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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13
September

Staring up at the Mountain

ben-ant
They say visualisation is a powerful tool to bring about change. Well, in the wrong hands it’s a powerful tool to bring you to a standstill, too!

I’ve spent the last few weeks picturing myself like this: an ant looking up at Mount Everest. So you can probably see why I’ve been struggling to get started. And OK, I realise we are just talking about writing a book here, I mean it’s words on a page at the end of the day. But I’m nothing if not overly dramatic in my visualisations! Which can sometimes be a good thing but sometimes, like here, backfires badly.

Back in May I received my offer from Piccadilly Press (I shouted about it pretty loud but if you happened to miss that bit of news then click here) And what’s more they wanted three books.

I was over the moon and I’m still up there to be honest. Over the last four months I have been editing Book One – The Boy Who Grew Dragons. It’s been through some changes since it started out as a picture book idea back in 2012, but that’s a whole other post. Let’s just say I’m getting an inkling of just how much work is involved in getting a book into print. The only trouble is, knowing what I know now, I’ve been psyching myself out about the fact that I have to do it again – twice in fact.

So I’ve been this ant staring up at the snowy peaks and shuffling from foot to foot hoping I might miraculously get lifted up to that far away summit by some benevolent bird.

Don’t get me wrong I’ve been a busy ant – checking my boots and other essential equipment, planning my route, collecting provisions. (Basically gathering ideas, working on outlines for the next books and baking too many scones) But I haven’t dared start the journey out of base camp.

Until yesterday, when I took that first step. And it felt good. And now I’m singing as I trudge along. (I started out skipping, but it was a long day yesterday so I’m trudging this morning) But I’m going to keep my eyes on each step I take – and avert my gaze from the distant heights of the summit. For now anyway.

So if like me you’re feeling like a tiny ant at the foot of a great big mountain, let me visualise my ant-self reaching out a hand to your ant-self, to help you take that first little – but momentous- step.
animated-ant-image-0024

“You’re off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so… get on your way!” – Dr Seuss

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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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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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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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7
December

Showing Up

AAAAAAARRRRRRRGH !!!

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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21
November

Would you trust your book to this man ?

Somewhere, deep down, without realizing, I think I thought all editors looked like this!

But of course they don’t.

Back in May, I finished my first middle grade novel. It was done! Woohoo!

I spent the summer getting feedback, editing the whole thing and really felt I was getting to the point where I could think about submitting. But I wasn’t. Why?

Because there was a problem.

I knew there was a problem with the first few chapters. It didn’t get into the action quickly enough – the pace was too slow. And from reader feedback I knew that was where I needed to put in the work.

The simplest solution would be to just cut it. The trouble was, I loved that first chapter! For me it set up the main character perfectly and (I hoped) made the reader care about him.

But I’ve realised it was more than that. This was the first chapter I had ever written. It was where my story began  (both on the page and off). And boy, was I connected to it. So how was I going to wield the mighty editing axe myself? How was I going to get to the action quicker but still keep what I loved?

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15
November

Lil’s Sweetshop

There’s a shop at the top of our road called Lil’s
Which has shelves stacked with sweets under the tills
There are twisty red laces
And round candy faces
Sherbert and fizz bombs
And dark chocolate bon bons.

And sometimes when I am sitting in class
I imagine I’m there, nose pressed to the glass.

(Based on a true story)

More silly Verse

 

Image by EEPaul

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