluable information for inexperienced, nervous nobheads like me. She has a brilliant post about the submission process, in which she explains why things can seem to happen so slowly, and what is really going on behind the scenes. And her books are bloody brilliant, too.

How I Got A Literary Agent

Before I started querying agents, I read up on everything anyone had ever written on the subject. Stories from successful authors, articles written by agents themselves and blog posts from writers who’d just landed their dream representative.

It was addictive.

But it was also really, really inconsistent.

Nobody’s journey seemed to be the same! No one out there could say to me, ‘OK, Mary, here’s what will happen: you’ll send out queries, and exactly two weeks later you will hear back from every single agent and at least one of those responses will be positive.’

Why was nobody saying that? Why wasn’t there a clear-cut protocol? So frustrating, especially when you come from a science background and the majority of your life follows an a, b, c format.

I figured out pretty early on that the querying game is unique to every writer. We can read up on what to say, how to pitch, which details are best included in a synopsis – but what happens after we hit ‘send’? That’s anybody’s guess. It’s like a really unpredictable lottery – everyone will get something, but there’s no telling what or when.

For that reason, I made a vow that if and when I bagged an agent, I would write down exactly what happened to me, just to add some more data for those obsessive checkers of other people’s experiences like myself.

So here we go.

I started writing my novel in August 2017. In the beginning I was full-steam ahead, but as the months went on I started to doubt myself and my pace slowed drastically. I’d go months without writing a word, and the less I wrote, the more I questioned why I was even bothering. What was the point? It wasn’t going to go anywhere anyway, was it?

In September of this year, I was sat in the pub with my boyfriend one Friday night. He asked about my novel, and pushed me on why I hadn’t started querying. I hadn’t even finished the bloody thing, so naturally I freaked out and he had to buy me a pint to calm me down. It hit me that I’d been putting off finishing the book so I could put off the rejection I was sure was going to come with it. I told him exactly this. He laughed, bought me another pint, and said:

’14th October. That’s when you’re going to query.’

Four weeks away.

‘OK.’ I said, the alcohol loosening my inhibitions, and for the next four weeks I wrote more than I had done in the previous six months combined. With four chapters left to write, I crafted a synopsis, wrote a query letter and researched every agent in the country. On 14th October, I nervously queried 12 agents, with an unfinished manuscript sitting in my iCloud. I created a spreadsheet of every agent I’d reached out to, and set up a colour-coded key for when their responses came through (procrastination, you say? Never!).

I reasoned that the majority of people wait months to hear back. I’d have time to finish the book whilst I waited, wouldn’t I?

Ah, Mary. Didn’t you just say that reading all those author experiences taught you that nobody’s journey is the same?

The very next day, I had my first rejection. It stung bad. I cried a bit, and started searching for jobs abroad. Over the next ten days, I had three more rejections. They were coming in so quickly! This surely meant the whole thing was rubbish and I should never write again.

So I didn’t. I closed the laptop like a toddler in a tantrum and did other things instead. I considered taking a TEFL course, toyed with the idea of a trip around Asia and begged my boyfriend to let me get a puppy. Anything to take my mind off what a failure I was.

I’d waited ten days. Ten days and I was ready to give up. That’s how much those rejections knocked my spirit. Even though not one person I’d read about had had an offer that quickly anyway.

Twelve days after I’d sent my query letter out, I went to the cinema to watch Bohemian Rhapsody (great film by the way, highly recommend). When it ended, I stood outside waiting for my friend and checked my phone.

An email from one of the literary agencies.

knew it was going to be a rejection. I just knew it.

I read through the compliments, the praise of my book, waiting patiently for the ‘however…’ ‘in this current climate…’ ‘unfortunately…’

It never came.

It was a request for a full manuscript.

I just about died. Mainly because I didn’t have a full manuscript, and there was no way I was keeping this agent waiting. If she wanted to read my work, I was not going to let my own self-consciousness stand in her way.

I ran home, cried a bit, screamed a bit, and then wrote all night. I finished the book in three hours. I read it over and sent it off first thing the next morning, certain that my lack of preparation and ridiculous quitter’s attitude had ruined it all for me.

