Monday, 21 December 2015

A Writers Family – An Ever Giving Gift of Inspiration…

As Christmas is looming, The Family Poyton is reading Matt Haig’s ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ and we are loving the story and the amazing illustrations by Chris Mould. As a family we have also been listening to Matt being interviewed about the inspiration behind the book, and that it came when his son asked the question; ‘Was Father Christmas ever a Boy?’

This got me thinking about inspiration, and where idea’s for books come from. Like many creative people, my inspiration comes from anywhere at any time. However, one thing has inspired me more than anything else is my family.

In fact if it wasn’t for my daughter, I wouldn’t be writing. So many years ago, when she was coming up three, and my son his first birthday, my husband went away to Australia for six weeks on business. My daughter, a rather pretentious and funny toddler, asked him to bring her back a Kangaroo, and for the whole duration of the trip she persisted in asking me how Daddy would catch the kangaroo. Initially I’d answer simply, but as time went on the answers got more and more extreme, started to rhyme and evolved into my first ever bit of writing a Picture book called, How to Catch a Kangaroo. From tat moment I was hooked, and I haven't stopped writing since.


Spread One

My Daddy has one to Australia.

There is just one thing I asked him to do,

“Daddy, please bring me back a Kangaroo!”

Spread Two

I wonder how he will catch it.

How do you catch a Kangaroo?

Could you catch one with a rod and line?

What would you use for bait?

Peanut butter sandwiches, or jelly on a plate?

It’s not just kids that inspire, my two furry, lazy Springbats, (half Springer Spaniel half Basset Hound) also bring a healthy dose of inspiration to, and after a particularly entertaining walk involving some fox excrement, and I began to pen a Picture book from the point of view of a hound. Although I’m pretty sure it’s not like to ever get a publisher, I believe it’ll strike a chord with anyone who has ever owned a dog…

If Dogs Wrote Picture Books

Because I love you, I’ve dug up your roses. I know that their horrid smell itches human’s noses.

Because I love you, I’ve made myself smell nice. I found some fox poo and rolled in it twice.

Because I love you, I’ve warmed up your bed, and now it smells like what I’ve just been fed.

Because you love me, you left me stake out on the side for a snack. Because I’m so grateful I gulped it down as soon as you turned you back.

Because I love you, I’ve brought you a present. It’s a rather tasty (and energetic) half dead pheasant.

Because I love you, I slept on your best hat. I think I’ve improved it; It’s covered in hair and is now rather flat.

Because I love you, I bark all the time you’re out. That way you will know I love you and you’ll never be in doubt.

Because you love me, you warm up my chair, I love it when you leave the room so I can snuggle up there.

Because I love you, to let everyone know your mine. I pee in your shoes (It makes them smell better) and gives them a yellowy shine.

Entertaining the children in queues or on long journeys has also provided inspiration for a book about a magic flying toilet, and a mission to save one families ailing sweet making business by stealing the family recipe book back from the Pirate and Captain of ‘The Sweet Revenge’ who rules the seven seas by supplying all seadogs with the delicious sweets. 

My most recent inspiration has been provided by my son, (who’s now approaching his 10th Birthday) and his constant attempts to steal my bobble hat and his disappointment that I will not give it to him. He handles this by talking about himself in the third person and calling himself ‘No-bobble’. This has presented lot of entertaining ideas for a new Picture Book text which I’m currently working on.

So… this is a little celebration of my eccentric family, and a thank you to the most important people in my life who inspire me every day. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to thank them properly with an acknowledgement in an actual book. One day…

Monday, 30 November 2015

Ebb and Flow - the life of an unpublished writer

When you writing and pursuing publication life is full of ebb and flow and rather a lot ‘NO!’ Sometimes you believe that you are flowing closer to the island of ‘Publication’ as the waves of the slushpile bring you closer to shore. For a few years I sailed by vessel across the turbulent shushpile sea and managed to get the island in sight, a few long-listings and honorary mentions in new writers competitions felt like flow, then the rejections of submission made the ebbing felling come back. 

