5
January

8 years in the making

This week I got to start the year fulfilling a dream.

To see my book arriving into the world at the printers. (Thank you Clays and Piccadilly Press for organising a great day : ))

It was a brilliant moment – and you can see a little summary of it in the video above.

But probably the best bit was coming home and and handing signed copies to my two boys and seeing their faces. And having my youngest son say ‘I’m really proud of you Mummy, because you worked really hard on this.’

They know how long this has taken. And from the very beginning I haven’t been shy about sharing the ups and downs. Things aren’t always easy and I wanted to show them, by example, how to pick themselves up after a knock back. I don’t think I was ever very resilient – until I wanted to set that example for them. And I’m grateful to them for inspiring me to find that healthy dose of grit and courage.

I’ve benefited so much from lots of other writers sharing their journey to publication – and being honest about how long it took and how near they came to giving up on occasions. In particular Caroline Green, Abi Elphinstone and SF Said.

So for what it’s worth here’s my own time line. It’s almost as long as my journey to publication but there you go… I hope there may be some useful bits along the way for people needing encouragement to keep going. If you want to skip to some actual advice – jump the timeline to the last paragraph : )

2010

I decided to get back to writing (something I loved as a child but which seemed to have fallen by the wayside).

Encouraged by a writer friend I submitted a story for 5- 7 year olds to her agent. After an encouraging start the exchange quickly turned to a ‘No’. At the time I felt like I’d been horribly naïve in my approach and embarrassed that I’d tried sending her a rewrite after her first response (which had resulted in a rather more curt and critical reply.)

I basically took it REALLY hard. In fact I stopped writing for the rest of that year. Way to go on the resilience, Mummy!

2011/12

I gradually started writing again.

Some picture book texts and also developing an idea for a short story about a boy and a dragon. I started submitting the picture books and was spurred on by a few encouraging comments. And after getting on Twitter and joining a writing group, I began to understand this rejection thing was all part of the process. (A not very nice part, but one I’d better get used to it.)

I got into the habit of sending out multiple submissions – so there was always another potential ‘Yes’ out there somewhere, to offset the inevitable rejections. And there were A LOT of rejections.

2012

I took the plunge and wrote my first novel for 9-12 year olds.

At the end of the year I submitted it to a selected agent who I’d researched. Feeling very hopeful! I also sent it to the agent who had been interested in one of my picture books and had requested to see what else I’d written. Feeling even more hopeful! This time I was doing ‘the right thing’ – I’d researched my target – I’d polished my cover letters. I was good to go.

I got a ‘No’ from both. Both nice, but still ‘No’.

From their feedback I started editing, but I felt a bit like I was stumbling in the dark. So I sent the novel to The Lighthouse Editorial service. This was just what I needed. Very useful, targeted comments, which gave me the confidence to keep going with the idea – and keep editing.

August 2013

I heard about the SCBWI Agents’ Party. And bought a ticket before I could think about it. And surprised myself by actually turning up, and then pitching to 15 agents in one evening.

Here I met my wonderful agent Jo Williamson. Later that week I signed with her and the Antony Harwood Agency. For the full picture of exactly how scared I was going to this event – and how glad I am that I went – check out this earlier post.

Oct 2013

I have an agent!!! Feeling full of hope that the rest is all just plain sailing.

Naïve? I like to think just eternally hopeful…

Spent the rest of the month doing a few edits for Jo then the book went out on submission.

Nov 2013

Just weeks later we had a publisher interested enough to want to meet and talk to me. This was amazing. It was all happening so fast suddenly, I’d be holding a copy of my book before I knew it.

Or… not.

Despite a lovely meeting, and spending a few months doing rewrites for the editor, in the end the book was ‘too quiet’ and they didn’t pursue it.

April – July 2014

I decided I needed to get back to writing just for the pleasure of it and stop worrying about ‘getting published’. I wrote a new story called ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons,’ (BWGD) based on my earlier short story. Meanwhile still tinkering with my middle grade novel.

July – December 2014

Editing BWGD and resubmitting my middle grade novel. A whole lot more ‘thanks, but no’, but some really positive ones that gave me heart.