An agonising week went by. My thumb hurt from unlocking my phone so much, and every time Krispy Kreme sent me an email I promised I’d never eat another doughnut again.

And then she came back to me.

She wanted to represent me.

I’ll tell you this right now – there is no greater feeling. To have a professional read your work – the work you have shown to only two other human beings on the planet – and say, ‘I love this so much, I’m going to make you one of the tiny percentage of hopefuls who make it onto my client list’ is the most validating, incredible feeling in the world.

My immediate reaction was to reply screaming ‘yes, yes, yes, please have me, nobody else seems to want me’. But that wouldn’t have been very chill of me, and fortunately I had the more rational voice of my boyfriend to tell me I needed to think. Plus, she wanted to chat and make sure we were a good fit for each other first. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I needed to make sure this was right for me, too.

We arranged to speak the following week, and the agonising wait was only made more torturous by another agent’s email – she wanted the full manuscript too. I sent it off, my head spinning, and she came back the same day.

Offering representation.

This was too much for my insecure brain to comprehend. I almost felt upset – this was turning a joyous moment into a big decision, a decision that had the potential to affect my entire career.

But even with one offer, it was a big decision. I read everywhere that you shouldn’t accept an agent just because they’re the only person who wants to represent you. You have to do your homework. And I was in a very fortunate position – I’d have killed to have just one full manuscript request, never mind two offers.

I spoke to both agents. I told them both that I had received an offer elsewhere. They were both lovely, which made it even harder. How easy it would have been if one of them had been a real nasty piece of work. But they weren’t. They were great.

Personality assessment wasn’t going to illuminate the right choice for me. I had to put the book first. We discussed their editorial comments and I thought hard about who’s vision for the novel aligned most well with my own. Things were suddenly a lot clearer – they both had very different ideas – and my decision was made.

It’s been nearly a month since I signed that elusive, golden contract. I informed every other agent I’d queried that I had been offered representation, and let them know again when I’d signed.

The rejections are still coming through.

If I had put together all the data from my obsessive researching, and raked through it with a fine-toothed comb, I still wouldn’t have found a story like mine. It’s not better or worse than anyone else’s – and it certainly isn’t finished – but it’s individual to me, just like every manuscript is individual to its creator.

Your path to signing with an agent will take a different form to mine. And to hers, and his, and theirs. It won’t happen as you expect – you might be rejected by fifty agents, or one, or none – but keep the faith. Don’t let those rebuttals get you down. Agents are busy, your work is completely unique, and all it needs to do is land in that person’s inbox at that perfect time. 

KEEP ON WRITING. It’s what you love and it’s what you’re good at. Never doubt yourself. You’re smashing it and you deserve your own self-belief.

Good luck!

The Hell of Veganuary

I started Veganuary, as most people do, because I’d spent the majority of December hoovering my way through an entire farm’s worth of saturated-fat-filled animal products, and was feeling the effects. Sticky toffee puddings with thick cream, roast potatoes cooked in beef dripping and charred pigs in blankets were sitting on my body and my brain, and it felt heavy.

I had ideas of what it’d be like. I envisioned myself tucking in to pulses and legumes, sadly but smugly shaking my head as a plate of biscuits went round the table. I imagined pissing off the barista at Starbucks with my decaf-almond-milk-iced-moccha-no-cream order. I was ready to inconvenience the world with my self-righteous health kick, and I was excited.

But that’s not how it’s gone down.

For starters, have you seen the press? Has the entire world gone vegan? Every single supermarket, takeaway chain and café have brought out some delicious plant-based version of their usual classics, and people are flocking for it like they’ve never seen KFC before. Don’t they care that I want to be healthy? Don’t they understand my need for punishment and scarcity after a month of eating like I’m Arnold Schwarzenegger? No. No, they don’t. The bastards.

Resistance would be futile, really, wouldn’t it? And wouldn’t it be rude of me not to try what’s on offer? What if I want to carry this thing on through February? Or, more to the point, what if Subway stop doing their meatless meatball marinara and I never got a chance to taste it? It’d be a travesty, and one that I may not recover from.