The 2014 brought me closer than I’ve ever got, so close, that I had to abandon my vessel and swim franticly towards the shoreline. I secured my first contract for a YA novella with an imprint I love and I got taken on by a literary agent. For the first time when someone asked me what I do, I could answer ‘Writer’ without feeling like fraud and I had an actual positive response to the dread question; Are you published? 

It felt great, as if the flow had gained momentum, and I had to swim faster to get edits done, and blog, and network and generally up my game ready for submission. Then disaster hit, the wind changed direction and I was blown out into the middle of the Slushpile Ocean. With in a week, my contract was cancelled, as publishers decided not to proceed with the novella range, and then my lovely agent who I worked so well with and learnt so much from, announced she was leaving the agenting business to pursue another career. 

That's when it dawned on me that success as a writer is binary you are either on the island or somewhere in the ocean. And when the ebb is the main course, you need to build yourself another raft, a sturdier one, and start rowing for all your worth.

That being said it’s not easy, sometimes you have to drift a while first, for me that was about a month, of rising and falling on the waves, from upbeat to despair. But my kick into action was my writer friends and being thrown safety line from the esteemed ship SCBWI, by way for the conference party. Being surrounded by other folk who are all serious about their craft and passionate about writing and illustrating whether they too are riding the slushpile waves, or standing with their wet feet on the shoreline, made me realise I’m, not alone and that rebuilding the raft was the right thing to do. So, thank you to all my writer friends, and my ever patient family, and here to a upcoming new year which with luck may be more flow than ebb!

Friday, 4 September 2015

Running my first Small Creative Writing Session for Children

So this summer has been one of firsts; first job in over a decade, my eldest child’s first days in secondary school, first submission with an agent, but perhaps the most nerve wracking – my first small group creative writing session.

I submitted a lot to a charity blind auction, a creative writing session for a small group of children. To my utter surprise the lot was brought, and therefore I began preparing. The group was four children of varying ages and ability; one six year old, one seven year old, one nine year old and an eleven year old. The winner of the lot asked specifically if I could do a session to try and inspire her daughters to write; make it exciting!

After a lot of thought, I decided that the session had to be three things…

1. Exciting (as per the brief)

2. Interactive

3. Fun

So I planned some activities based around the notion that EVERTHING is exciting, no matter how mundane it may initially appear, as long as you allow your imagination to run free.

So we started with a food. I asked the children,

How exciting is a sandwich?

To which I received the expected answer: not very – or - not at all. So I read a passage out of the Dave Shelton book, ‘A Boy and a Bear in a Boat,’ about the heroic antics of the VLS, VERY LAST SANDWICH. All the children giggled and gawped, and I could see that they were opening up to the concept that in creative writing there are no rules, and that you are only restricted by the scope of your imagination.

We then talked about other foods with exciting properties, like the cakes from Sarah McIntyre’s and Philip Reeves Cakes in Space, and we even made our own cake monsters. The discussion also covered food from Harry Potter, George‘s Marvellous Medicine and then the land of the most exciting food, Wonderland. To make the talk interactive we drunk from bottles marked ‘Drink Me’ and ate mushroom sweets and pretended to shrink and grow.

“My daughters had a wonderful time during the creative writing session with Sally. I was very impressed by the amount of effort that she put into preparing for it. She kept the girls engaged and gently led them back to their writing piece when they got distracted. It has really helped them to see literacy in a more fun way and hopefully they will bring this enthusiasm with them into the next school year.” From Mrs O

After all the excitement we sat down and talked about each child’s favourite food, and started to think how that food could be exciting, and then began to build a story around it. To make the session easier I provided each child with a pre-prepared pack with story wheels, and vocabulary sheets. All the children’s imaginations soon warmed up and their stories became magical and exciting. It was lovely to see them al enjoying their own crazy worlds and ideas. 

The session was short, but the children really seemed to have fun, and took to the notion that writing can be fun. To help the children to continue to develop a love of writing, I sent them so additional activities through the post in the following weeks.

