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 : )


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!


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.


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!



My picks for Xmas 2016 – Part 2: Young Adult


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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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.

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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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‘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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Showing Up


Writing picture books is a strange process.

For me it often starts with a name or a line that pops into my head for no obviously apparent reason.

And I get all excited and rush to the computer. If I’m lucky things start spinning off from it but more often than not I get that first little gem down and it just ‘is what it is’ and no more. It refuses to tell me anything more about itself for ages and ages.

Like this morning. A few days ago a new character turned up and I thought ‘fantastic, here we go’. But for two mornings I’ve sat staring at those opening lines and been completely at a loss. ‘What am I supposed to do with you?’ I keep thinking.

I keep trying things and I’m just not feeling that spark. Sometimes it feels like the ideas have emigrated to warmer climes – or at least they’re hibernating. Most of the time I have to hunt around for them and even the blighters that arrive of their accord I then need to work out what to do with, like this one today.

So where do you get ideas? Some people seem blessed with a head full of the things but surely everyone has duff days. What then?

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What Mammoths can teach us about creativity

These were designed and made for me by my smallest son. I love how inventive kids are! He has also attempted roller skates by tying felt tip pens to his feet with string. That was less successful but he is undeterred.

It reminds me of a picture book I love called ‘Me and My Mammoth’ by Joel Stewart.

It’s all about a little boy who loves to invent and make things but they never quite turn out right. So he buys a kit – to make an aeroplane. Only instead of an aeroplane he ends up with a very big, very hairy mammoth! Who can fly! It’s a fabulous book and I just love the unexpected jump from starting to make one thing and ending up with something so spectacularly and wonderfully different. Something that then takes him on a fantastic adventure.

I see my two boys doing it all the time.

So what have I learned from a mammoth and my boys’ inventiveness?

If I’m making stuff up and at first it doesn’t look like I thought it would, don’t be discouraged, don’t give up on it – because what comes out instead might just take me off on a whole new adventure!

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The Power Of Vulnerability

I expect most people will have seen this already but every so often I just watch it again. Because there’s so much in it that I need to hear it more than just the once!

And as I sit down to write I like to remember her words and to remember that the definition of courage is ‘to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.’

“What happens when people open their hearts?”…
“They get better.”
― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood



Everything is Beautiful When You Don’t Look Down

We spent Sunday on the South Bank. I love the view along there with Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament it really is fantastic. But I love the fact that everywhere you go there are interesting views – not just the big sights but juxtapositions of the old and new, the busy and the tranquil.

This was on the back of the Hayward Gallery. It’s called ‘Everything is Beautiful When You Don’t Look Down’ and was built by the arts collective Robots. It was all built from recycled and reclaimed materials and made with help from the children at the Oasis Children’s Venture.


I just love it and the fact you have to look up to see these things as you are wandering along. It reminded me that I have to keep looking up to get where I want to be.

If I don’t look up I could miss seeing someone (or something) that might be right there waiting to help me. If all I do is look down and cling to my tiny bit of wall I might never move.  I also like that to be helped you have to let go of the wall long enough to take their hand.

And that can be a very scary and a very brave thing to do.

To let go.


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