The weird thing is that I genuinely never used to eat takeaways. Honestly, it was a once-a-year thing for me, if that. But now? Now, I eat about three a week. I’m stuffing Greggs vegan sausage rolls down my gullet like an albatross. It’s revolting, it really is.

I blame social media and capitalism. Not me, obviously. It’s entirely out of my hands. The fact that I spend most workday lunchtimes devouring a soya steak bake while my colleagues pick at non-vegan sausage casserole and chicken salad is actually not my fault, because I’m doing Veganuary and as long as no animals were harmed everything is basically calorie-free.

Except it isn’t, is it? I’ve put on four pounds, and it turns out I actually have to make ‘conscious healthy choices’ (ew) now that I’m not limited to a tiny portion of the supermarket aisle. I have to use my brain and consider my health like a non-vegan human. It’s grotesque.

But there is hope. February is just around the corner, and once this ordeal is over with I will treat myself to a large Dominos (as though I haven’t been eating pizza almost every meal as it is) and then, unshackled from the restraints of Veganuary, I will probably stop giving a shit, and go back to eating eggs on toast without the pressure. McDonalds will always sell Big Macs, whatever the season, so I can relax in the knowledge that I’m not missing out.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go and deep fry some M&S ‘duck-less’ spring rolls.

If you’re mad, and would like to read more about my views on Veganuary, have a look right here.

Gym People: The Awful, The Bad and The Supremely Irritating

Are you thinking of joining a gym? Are you a member of a gym but never bother going? Or are you, like me, quite enamoured by the idea of the gym, but completely disillusioned by the reality?

Forget the fact that physical activity in practice is not a Rocky montage, and unfortunately does actually take up loads of time and make your chest feel like someone’s fannied about in there with a ream of sandpaper. Leave the actual exercise at the door, friends.

We’re here to talk about the gym wankers.

The people that make you think that, actually, it may well be worth selling all of your christening jewellery (and perhaps a few of your dead grandmother’s rings) so that you can buy a treadmill. The people that make you wish for the apocalypse, or a plague, so that almost everybody will cease to exist, until you remember that gym wankers are the pinnacle of human strength and you would undoubtedly be the first to fall.

1. Speedy Gonzalez

Speedy has no time for your nonsense. Speedy, apparently, has no time for anything. He’s pounding that treadmill like he’s got some deeply buried emotional trauma he’s trying to run away from. The noise of it is possibly the most distracting thing on the planet: a shrill whirring perfectly matched with his relentless stomping, and the whip, whip, whip of his arms pumping full-pelt. Speedy makes you feel like shit as you jog along quietly, and then hammers the stop button with his fist and leans against the front of the machine as though he’s about to cry.

2. Grunty McGee

Is it a mating call? An unfortunate side-effect of body-fat deficiency? Nobody knows. This guy just can’t seem to keep his mouth shut. There you are, at the innocent time of 7 a.m. on a Monday morning, trying to motivate yourself to step onto the cross-trainer to the soundtrack of a thousand horny wildebeest. Grunty lifts his weight, and the small nose he emits could be forgiven; we’re all human. But then he drops it, as though it’s on fire, and the clang of metal against the floor is melodically accompanied by an ‘ARGH’ that makes you frantically wonder whether you should call an ambulance or the public indecency police.

3. Basic Bella

Bella is not here to exercise. We should get that fact established right at the start. For Bella, the gym is the perfect Insta shoot location. She’s got the outfit, the hair and the unfathomable baseball cap; now all she needs is the mirror you’re trying to use to smooth your eyebrow hairs down before work. She loves that mirror. The mirror is so important to her, it begs the question of whether she has any of her own at home. You consider telling Bella that the £20 a month she spends on her membership could buy countless mirrors on Amazon, but she is not free for small talk. She will pout and pose and snap away until she has the perfect shot to show social media how effective her latest facial was at disabling her sweat glands.

4. PT Paul

We’ve all got to make a living, I do understand this, but Personal Trainer Paul is really giving it his all. He slinks around the gym until he finds the perfect corner from which to observe you. From there, he will silently critique your technique, his eyes boring into you, picking apart every movement until he has his sales pitch perfected. He waits patiently until he spots a lull in your rhythm, and then pounces, appearing by your side at lightning speed. He pulls out his ace of spades and loudly offers to correct all of your hideous, arthritis accelerating mistakes, for only £50 an hour three times a week.