I am very pleased at how my first small creative writing session has gone, and will certainly be thinking of ways to improve and develop it for the future sessions. But one thing I know for sure, it has to be exciting and interactive and most of all fun!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Rhino v’s Kitten – Reacting to Criticism

When I first began writing, and joined a critique group as I believed that to make it as a writer you needed to be like a rhino; that you needed thick skin. However, my experiences with both giving and receiving feedback in critique groups, and having feedback from industry professionals, and more recently having done extensive edits on my manuscript under the guidance of agent Shelley Instone, my stance has changed. 

Me and my rhino skin  -  painting by Me!

I always thought that tough skin was a perquisite of being a writer, being able to withstand the hurt of criticism. Maybe it is, but a Rhino analogy isn’t a good one. After all, Rhinos are stubborn creatures that are aggressive and have a tendency to drop their heads down and charge blindly in one direction. Unless you are a creative genius with the wind of fortune at your back it is unlikely that you will charge directly into a publishing contract. After all it takes more than one person to write a book, and it is rather like nurturing children; it’s not just the parents who shape a child, they need support from family friends, nursery staff, teachers, health visitors, doctors, the list goes on. And that it is the combined efforts of people working together, and the parents listening to people with more experience / knowledge and implementing their advice which gives the child the best possible start in life. Much like children where the parents get all the credit for how well they turn out, a book is written and shaped by many more people than just the author who has their name on the cover. 

When I recently met up with Shelley and her assistant Olivia, they asked me how I kept so positive when they sent me edits, especially when it came to number 11! As, when they were expecting me to go into writer break down, I remained cheery and upbeat. It was then when I confessed that actually sometimes [most of the time] receiving the edits back was difficult, and that I resorted to getting my husband to read them through first and give me the highlights. That way I got what the main points were without getting blinded in editorial headlights! This approach kept me calm, and allowed me to free my mind, looking for ways and solutions to any issues before I read the editorial report for myself. Crucially, I was calm and over any initial emotional reaction to edits and I could respond in a positive and constructive way. 

It is more of a kitten approach, instead of being a Rhino, and not letting the feedback affect me and continuing on my own path, I took time to lick my wounds, (and grieve for cut characters) and then shook myself off, got up and carried on, taking on board the suggestions and advice and implementing it. The’ Kitten’ reaction has made for an infinitely improved manuscript and a good creative working relationship with my agent too. Although I’m not a great fan of cats in general, I am proud to be a kitten. 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

My Scrumdiddlyumptious New Job at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre!

When I was a child, I LOVED Roald Dahl books, from the first time that the rest of classmates and I sat down on the crowded manky carpet and listened to our teacher read ‘The Witches.’ It was like nothing I’d ever heard before, and when the teacher showed us the Quenton Blake illustrations of a witch and a non-witch and asked us which we thought was the actual witch, we were all amazed that we got it wrong!

I begged my mother to buy a copy of the book so I could read it myself, and know what happens before the rest of my class mates, and of course, grateful I was showing an interest in reading my mum obliged; only to find out everybody else had had the same idea and the whole class was racing to finish the book first.

Despite my difficulties reading due to severe dyslexia, I read my way through every Roald Dahl book I could find, including the auto-biographies ‘Boy’ and ‘Solo’. I loved the dark humour, the word play and the creepy characters, and I knew that the effort of reading would be paid off with a rip-roaring good yarn. My childhood is saturated by memories of Roald Dahl. A firm family favourite film was Danny the Champion of the world with Jeremy Irons and then amazement when at Christmas the animated version of The BFG came out, made even funnier as my Dad at the time looked identical to the BFG!

Even into my adulthood Roald Dahl shaped my endeavours, when studying Fine Art at university we were paired up and told to give our partner a copy of our favourite book, and that we should use the books to produce some artworks. I gave my partner ‘Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH’ [sorry Oz!] but my partner gave me ‘Revolting Rhymes.’ The book lead me down a path that reignited my love for fairy tales, and my art work became fairy tale themed and this eventually resulted in me picking up a pen and beginning to write what would become Through Mortal Eyes.