Jan 2015

Started writing a new MG novel.

March 2015

Jo took BWGD and my picture book series to London Book Fair. Lots of interest. Lots of new hope!

At this point we came really close to getting a deal for the picture book series, but in the end it was turned down as it was deemed too similar to something else on the publisher’s list. Sometimes it can just be timing.

The Boy Who Grew Dragons still had interest – BUT the publisher wanted it much shorter and for a younger age range. And with a different focus.

Feb – July 2015

I finished the first draft of the new middle grade novel. Woo-hoo – this one is it, I thought.

Summer 2015

I worked on a shorter version of BWGD to try and match what the interested publisher was looking for.

It would all be worth it, I thought, if it got me a deal. But I got horribly stuck and horribly frustrated that I seemed to be losing what I loved about the story by changing it so radically. I shared my concerns with Jo and she agreed that if I wasn’t feeling happy with it I should not pursue it. I’m so thankful to her for supporting me at this point and not encouraging me (or persuading me) to push on with it.

Autumn 2015

Editing, editing and more editing of the new middle grade book.

Dec 2015

We submitted the new book to publishers who had been interested and kind about my first novel. Feeling oh so very hopeful this time!

Jan 2016

Rejected by both publishers.

Felt crushed. I thought I had got better at hearing ‘No’ but these hurt. And although I knew I would continue writing, I seriously considered that this might be the end of the road for trying to get published. I was ready to walk away.

Feb 2016

Unbeknownst to me, Jo took The Boy Who Grew Dragons back to London Book Fair. And I got a call to say there was interest.

Less jumping from me this time. (I’ve been here. I know the score. I’ll believe it when I see it, etc.)

But then she told me three publishers were interested.

April 28th 2016

I travelled up to London to meet two publishers. I was excited to be out of my PJs and in the big city, but regarded it as a day out rather than the answer to my dreams.

Sadly with the first meeting it was clear that although the publisher liked my writing and the voice, the book they really wanted wasn’t something I was interested in writing. I texted my husband to say the trip was a waste of time – and on his birthday, no less!

So I didn’t hold out much hope for our second meeting of the day. But it was in fact a bit of a dream. After being given ‘Andy’s Dragon Growing Kit’ by the editor and hearing their enthusiasm for the story I finally let the little spark of excitement back in.

By the end of the day I had an actual publisher saying ‘we are ready to make an offer’.

On three books!

2016 – 2018

Two more years of writing and editing later, The Boy Who Grew Dragons will finally be on shelves in June 2018, followed by two more books later in the year.

Eight years after I sat down to have a go at writing something for publication. And five years after signing with my agent.

It’s taken a while…

Jump in here for the advice bit!

So here are a few things I wish I could go back and say to my earlier writing self:

Dear Andy

OK, so you’re naïve. It’s not a crime, you’re learning, you’re going to make mistakes, you might even embarrass yourself! Never mind. Just carry on.

Keep writing. Even on the days you don’t feel inspired. Sometimes this is when the odd thing will pop into your head and take you in a whole new direction.

And keep submitting to agents/publishers. The more you have out there, the easier it will be to move on from the ‘Nos’.

Don’t get hung up on the phrase ‘write every day’ and the idea that if you’re not writing then you’re not a writer. I know that sounds at odds with the previous advice, but that’s only if you believe writing only involves actually putting words on a page.

‘Writing’ can be dreaming up ideas, planning a plot point, talking things through, playing with characters, oh and living life and even taking a break to let the ideas sneak up on you unexpectedly. You work well in bursts. Make the most of those bursts and accept there will be times where nothing much happens. (Or so it seems – your unconscious is pretty good at keeping an eye on things)

Don’t feel like you have to do everything you are asked by publishers/editors.

Sometimes their vision will feel absolutely right and strengthen your work in ways you wouldn’t believe possible – but sometimes you will just not be a good fit. Have the confidence to both take feedback with good grace and learn from it, and disagree with feedback and stick to your guns if it doesn’t ring true. At the end of the day you want the book in your hand to be the one you wanted to write.

