I never thought I would become a writer, it was only by chance that I ever started writing at all. I was studying children’s book illustration through a distance learning course with the London Art College and after my initial diploma the follow on course required me to write a picture book to illustrate. It was pure coincidence that I saw a 10 week course advertised in a local town about writing for children. It thought it might help me write the text for a picture book so I enrolled, loved it and did the follow on course for that too. I have never stopped writing since. I didn’t stop at picture books but started writing my first children’s novel. That was seven years ago now and in that time I have written 7 novels and I don’t think I’ll stop writing them anytime soon. I have also written more picture book texts than I care to mention.
So once I started writing, did I have dreams and aspirations to see them published? Not to begin with, not until the ideas just kept flowing and I had a head full of stories that just wanted to be told. I could have just carried on writing them in my notebooks and tucked them away in a drawer but it seemed such a waste and what if? What if someone would actually want to read them? I probably would never have shared them with anyone if at the end of that course my tutor, Judith Duncan, hadn’t phoned me and invited me to join a select writing group she had set up 20 years before that met weekly in one writer’s house. Every writer that has ever attended that creative writing group have been taught by Judith. Terrified I wouldn’t be good enough to share my work I joined and have been going ever since, more than six years now. I grew in confidence and reading the work of others, sharing critiques, and doing spontaneous writing exercises has made me a much better writer.
So when did I decide to take it seriously? When I discovered the Society of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrators on Facebook and realised maybe I could really do something with my writing, then my aspirations began to build. Being an active member of the NE SCBWI has really helped and it gave me the confidence to network and set up my own writing group in Malton which has been running for several years now.
But having an aspiration is one thing, but doing something to make your dreams happen is quite a different thing entirely. To do that you have to be brave, put yourself out there and take rejection without it destroying you. The knock backs when you start submitting to agents are hard and soul destroying and you begin to doubt yourself and all you have done. Each year for the last six years I have submitted a new novel to agents and several picture book texts too but the rejections were hard. 20 sometimes 30 rejections a year and each new year I would vow to stop writing, what was the point? But along the way there are milestones and small achievements too, little steps that showed me maybe I wasn’t deluding myself that I had a story worth reading after all.
Can I pinpoint them? Yes, because these moments keep you going. I was long-listed in the WriteMentor 2019 competition for unpublished children’s novels. I was shortlisted for a national writing competition in Writing Magazine that saw me interviewed in London and then selected to be the writer of a collaborative fantasy adventure novel which would see me working with an editor for two years and facing the deep disappointment of publishers passing on my novel. I was selected to be invited by the London agency David Higham to join them for their open day for under-represented children’s book writers. So yes, all of these moments helped drive me on, make me believe that one day I would write the book that was the right book, at the right moment.
But the years have taught me something else, that the traditional publishing industry is all about luck and I guess I’m not a very lucky person. I was lucky to have my first picture book, Mouse Pirate, published by a local Book Press, Stairwell Books and it does mean I am traditionally published but what I yearned for more than anything was to share my children’s novels and this continued to allude me.
So why is the year 2020 any different? It has for all of us been an extra-ordinarily difficult year and one in which I struggled with a lock-down that saw my mood and well-being plummet. But out of darkness must come light and I saw that maybe this was the year to be braver than ever before and take the steps myself to release my stories to those they were intended for. This year, more than any other, we need stories, fantastical and exciting adventures to escape into. Children need books. They need stories of hope and triumph more than ever. So I decided to make my own decision of what was good enough, and self publish one of my novels myself. The Curse of the Goldicoot will be available through Amazon very soon.
Luckily I am an illustrator and it gave me great joy to create my own cover with the technical typesetting help of a fellow writer.
As a toy designer I even get to re-create my own characters in plush
So my message for other writers is to follow your dreams and never give up.