So when I first visited The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, when my daughter was attending a Puffin Post event for their child guest editors for the ‘Pufflings Magazine’ in 2011 I was utterly amazed that I hadn’t discovered it before , and got very excited about sitting in his chair! I can remembering thinking how great I would be to work there and what a pity it was that it’s wasn’t within commutable distance.

Then luck changed, as we moved over to Buckinghamshire and settled I a house within sniffing distance of the museum , I started stalking the web-site hoping that a suitable job roll may come up that I could apply for. To my joy, in early summer they advertised for Front of House Staff, so I applied. This was terrifying as it’s been a very long time since I last applied for a job, and I had to write up all my eclectic work experience up on to a coherent and appealing CV. 

Photo from The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, thank you!

I was relieved when I was offered an opportunity to audition for the job. Yes, you read that right, AUDITION! So after a spot of cram re-reading of Roald Dahl classics, and a minor outfit catastrophe, I turned up for the audition. I was surprised by the amount of people who were attending, there were a least a dozen and half applicants; from students and teachers, to creative-writing graduates and illustrators. We weren’t the only audition session either, so one thing was clear it was a desirable job with lots of competition.

The audition was fun and designed to get everyone interacting, with games, and then splitting us into teams and assigning us a project, that we were to collaborate on and then report back to the rest of the applicants and interviewers. I enjoyed the audition, and found that all the applicants were lovely people and we all got on easily. When the session was over and I drove home I had no idea how it had went, and prepared myself for the worst.

I was overjoyed to be called into interview, which despite being on an incredibly hot day, I enjoyed, and I thought went well. But I was completely ecstatic when I got offered the job, cue, dancing around the house like a heffalump!

So with much trepidation I ventured to Great Missenden for my first shadowing day, following an experienced Front of House member of staff around and learning the roll hands on. Thankfully, everyone who works at the museum is cherry and friendly, which quickly put me at ease. I adorned my purple shirt and plunged into the world of Dahl, as we worked at the ticket desk, and manned the galleries and exhibitions. I found that I could converse with the visitors with ease, and my days volunteering in a book shop had really been a good foundation for working in the shop. I’m really enjoying it so far, and I shall blog again about how it goes when I’ve settled into the roll.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Preparing for Submission with an Agent.

It’s coming up a year since I signed with my Agent, Shelley director of Shelley Instone Literary Agency. It’s been a manic but fantastic year, both personally and for my writing. The year has seen a house move, a new business venture sent up, a new job for me, my daughter’s last year at primary and now by son is readying up to take the dreaded 11+! Writing wise my manuscript has evolved from YA to MG, from 80,000 words down to 40,000, and then back up to 54,000, over no less than ten edits. Now, Shelley and I are both gearing up to submit it in the autumn.

I have submitted before, to both agents and publishers, and that took a lot of preparation; making sure the manuscript was as good as I could get it. Writing and re-writing my query letter. Polishing my hook and pitch. Writing the dreaded synopsis and then trying to crow bar it on to one page of A4 with tiny margins and hoping no one will notice the tiny font and crammed spacing! Then the actual submitting, researching agents and editors, trying to work out a personal way to open the query letter; consulting my spread sheet of professionals I’ve met, the when and where, or the review of their client list making sure I reference which author on the list I admire and why I think my book may appeal to them. This takes considerable time for each submission, not to mention researching what every person requires in their submission package and tailoring it appropriately.

Of course having an agent means that I’m not doing all the submission packages myself, but that doesn’t mean that I can sit back and drink coffee. No, preparing for submission is still a finely tuned operation, but this time it comes with a team!

The manuscript is presently being proofread to eliminate all my dyslexia associated mistakes, and behind the scenes, Shelley and her assistant, Olivia Payne, are working really hard doing all the amazing agenty things they do.