5. Mixing-it-up Mike

Mike doesn’t follow the rules. Mike was the kid at school who turned his chair around and straddled it, leaning his chin against the backrest. Mike was cool back then, but Mike hasn’t moved on, and is now an utter twat. When he joined the gym, Mike nodded nonchalantly through his induction and studied the machine instruction stickers with half-arsed abandon, all the while wondering how he, the master of innovation, could utilise these contraptions in a way no man had ever attempted before. In the middle of your rowing session, you spot mike in the mirror, head-butting the leg-press. It strengthens his neck muscles, and the sense of satisfaction he gets from being so much cleverer than those silly inventors and their narrow-minded ways is well worth the headache.

My blood pressure has risen beyond a normal level just writing this, but I assure you, I will not start grunting. Unfortunately, other people do exist, and unless you’re Richard Branson, you’re going to have to pay to interact with them in public places. Be it the airport, the cinema or the golf course, they’re everywhere; like an uncontrollable infestation of tossers.

My only advice for escaping the gym with your sanity intact is this: take headphones, a compact mirror and a blindfold. Or just don’t bother. You know you’ll only stick it out for a couple of weeks, anyway.

Why Are All The Terrible People At The Airport When I Am?

In one of his plays, Jean Paul Sartre said that “hell is other people”. I know, as surely as I know my own little finger, that Jean Paul Sartre was musing on airports.

There is something about an airport security queue, or a long, panicked walk to the correct terminal, that seems to bring out the absolute worst in people. Pair the unique setting with a strict time schedule, wheelable luggage and a set of hugely important life documents and you’ve got a recipe for rabid dickheadedness.

As I took my return flight from Pisa to Manchester today, I decided to pass the time (and quell the fury) by creating a mental list of my most irritating airport encounters. The ones that come out of hiding every summer, and resurface in front of me like monsters in a maze, ready to ruin my already delicate mood. I decided to write my collection down, so that other people can identify these criminals and take appropriate measures to avoid them at all costs. I also hope it may give some individuals a chance to reflect on their behaviour, so that they may have the opportunity to become aware of their own inconsideration and nip it in the bud before I stab them.

  1. The ‘Oops, I Forgot I Had A Bottle Of Supersize John Freida Shampoo In My Handbag’ Guy

I’m going to do this chronologically. This one is probably the least annoying, not because the crime is any less heinous, but because it occurs early on in the journey when you usually still have the capacity to offer a weak smile and mumble ‘take your time’ without sounding too sarcastic. This person can also be seen disguised as the ‘Oh, Did I Leave My 300-Watt Lithium Battery In The Most Inconvenient Section Of My Rucksack?’ Guy, and the ‘I Didn’t Know We Needed A Clear Plastic Bag’ Guy. Everyone knows it is basic etiquette to relieve your carry-on of all potentially lethal moisturisers whilst standing not-quite-still in the queue, gripping your passport between your teeth and your Kindle under your chin. It is important, too, that when you see these people, you lean to the side so that everyone else will notice that they are the individuals holding up the queue and ruining everybody’s holiday, and that it certainly isn’t you, taking twelve minutes to undo the wrap-around sandals you bought to look chic on the plane.

2. The ‘Oh My God, The Gate’s Just Opened, Everyone Must Move So I Can Pursue My Queueing Hobby A Little More’ Guy

By this point the excitement has worn off a little, and the realisation that you are essentially just locked in a gigantic warehouse with a million strangers has dawned. The six perfumes you tried on in duty free are clagging in your nostrils, and the Starbucks that cost the same as a nice dinner out in your final destination is sitting sadly in your stomach. You’re keeping half an eye on the departures board, but there’s a handful of keenos clustered around it, avidly inspecting it with their magnifying glasses. Your gate is called. The stampede begins. A man wearing socks with sandals stands proudly at the front of the queue, flapping his passport at the woman behind the desk, who could not give two shits as the gate isn’t actually open yet. He is smug in his position. You hate him. You remain seated with an air of superiority, wondering when other people will realise that seats are pre-assigned, the flight won’t leave without you and sitting on a stationary airplane for twenty minutes longer isn’t actually any fun at all. And then three more people join the queue and you panic and rush to the back, swiping a small child with your suitcase in your haste.