Above all, do it because you love it.

And then keep doing it.

 

And remember these wise words.

 

‘It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.’ Albert Einstein

‘Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.’ J R R Tolkien

‘Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’ Winston Churchill

‘I am not discouraged because every wrong attempt discarded is a step forward’ Thomas Edison

And finally:

‘When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place’ Author Unknown

 

And finally finally huge thanks to Sara Ogilvie for her amazing artwork that just keeps catching my eye – and Nick Stearn and the team at Piccadilly Press for such a wonderful cover design. With it being all shiny and embossed, it’s getting a lot of stroking!

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10
February

This Time Last Year

Today I spent a happy hour looking through my box of childhood scribblings. As well as notebooks, folders and scrappy bits of paper I found my first attempt at a book. (Along with a rather lovely letter from Douglas Adams. I’d written to ask if he minded me writing a book that was basically my version of ‘The HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ – which I utterly loved.) The poems and stories I flicked through and that letter reminded me just how long I have dreamt of being a writer.

It also made me take a moment. Because this time last year I nearly gave up. Not writing – because I can’t stop doing that now I’ve finally started again – but the whole Getting Published Thing. I’d given it a damn good go. I’d got tantalisingly close on my first middle grade novel and on my picture book series. So close that I’d thought it was in the bag. But sadly, there was no cigar.

And although I’d had some interest in my second book, that too ended up as a non-starter after I decided that the publisher’s request to ‘make it shorter and younger’ just wasn’t what I felt was right for the story.

So following my mentor’s advice, I wrote The Next Thing. And this time I really thought this was ‘The One’. But, sadly, it wasn’t the case. Now I had been getting tougher, more resilient to rejection – let’s face it, I’d been getting some practise in – but this one really hurt. And it stopped me in my tracks, which hadn’t happened for a long time. I mean, all rejections hurt, but I’d been picking myself up pretty quickly. Within days anyway, not months, like it had taken in the very beginning.

Maybe it was it because it was a quite personal story, maybe it was because they just didn’t seem to “get” the book at all. Maybe it was because it was a cold miserable January or because I’d just poured out my heart for six months and wasn’t ready to submit it and feel the sting of other people’s opinions yet. Whatever the reason, that rejection really hurt. And I seriously wondered if – despite all the hard work and perseverance to get the books written, get an agent and put myself out there – I should step back. Maybe not forever, but for a while.

Fast-forward another month or so – skipping over the time where I wasn’t much fun to be around – I suddenly got a call from my agent.

It turned out she had taken my second book, ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ to London Book Fair – and had got quite a lot of interest!

Exciting enough – although having been on the roller coaster of: ‘They love it, they want it – Oh **** they don’t want it’ a number of times, I was braced for the impending Downer.

Except this time it didn’t come. Two weeks later I was heading into the South Bank Centre with my agent, the lovely Jo Williamson (aka Super Agent Jo) to meet two publishers. And by the end of the day I’d been offered a three-book deal!

The turn-around was bizarre and it’s still something I have to pinch myself about, nine months later. Publication date isn’t until June 2018 but I’ve been busy writing the next two books, and editing the first one.

It’s been a thrilling ride so far. But I’m always aware how close I came to letting that particular ‘No’ derail me.

Part of the reason I didn’t give up any time in the last five years – and why I doubt I would actually have walked away last January however low I felt about that rejection – is because of hearing about the long and winding roads other writers have taken to getting published. I took great inspiration from SF Said, Abi Elphinstone and Caroline Green. They all got to that point of ‘No, that’s it, I’ve had enough’ but then carried on anyway. And deep down, I knew I had to do that too.

Because I couldn’t let go of the dream completely. The image of wandering into a bookshop and picking up my own book from a bookshelf had been with me since I was ten years old. It was stubborn.

So if you’re the same and you have that stubborn dream then please keep going. Keep doing what you love. Keep putting it out into the world, however hard that feels at times. Because things can change really quickly.

You never know when that YES might just appear.

It certainly surprised the hell out of me!