When Sally submitted to me I instantly liked her style of writing alongside her immense creative ability. It did not take me long (a few seconds!) to offer her representation. I immediately had a vision for her novel and knew how I wanted to shape and mould it. When you sign a writer you are investing in them and their narrative. In many respects it is a huge gamble, as you ask yourself lots of questions. Will the writer work hard enough and how much do they want this to happen, alongside a million other questions! It really has been a gruelling process but we eventually got where we wanted to be. Sally’s professionalism and fantastic attitude just shone through, as everyone at SILA worked their socks off. Now for the scary bit – fingers crossed’


Shelley Instone Literary Agency 
But I’m preparing too. Actually I started getting into submitting preparation mode in May. It started by meeting with Shelley, and whilst we were all still editing the manuscript we began sub-prep too. I was tasked with working on synopses for my other books, and a synopsis for a sequel to the book we are submitting. Now if you think writing a synopsis for a book you’ve written is hard try writing one for a book you haven’t started yet!

Shelley had an idea to make my submission stand out, by creating something special to go in (and on) the envelope, so I was tasked with getting the secret special thing designed and made.

Then it was the realisation that with the numerous edits and hectic personal life, my personal blog had been somewhat neglected and that it would be beneficial to start posting more ahead of submission. So with that in mind, I had a spring clean of the blog, changing its format and refreshing it to look more vibrant and loved. Plus crucially, getting every blog posted proofread first, to try and pick up some of my many dyslexia associated spelling mistakes.

The preparation is going someway to help me from getting anxious about submitting, but I can still feel those blasted butterflies with razor blade wings flitting about inside my tummy, whenever I stop and think about what’s to come. I’m excited, as the process has been hard work, enjoyable, but gruelling, and thinking that we’re almost at the point where that we’ve all been working towards is great. However I can’t stop my mind slipping to the dark side; the knowledge that with submitting comes rejection.

Hopefully, with the combined work that Shelley, her team and I have invested in the manuscript, it will find a home, but inevitably there will be some rejections along the way. Although at least this time, I’m part of a team, and we can support each other and keep morals high, which means hopefully I’ll be less likely to be crying on my author friends shoulders – well maybe.

In the meantime, it’s preparation, preparation, preparation, to make the manuscript and submission package as good as possible!

Friday, 31 July 2015

Confessions of an X- Doodler

Since the new Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell has been appointed, there has been lots of talk about drawing and doodling. This makes sense as Chris Riddell is not only a gifted wordsmith creating beautiful characters like Ottoline and Goth Girl, but he is also a talented illustrator (to see more details about both his writing and illustration press here to read our Space on the Bookshelf celebration of his work).

Chris Riddell has shared with us all his 5 point plan for his turn as Laureate and used his speech to urge people to ‘Draw something every day’, and to spend time as a family drawing and doodling. Many people have taken his advice and made a conscious effort to doodle every day, like Lou Minns family who challenged themselves to doodle every day for a month, to read about their endeavours press here. It was whist following Lou’s family’s progress that I had an epiphany; I realised that I no longer doodle.

Now this may not seem much to most people BUT let me explain. All my life I’ve been a constant Doodler, no paper was safe, or napkin, or well anything. If there was a pen, pencil, crayon, chalk, lipstick and a scrap of paper (or skin) then it ended up full of intricate drawings and doodles. It caused quite a few fights when I was first married, as if any post was left out, I would not only decorate the envelope but the letter to, even if it was an important document!

My doodling was a gift, I studied Art and Related Arts at university, and many of my strongest works were as a result of doodles. I initially came to writing through the ambition to illustrate, and way back in 2008 I had an meeting with illustration agency Plumb Pudding; their advice – my doodling was far superior to my finished works, and to continue to doodle and work on my finished work (and to stay in touch, ophs!)

So whilst reading all the enthusiastic posts people have been posting about discovering doodling I was amazed to realise that I can’t recall the last time I doodled. This got me thinking what has changed? 

