Featuring Janet Foxley, Caroline Green and Helen Peters
On Notes from the Slushpile, we chronicle the slings and arrows of trying to make a dream come true so we get embarrassingly excited about debut authors. Last week, we launched our new series That’ll Be The Debut, where we meet debut authors and get the lowdown on what life is like beyond the Slushpile. Here is the second of the series in which our debutantes talk about their own learning curves and working with real live editors.
Janet Not at all. I've always just written the story the way it came to me, and then wondered who it was for when it was finished. Can't do that any more now I'm writing for an editor, though, as I have to be aware of the age group I'm writing for and have to think more closely about my vocabulary and sentence construction.
|Muncle Trogg is the smallest giant on Mount Grumble.|
Fed up with being laughed at, he decides to take a look
at the Smallings and discovers something very surprising!
My first book was like a pregnancy - I couldn't possibly think about another until I had delivered this one safely! Helen Peters
|Caroline and family: My default reader is my|
Bel follows Luka into the abandoned fairground
and her life takes an unexpected turn.
There was one particular plot point which had been bothering me for a while, and I'd tried various solutions, none of which quite solved the problem. But as soon as we started discussing it in that first meeting, I had an idea for how to solve it. The magic of editors!
Nosy Crow asked me about other ideas I had when they bought my first book and they particularly liked one of them, which is what I'm writing now. But my editor hasn't seen it yet (I'm 55,000 words into the first draft)
Janet Did you start out by agreeing a plot plan? My editor loved my first draft - but it still required a lot of rewriting!
Janet Sometimes reams can help. A lot of what I get at first draft stage are suggestions that don't work too well when properly thought through but they do work in a more indirect way, because they spark off new ideas in me.
When you're asked for a sequel you're obviously firmly on the same ground as book one but you're inevitably afraid of the second not being as good as the first. I've no idea what will happen once Muncle has run his course. It feels like I'm in a magic bubble at the moment which will inevitably burst one day.
Janet Yes, deadlines are really scary. Muncle 1 took me eight to ten years before it ever got to Chicken House, Muncle 2 has to be done from start to publication in one year
Janet For Muncle 2, I had to write a plot plan - I'd always been the start writing and wait and see what happens sort of writer until then. The plot plan was brain-achingly hard but after that the first draft was much easier to write. The edit's a bit of a panic, though, they've given me a month for the first rewrite and I'm juggling loads of plot elements and trying to re-arrange them
Critiquing is invaluable - the mistakes leap out at you and then you think: gosh, I do that too, don't I? Janet Foxley
Janet Most of my learning has been done through reviews from Cornerstones and the like. I didn't discover SCBWI until Helen Corner suggested I went in for the first Undiscovered voices and living in the sticks I don't get to all the lovely agents parties and things. I think it's easier to learn now. When I started in the early 1970s agencies like Cornerstones didn't exist; I feel sorry for people who can't afford professional crits, because without them I wouldn't have got published
I'm also a fan of Cornerstones - they do brilliant courses.
|Helen based The Secret Henhouse Theatre on her own|
childhood performing home-made plays in a chicken
shed on the farm where she grew up. Here she is (in pink)
performing with one of her sisters.
|Caroline launching Dark Ride at the Owl Bookshop. At far left is|
her publisher Brenda Gardner. Photo: Christian Colussi
Janet The waiting pain isn't as bad as the pain when it lands back on the mat.
Janet Seems odd, now I'm doing everything by email, that so much depended on that self-addressed envelope. That is a very naughty agent, Helen.
|Janet with her publisher, Barry Cunningham of Chickenhouse|
Janet Get crits from people who really know what they're talking about. Read masses and masses of stuff written for the age group you're aiming at.
And don't give up. If you're a real writer you won't give up, even if you're still unpublished, because writing is something you simply need to do even if it's painful.
The time came when I realised the one I was writing was rubbish. I've just found several old manuscripts in the loft that I didn't even remember writing. I must have written about four rubbish books before I wrote something decent, and though it was getting good professional crits that one was deemed too long to be published as a debut. So I rashly self-published and sat down to write something more commercial - that was when Muncle was born.
SCBWI! Without all that support and advice I wouldn't have found a publisher, or had a book good enough to send to one. And join a critique group - gaining objectivity on your work and learning how to critique others' work is incredibly valuable. I was shaking the first time I submitted a chapter, but it was the best thing I ever did in my writing life.
|Helen at a recent SCBWI retreat. She was one of the focused ones ...|
unlike some. Photo: Candy Gourlay
Janet Yes, critiquing other people's work is invaluable - the mistakes leap out at you and then you think, gosh, I do that too, don't I?
Noel Streatfeild, and Curtain Up most of all. And, as a child, any school stories I could get my hands on, especially Enid Blyton and Anthony Buckeridge. And my mum gave me her copies of Little Women and its sequels, which are all wonderful. Recently, I've been reading the Mr Gum books to my children and they are completely brilliant.
Frank Cotrell Boyce in absurd amounts. Ditto The Hunger Games Trilogy. And for all round perfection - The BFG
Janet I don't have a favourite anything, there are too many to choose from. Love The Borrowers, anything by Philippa Pearce, Arthur Ransome. Not so keen on all these questing good v. evil fantasies we've seen so much of recently.
One Harry Potter was great. Never felt the need to go back for any more. Never went back for the rest of the Hunger Games, either. Oh, did I mention Jan Mark - her earlier stuff was great, later stuff a bit weird, though the dystopian trilogy she left unfinished was good!
Janet And back to advice ... enter every competition you're eligible for - that way at least you'll get read. That enabled me to bypass the agent stage - still haven't got one, though I shall need one of course when Chicken House drop me!!
Screenshot from the Times of the announcement
of Janet's winning the Times /Chicken House
Children's Fiction Prize. View competition details here
Janet Muncle Trogg and the Flying Donkey, Draft 2. Wondering what to write after that, because I won't know for some time whether Chicken House will want a 3rd Muncle book. It may well depend on how well foreign sales do ...
I would say to people who keep being told the same thing - believe it. Keep going. Be tenacious.
Janet ... and whether anything comes of the film rights
Janet Sony Animation have taken out an 18 month option on Muncle, which could be renewed for a further 18 months, so in effect they have three years to decide whether to go ahead and pay lots more money for the rights. No, I'm keeping quite calm and not spending the dollars, because I know the odds are against it happening!
Read the rest of our That'll be the Debut series:
- Part One - Dave Cousins (15 Days Without a Head), Katie Dale (Someone Else's Life) and Bryony Pearce (Angel's Fury)
- Part Two - Janet Foxley (Muncle Trogg), Caroline Green(Dark Ride) and Helen Peters (The Secret Henhouse Theatre)
- Part Three - Angela Cerrito (End of the Line), Sara Grant (Dark Parties) and Paula Rawsthorne (The Truth About Celia Frost)
- Part Four - Juliet Clare Bell (Don't Panic Annika), Julie Fulton (Mrs MacCready Was Ever So Greedy) and Linda Ravin Lodding (The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister)
Addy Farmer is the author of Grandad's Bench (Walker) and Siddharth and Rinki (Tamarind). Her picture book Worlds Apart will be published by Frances Lincoln in 2012