 

‘When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place’ – Author Unknown

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16
December

My picks for Xmas 2016 – Part 2: Young Adult

2016-favs-part-2b

Following on from my last post where I highlighted my favourite MG titles, here are the Young Adult titles I’ve loved reading this year – not all new releases, but new to me!

Being Billy – Phil Earle

Bird – Crystal Chan

The Art of Being Normal – Lisa Williamson

Beautiful Broken Things –  Sara Barnard

More of Me – Kathryn Evans

Lorali – Laura Dockrill

Lobsters – Lucy Evison and Tom Elen

Paper Butterflies – Lisa Heathfield.

Instructions for a Second Hand Heart – Tamsyn Murray

One – Sarah Crossan

And really there are so many more I could have added.

But whatever books you curl up with over the holidays I wish you a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year!

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13
June

Let there be Cake – and lots of it!

I may be doing this for a while.

Because it’s official.

I am absolutely thrilled and delighted to say I have signed a 3 book deal with the wonderful Piccadilly Press. Excuse me if I just say that a few more times till it actually sinks in!

‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ will be published Spring 2018 with 2 more books following soon after.

I can’t wait to start work with Matilda Johnson and the rest of the team at Piccadilly Press and am so happy that the books have found such a lovely home.

Massive thank you to my wonderful agent Jo Williamson for all her support and just being a total star! And thank you to all my friends both on and off Twitter/Facebook who have cheered me on.

And of course huge huge HUGE thanks to Ian for getting me here and my 2 beautiful boys for always believing I could do it. I’m so glad I proved you right! ( And yes it does deserve one of my special ice cream sundaes!)

 

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17
June

The End (which of course is not The End but rather The Beginning)

So, I ‘ve been rushing headlong towards my own self-imposed deadline for this first draft. I’ve been so desperate to finish before the end of term and birthday madness hits – ah, the joys of children being born a week apart and in the period where school activities hit an all time high… But I’ve actually done it!

Last week was painful. Really really painful. I hit a new personal record for words written in one day – 14! And they were rubbish, too. Then suddenly this week everything fell into place and I couldn’t keep up with my fingers on the computer, or my head. My characters just kept talking to each other, even when I was trying to take a few minutes off. How rude! I had to get it all down whenever and wherever I could. All that brewing over the last few months seems to have paid off. Thank Goodness.

So today I wrote those two words I’ve been dreaming of: The End.

And I think the reason I found the last quarter so hard was because I know of course: it’s nowhere near the end. This is just the beginning. My first draft is like a raw bleeding heart. Not nice to look at or indeed safe in the wider world.

It needs so much work still (although not a transplant, I hope). So I think there was an element of weariness at the thought of what was coming next. And everything slowed down. But then the momentum of the story took over this week and I just loved writing again. Just being in the flow and having the story tumble out, like in those heady days at the beginning of Act One.

So I’m all a bit emotional now, having actually got to the end. I did cry at the final scenes, which I hope is a good sign. But maybe it’s just writer’s fatigue! I shall see after it’s had its alone time and I come back to reread it.

I am now going to celebrate. Not think of what’s to come, but celebrate the fact I actually finished my third book. 55,000 words. Mini Mexican wave with myself (because everyone else is out).

And then I’m going to check out my writing friends’ top tips for editing. Which I shall no doubt share with you later, too.

In the meantime though, here is my writing journey as told by Minions – and a little taster of what the book is about.

First came the euphoria of starting

 

I tried to make myself braver when tackling tricky bits

 

Somewhere near the The Middle I admit the hysteria took over

 

There were days I just needed to do this to get through

 

Then out of the blue I’d have a breakthrough

 

And things just fell into place

 

It didn’t last. And when I got stuck I had to kick some verbal butt

 

Or vent

 

Or give up and bake

 

Apologies to my family for the days I felt like this

 

And for when my inner critic got really loud

 

Sometimes I felt like I would never finish the thing, but then the end was in sight

 

And today I mostly feel like

and

 

and like I deserve something like this to announce to the world: I am done with you, First Draft.