I can’t really put my foot on what it is that has changed or at what point I stopped doodling, and the realisation that I no longer doodle actually makes me rather sad. It is true that the last few years have been hectic; one re-location, three subsequent moves, new EVERYTHING, I’ve had competition successes in writing, scored an agent, blogged, got puppies, and well then all the every day-to-day stuff. Maybe the lack of doodling is a result of the amount of LIFE that has happened?

I do still draw from time to time with my kids, as does my husband. Plus I can take some reassurance that both small people doodle all the time and are gifted artists. However, this is my pledge to myself; I shall doodle, and I shall endeavour to doodle daily.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Happy 80th Birthday Penguin - plus Penguin Classic Goodybag Giveaway!

This summer sees the 80th anniversary since the first publications of the first ever Penguin paperbacks. The now iconic covers are replicated in many forms, such as adorning mugs, deckchairs postcard and posters. Penguin expanded out launching the Puffin imprint publishing children’s book in 1941 with it first book being a Worzel Gummidge. Furthermore 1967 saw the launch of the Puffin Post club which ran (on and off) for over 42 years and of which both me my sister and my daughter were all avid members.

To celebrate the anniversary Penguin Classics have published eighty miniature classics from many of the great authors they have published over the years, all wrapped up in a monotone iconic penguin classic cover.  All eighty titles are retailing at just 80pence each!

I’m thrilled to see that one of my all-time favourite Grimm’s Fairy Tale’s The Robber Bridegroom Is one of the titles along with another great, Hans Christian Andersen’s , The Tinder Box. Both fantastic dark tales, (although not perhaps suitable for young or sensitive readers.)
To celebrate Penguins mammoth anniversary, and  because I adore these tales so much I want as many people as possible to read them, I'm doing my first ever giveaway.  Tweet and follow me @spoyton #Penquin80 and tell me your favourite penguin classic for a chance to win both books and goody bag containing some lovely surprises and treats!

Penguin has seen a vibrant first eighty years, and we hope the next eighty will be even more exciting.

Happy Birthday Penguin!

Friday, 26 June 2015

Celebrating Independent Bookshop Week 2015, with a blog post dedicated to my family’s favourite Indy Bookshop – Mostly Books!

As a reader, writer, book blogger and mother I LOVE books. As a contentious buyer I LOVE independent shops, we buy our meet from a village butchers, we buy our books from an independent bookshop. My favourite book shop is the wondrous Mostly Books in Abingdon.

Mostly Books is a family business headed up my husband and wife team Nicki & Mark Thornton, who run the shop with a team of enthusiastic staff (endorsed by Imogen being short-listed for the Young Bookseller of the year award earlier this year) who are all passionate about books. The façade on the picturesque Stert Street in Abingdon could almost be off of Diagon Alley and walking inside the shop is full of hand picked books with vibrant seasonal displays and dedicated children’s room and even court yard garden.

What makes Mostly Books my favourite Book Shop is its; soul, character and its dedication to literacy, bringing a whole of host of events to the shop and to other local venues partnering with schools and societies. That and of course its stock of books, all chosen thoughtfully by Mark, Nicki and the team, who therefore really know their stock and are very equip to match books to readers.

The shop has really helped my small people to embrace a love for books through events, competitions, meeting authors, and by finding books that really engage them.

My daughter helped out on the Nosy Crow Take Over in celebration of Independent Bookshop Week 2013, meeting Helen Peters, Hitchcock and Paula Harrison, therefore inspiring her to read their book and their recommended books which pushed her to read outside her usual comfort zone and vastly improving her reading skills.

My son, really loves Hugless Douglass and was thrilled to have met David Melling at one of Mostly Books author events back in 2013. Also that year he met Jane Hissey and the Old Bear characters which inspired him to draw and write a book with his own teddy ‘Red Ted,’ this was the first time he ever wrote anything my choice.

Loving the shop and getting to know Nicki and Mark, I began to help out both on the shop floor and at events. This has provided me with much appreciated company (as much as I love it writing can be rather solitary), plus has been a fabulous experience, meeting authors and illustrators and seeing how they engage and inspire children. There is something very humbling and magical about watching children be so enthralled about the written world, and feel very privileged to have been able to observe this. 