3. The ‘I Ordered A Hot Breakfast And Two Armrests’ Guy

Not to be confused with the ‘I Drank Eight Pints And Made The Pilot Turn Around’ Guy, who is an annoying flying companion but is also, thankfully, rare, this guy is a quieter, more insidious enemy, most commonly found in the middle seat. The moment the wheels of the plane leave the tarmac, this guy is punching the call button like he’s having a moment and needs medical attention. What he’s actually doing is wrenching the cabin crew away from their duties and demanding his foil-wrapped Full English, which he will proceed to eat noisily and stinkily beside you. Once he has finished his feast and belched several times in your direction, he will tackle the next item on his agenda: wrestling the armrests from the passengers either side of him. It will begin with a slight nudge, which he knows the weaker will succumb to. If this fails, he will begin jostling in his seat, as if trying to get comfy, as a cover-up for the moment his elbow jerks aggressively to the left, and knocks your arm clean off its support. Once he has conquered both sides, he will fall asleep with his mouth open, and you will try not to look at the piece of bacon wedged in his tooth as you order your egg and cress sandwich.

4. The ‘Doors Are Open, We Didn’t Die, I Must Now Be The First To Arrive At Passport Control’ Guy

By this point, you’ve reached the very pit of your patience resources. You’ve been sat outside the airport for thirty minutes while a set of steps is sourced, and are fully willing to jump from the window and take any negative outcomes on the chin. The doors finally open. Someone (usually socks-and-sandals guy, more likely his wife) undoes their seatbelt with such ferocity that the people in your departure destination probably hear it. They wrench their bag from the overhead locker, almost disfiguring the face of a girl offering to help, and hurtle up the aisle with reckless abandon. They stride across the tarmac as if their firstborn is trapped in a box in the arrivals lounge. You are behind them. Approximately three minutes into the march, their pace slows. Their legs can’t continue at such a rate, but their determination is fierce. You overtake them. They cannot allow this to happen. At a set of double doors, they take the lead again, destroying your achilles with their military-grade wheely trolley and letting the door swing back in your face. They’re on the travelator, storming ahead like vampires from Twilight. They arrive at passport control ahead of you, and take their well-earned place at the back of a 400-person line of passengers who have just landed from Beijing. An airport staff member opens a new queue as you arrive, and you stride straight up to the tiny line at the passport scanner. You did it. You got there first.

5. The ‘I Don’t Understand What Face-Down Means’ Guy

OK. This is usually an old woman, or someone without a good grasp of the English language. But you are tired. Humanity is shit, everyone smells, and there are picture diagrams, for Christ’s sake. Stand on the footprints, open the passport, place it on the scanner, wait for the doors to open. It’s simple. And yet, apparently it is not. There are six of these machines, and somehow you have ended up behind someone who is trying to ram their hand into the scanning slot. Have they provided their fingerprints before? Probably not. What is their logic? There does not appear to be any. You can see the light through the doorway beyond the machines, beckoning you. The woman glances to her left and notices other people inserting their passports. She does the same, face-up. You want to scream. The people in the queues either side of you filter past. The assistant is busy with another passenger. The woman flips her passport and puts it face-down, the wrong page in first. She is so close. You want to step forward and show her how to do it, but you do not want to be shot/detained for interfering. She tries again, face-up. You snap and give an incredibly audible tut. The assistant hears. He helps her, and she makes it through. Your body sags. There is now nothing standing in your way. You stand on the footprints, open your passport, place it on the scanner… and are rejected. The assistant sends you to the back of the Beijing queue, where socks-and-sandals and his wife are waiting to welcome you back.

So there you have it. Unfortunately, annoying people and their selfish behaviour at airports is a cross we all must bear if we wish to explore the world. While you and I know that we are always the least well-slept, and that our needs are certainly the most urgent, other people rudely do not take this into consideration. It may be tempting to consider other transport options but, living on an island, we must unfortunately cross the sea, and do not even get me started on ferry wankers. That’s a whole other kettle of fish.