 

But also maybe just a little

 

And in case you wanted a taste of what it’s all about, here’s my first attempt at a blurb:

SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/andreashepherd/Dropbox/Andy%20Shared/New%20Writing3/Mill/Haunted%20Doves%20-%20submitted%20Dec%2015/Haunted%20Blurb.doc

 

Haunted Doves

Jo Dove is haunted by the ghost of the boy she left to drown. And now she’s been dumped with grandparents she’s never met, on a farm surrounded by water – her greatest fear. Worse still, Daniel’s ghost has followed her. On her first night at Dove’s Farm she sees a light at the top of the old mill, and soon discovers that she’s not the only one in her family who is haunted. When Jo finally discovers the truth about the light in the mill, it unearths family secrets that have remained buried for over sixty years.

 

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26
March

Why I owe the postman an apology

I’ve got a bit of an admission to make. I think I have an Author Crush. I haven’t felt this way since David Almond.

I only recently read ‘Rooftoppers’ by Katherine Rundell, despite all the buzz last year about the book and its author. I’m not sure why I didn’t read it back then, perhaps it was just the wilful (middle-grade) child in me that never wanted to jump on a bandwagon for the latest book/film/fashion…

Anyway I finally did read ‘Rooftoppers’ – and of course immediately understood what everyone had been raving about.

This book sings.

It had me at Hello – well at the first line, which is the equivalent.

Who can’t fail to be at the mercy of that wonderful opening? A baby in a cello case, floating in the English Channel.

And when Katherine describes Charles for the first time: ‘Think of night-time with a speaking voice. Or think how moonlight might talk, or think of ink, if ink had vocal chords.’

That was it, for me.

Continue reading »

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14
September

What A Day! Nosy Crow Conference 2014 My Highlights

My head is still buzzing from Nosy Crow’s one-day conference ‘Everything You Wanted to Know about Children’s Publishing – But Were Afraid to Ask’.

All I can say is, it’s amazing what you can deliver in a day!

It was an incredibly friendly, motivational event packed with useful info, practical tips and advice, as well as some truly inspirational speakers. Ever get the feeling I enjoyed it?!

It’s hard talking about highlights in a day that was crammed with great speakers, but here are two of mine.

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6
March

Why writing a book is uncomfortably like moving house

After a great meeting with a publisher at the end of last year, I’ve spent the last month and a half working on edits of my middle-grade novel. Maybe it’s because we’ve just moved house and have been in the throes of ripping out floors, re-plastering and whole scale re-decorating but I’ve definitely been seeing parallels between the writing process and moving house/renovation!

Here are the 12 stages as I see them.

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9
October

Aliens versus Agents !

A date for your diary 2014

On Thursday I went to my first SCBWI event, and I certainly chose a great one to start with.

The Agents’ Party is a unique opportunity to come face to face with not just one, but twelve literary agents. We listened to them talk about their agencies and what they were looking for individually, as well as getting some useful tips on what not to do when you’re writing/submitting. (See Flotsam and Jetsam’s excellent blog about the event for a list of some of the important tips we learned)

But more than that we also got the opportunity to pitch our work to them.

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13
June

‘Hold Your Breath’ Piccadilly Press Book Launch

I went to my first book launch this week. Very exciting!

There are some people who really inspire you when you are struggling to keep turning up at the page and Caroline Green is one of those people. Suzy Greaves interviewed her for the Big Writing School about a year ago and she spoke so openly about her journey to get published that whenever a rejection lands on the doormat I always stop and think about her perseverance.

It’s so important to hear the downs as well as the ups from people who have made it to the ‘other side’. It’s very easy to see a book on a shelf and not remember the story behind the story; the agonising rewrites, the rejections, the doubts, the months it gets shoved in a drawer.

Caroline has helped me no end since that first interview and it was great to finally meet her in person. I loved her first 2 books, ‘Cracks’ and ‘Dark Ride’ and I can’t wait to read ‘Hold Your Breath’ – read the back cover or watch the trailer and you’ll see why!

Well done to the team at Piccadilly Press for a great launch!

 

 

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