Helping out at Mostly Books has been a learning curve, I’d worked in shop before but I soon discovered that being a bookseller is a vocation and very different to peddling clothes, or vegetables! Knowing your stock and customers is key, and I soon discovered my talents are almost exclusively children’s books. I really enjoy helping children pick books, conversing with them to find out what they like and suggesting titles that I think will really hook them. I like selling to adults too, and since spending time at the shop I've read more adults books than ever in my life and discovered some truly fantastic authors. 

The Mostly Books staffs are innovative with their events, competitions, groups and offers. They are always finding ways to improve and modify their unique service to bring their customers the very best Independent book shop experience, this is something which is truly inspiring and also contiguous. In 2014 Mostly Books was announced as Julia Donaldson’s Independent Bookshop for the month of August, ahead of which me and the small people made a Gruffalo Child to assist the publicity spreading the word that The Gruffalo was to visit the shop. 


In short I LOVE Mostly Books, it is my and my family’s favourite bookshop. But it’s not the shop or the books alone, but the dedicated hard working team that gives Mostly Books its soul.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

When Shelley Met Sally... Working with an Agent.

Submitting manuscripts is an exciting business, it’s proof that you've got the stamina to write and finish a book, plus it is validation that you are trying to do something further; share your story with the world. But submitting is also an emotional roller-coaster, the highs of full manuscript requests, and the lows of rejections. I’ve ridden this roller-coaster on numerous occasions (in fact never got off, as the submitting process is perpetual) but last autumn, something strange happened, I was offered representation by an agent.

Much jubilation and trepidation was experienced as I prepared to meet the agent; will they understand what I’m trying to achieve with my book? Will they like me? Will they think I’m someone they can invest in? Will I like them? Will I be able to trust them enough to let them guide me through the next stage of my writing career? What to wear?

So the day drew near, and stress piled on as all the trains were delayed due to ‘leaves on track’, and then I did a tour of central London as I took a wrong turn and got horribly lost. Eventually I managed to find Foyles, and get to the new café to meet the Agent. I needn’t have worried. The agent as it turns out was not some kind of monster who sleeps on the shushpile and snacks on writers, but an actual person, a rather lovely person called Shelley Instone.

Shelley put me straight at ease (aided by writers’ stable diet of coffee and cake) and said many lovely things about my writing; she ‘got’ my book. She totally understood what the book was about, and as having studied classics, she appreciated the intertextual motifs woven in to the duel-narrative plot. I was further impressed by the fact that she mentioned some of the authors whose work had influenced the book. Shelley’s enthusiasm was infectious, and we were soon in the throngs of conversation of what work needed to be done to take the book the next stage and ready it for submission. I had the confidence that with Shelley’s guidance that my book could really improve.

Feeling invigorated and ready to delve back into my own make-believe world, I signed with Shelley and we began the editing journey. The editing has been extensive, the nuts and bolts of the book have remained, plus the aim, themes, and the fairy tale narrative has been hardly touched. However the main body of the text has been overhauled, two characters have been written, and the word count has been cut by 30,000 words, but the biggest change has been changing it from YA to MG. 

So far we've done four edits, the first was actually taking away everything that wasn’t working then re-writing for middle grade readers followed by lots of planning, re-plotting, and rewriting. Every subsequent edit has focused one specific things. Until the edits come down, to smaller issues like the over uses of certain words. in my case too much SHUDDER.

The main difference between editing when you have an agent is the confidence that someone who is much more experienced than you believes that the changes are going to strengthen the manuscript, thereby elevating any concerns about the amount of work it may be. The editing has also been a creative endeavour, with many new plot twists or re-envisioning of characters and situations which has meant that the journey has been a fun one with many discoveries.

Editing and writing with an Shelley has been hard work, but fun, and it is a fantastic feeling knowing that someone else is as passionate and invested in your book as you are.