Brothers in Arms

I have probably met more authors in the last week than I have met during my whole 26 years of living; and when I say met, I mean really met . . . in person . . .  with a conversation attached. As you are aware I am currently on the road to publication and are, at present, further down that road than I have ever been before. I am being mentored by an agent. I don’t have an agent yet, but I have been working closely with one, and at the start of September I sent her what I hope will be the final draft of my novel, The Miracle of Harrow Falls. I have been working with this agent since April of this year and have had the time of my life . . . but one thing has always bothered me:

What if I’m not good enough for this industry? 

During my uni days the head of the degree I finally settled on invited a previous student of his in to give a talk. This student had just been awarded a publishing contract. She was to become an author – a real life, actual author. So, in she came, and shared with us – a group of want-to-be writers – her stories and experiences of the industry so far. This person was young adult author Kerry Drewery, and after listening to her speak, I made sure I sat next to her when we all went for a break and ended up getting her email address.

And so, here was my first experience with an author. She wasn’t arrogant, or rude; she didn’t refuse to help or make her excuses when I asked for the email. She genuinely wanted to help me, to share her knowledge. But she was from my town. She was newly published. What if the others in the industry weren’t as nice? What if they had been hardened by years of publishing battles and saw the likes of me, a wannabe, as someone to scoff at? These are crazy thoughts, but they were my thoughts non the less.

Now, fast-forward three years. I became a teacher, I wrote two more books (both rejected) but I was now working on The Miracle of Harrow Falls. This felt better. Kerry Drewery had been giving me advice, reading what I had written and offering professional feedback. I learned a lot from those emails. After two books she was still as willing and kind as ever. I cannot express how grateful I am for that. Seriously.

As a teacher I wanted (and still do want) to make reading “my thing”. I wanted to show kids that reading was great, and to be the ambassador of dreams that most children so badly crave. So, I set up competitions and with these reading competitions I wanted worthy prizes. And so, my second encounter with an author took place.

The competition was as follows: read 40 books by the end of the year and I will buy you any complete children’s series with my own money. Two girls completed it. Many came close. Most discovered a book they otherwise wouldn’t have found. To me, it was a success. But again, the prize. When I asked what series they wanted, both girls replied: GOTH GIRL! So I purchased them. Grateful for the author’s work and the inspiration he passed to the girls, I thought I’d email him to let him know. Enter Chris Riddell, author, illustrator, and the freaking Waterstones Children’s Laureate.

I emailed to explain the competition and say thank you for inspiring the girls so much that both made his series their books of choice. I expected nothing in return. He’s the freaking Waterstones Children’s Laureate after all! But, not two days after emailing, I received a reply. Chris Riddell (THE FREAKING WATERSTONES CHILDREN’S LAUREATE) had taken time out of his day to reply. Not only that, but he’d also taken more time out of his day to draw three personalised pieces of artwork for the winners, which he later mailed to my school at his own cost. What a hero. Again, I was blown away by a real author’s generosity and kindness. And he was a superstar. He was the FREAKING WATERSTO- yeah, well, you get the picture.

Now, last week Kerry Drewery informed me about the UKMGExtravaganza in Nottingham – a collection of over thirty authors gathering to talk about their work to a willing crowd. I purchased a ticket, I tagged along, I met a multitude of amazing authors (Emma Carroll and SF Said in particular!) and finally realised something. All authors, no matter how successful, are lovely people. My preconceived notions of what an author was and what kind of people they were was completely shattered. They were all willing to chat – they were willing to offer advice – and not one looked at me funny or groaned when I said: “I’ve written a book too.” Everyone was supportive, many have since talked to me on Twitter, and Abi Elphinstone even came to give a talk at my school!

My school is half an hour from the train station, so I was lucky enough to pick Abi up and drop her off. That gave us an hour of conversation time. Again, my brain was overworking. What if I say something stupid? What if she groans because I’ve trapped her in my car and won’t shut up about my book that’ll probably never be published? But, once again, she was amazing. She gave me lots of self-marketing tips, passed over insider knowledge, offered advice – heck, we even laughed and joked for a bit too. Now, like Kerry before her, she wants me to update her on my progress, should any come my way.

All of these wonderful experiences have shown me what such a great bunch the MG and YA writers are, and what a tightly-knit community they have established. Every author I have met has replied, offered advice, and been super supportive. Now, with the half term looming, I feel a new sense of optimism. I feel like you know what? Maybe I can do this. Authors are people like me. Authors have been where I am and came out the other side, dreams in tact.

Why did I write this? Because I feel we are living in a golden age of children’s fiction. The authors alive and writing today will, I am sure, create tomorrow’s classics, and I want to be apart of that, to become another member of that ever growing family. I am a writer. No, I’m not published, and no I don’t have an agent – yet – but even if this work with my mentor falls through and she does say no, that doesn’t mean I’m going to quit. I am more determined now than ever before, and with my pen in my hand and my new comrades beside me, I will march into battle, and I won’t stop fighting until I win or I die, and I have no plans to die just yet. There are still so many stories yet to tell.

So, publishing industry – bring it on!

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