Friday, 5 May 2017

The Writer's Journey - How Long!?!



by Em Lynas

Last year was weird. I signed with agent Amber Caraveo of Skylark Literary and landed a 3 book deal with Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow.
Next year is set to be weirder as I write two more books in the Toadspit Towers series and promote the first.

It feels weird because it’s led me to do a bit of thinking and wondering about time: how it’s passed and how and why I kept writing over...
EIGHTEEN YEARS!
Eighteen years from ‘I think I’ll become a writer!’ to ‘I have a book coming out in August!’

Why did it take me so long? What were my steps? What led me to here? What led me to Toadspit Towers, School for Witches and the deal with Nosy Crow. If I'd known it would take so long would I have even started?

Let’s go back to 1999. Yes, the last century! Before the millennium! I was a teacher. A reception teacher who needed to get out.

I had A PLAN! Become a picture book writer and never suffer an OFSTED ever again!
I was obviously an expert in picture books (reception teacher remember) so, I wrote lots of picture books. They were bad picture books. They all lacked something. But not always the same something. They were amateurish.

Some of these books had:
No lead character, tick; no conflict, tick; no plot, tick; no theme, tick.

Comedy? Tick. Yes. They all had comedy.

I kept writing because:
I had great feedback from agents and editors. I even had a near miss from a big publisher. They kept Maybe the Baby for a year and then said no. That was a bad ending. The book’s ending was bad too.

What next? Stick to picture books and learn my craft? Of course not. Picture books were obviously far too hard (everyone said so) and I needed to try something different, something easier.

Aha! PLAN 2 Become a comedy sketch writer.
Link provided to
Lily's Tassels
 on request.
I signed up for a comedy class. It turned out to be less a class and more a boozy gang of very sweary comics (think VIZ but actual live people) led by a not-very-funny outspoken woman with a not-very-funny act that involved extreme piercing and tassel twirling. 

I kept writing because:
This group led to my friend and I meeting with a local comedian who had an idea for a comedy drama script.

Aha! PLAN 3 – Become a script writer.
We wrote the script for From Fags to Riches. Six episode outlines and one full script of episode one. That script is waiting to be discovered. It’s good. One day it may find a home.

This script has:
An interesting premise, tick; a well-structured plot, tick; believable characters, tick; loads of peril, tick; comedy and pathos, tick; well-known actors and actresses interested in taking parts, tick.

No production company deals, tick; it’s not my voice, tick.

I kept writing because:
I was getting a sense of my voice. I had my own ideas. They wouldn’t go away. I’d learned a lot about structure while we wrote the script. But what next? Stick to scriptwriting? Nope. I love books. I love comedy. Mmm. Comedy.

Aha! PLAN 4 Write a book. A comedy for adults.
Mother on the Mantelpiece. I still like this book. Brenda, school secretary, is a middle-aged woman being haunted by her mother who still ‘knows best’ and is ruling her life from the grave.

This book has:
an interesting premise, tick; an unrequited romance with the bloke downstairs, tick; believable characters, tick; comedy and pathos, tick; a beginning, tick.

No plot, tick; no ending; tick.

By now I’d been to a few scriptwriting courses and creative writing courses, and had begun to engage with other writers. I joined the online critique group You Write On and Harper Collins critique site Authonomy.

What a great procrastination! What an emotional rollercoaster. What a waste of writing time. BUT I did learn lessons. It was an introduction to objectivity versus subjectivity. ‘Your characters are so believable!’ ‘Your characters aren’t believable.’ ‘Love your premise.’ ‘Hate your premise.’ ‘Your plot is so well paced.’ ‘Your plot is too frantic.’

I kept writing because:
People at courses and online laughed. They found my writing funny. That was amazing.

Aha! PLAN 5 Write a different book. A really silly book for kids. The daftest book I can write.
I loved Tony Ross’s book Don’t Do That! About a kid who gets their finger stuck up their nose and it reminded me of the saying – If The Wind Changes You’ll Stay Like That! A warning not to pull faces.

And so Gurner Gobbit and the Bloodcurdling Bug-Eyed Jawbreaker was born. This was the first novel that I actually completed. I loved it. I loved Gurner and his recklessness, and his best friend Pete who was obsessed with reporting Gurner’s antics. It was whacky – set in an alternative Lancashire where extreme face pulling was the norm. But certain faces were BANNED as too dangerous. Pulling the BANNED faces had consequences.

This book has:
A ridiculous premise, tick; bonkers characters, tick; crazy events, tick; comedy conflict, tick; logical plot, tick.

Really poor set up of the events and ending, tick; a protagonist who can’t speak because his face is distorted, tick.

I kept writing because:
I joined SCBWI. Gurner won an honorary mention in The 2010 Undiscovered Voices. An editor saw the book on Authonomy and expressed interest. People thought it was funny.

Next plan. PLAN 6. 6! Get a book ready for the next Undiscovered Voices competition. Maybe twist a traditional tale?

To Destiny or Death! Prince Bob is turned into a frog by the evil Hagatha and it’s all King Fred’s fault!  I love King Fred and his food related idiolect. Another completed book! And it’s in my voice.

This book has:
A big heart, tick; strong characters, tick; a structured plot, tick; conflict and peril, tick; logical set up and motivations, tick; funny dialogue, tick.

A protagonist who can’t speak because he’s a frog, tick. There is now a pattern of non-speaking protagonists. If 2 makes a pattern.

I kept writing because:
To Destiny or Death! won a place in the 2012 Undiscovered Voices competition. I signed with an agent. I had publishers interested. It failed to get past sales and marketing.

Note the date. 2012

We’re now thirteen years into the journey to publication. I haven’t mentioned the other picture books I’ve written, the two teen books planned and not written, volunteering for SCBWI, setting up the poetry website the funeverse with SCBWI friends, joining the blog Notes from the Slushpile with even more SCBWI friends. I'd become very busy at being a writer.

Back to the timeline.
This was a dip time. A bit of a depressing time. I considered not writing. I felt I knew what I was doing now. I understood structure, set up, characterisation etc etc etc but I was failing at the last hurdle – being published. It was very difficult to maintain any enthusiasm for submitting and sharing my work with the publishing industry.

I kept writing because:
I still loved writing and I had another story. A story that still makes me smile. Florence and the Meanies – Cupcake Catastrophe! I also wrote book 2 Canine Calamity!

Based on the Cinderella dynamic, Florence and her two fairy godmothers must save the princes from the evil Meanies. Florence was a lot of fun to write, especially because the two fairy godmothers Hatty and Dotty are such contrasts of good and naughty. But having parted company with my agent I wasn’t sure I wanted to put Florence (and me) through the submission process. So I worked with my daughter Katherine Lynas to produce an illustrated version for the kindle and we did the layout for a createspace book too. I’ve since withdrawn the book because ... I have a plan for Florence.

These books have:
Everything I want them to have especially warmth, heart, my voice and my daughter's fabulous illustrations.

I kept writing because:
A new character popped up with a very personal and unique story. Daisy knew what she didn’t want. She definitely didn’t want to go to witch school. I wrote her story. I re-wrote it. I wrote it again. That was in 2015.
Then, in 2016 Prince Bob won a SCBWI BI slushpile challenge with Amber Caraveo and she said the magic words – what else have you got? And I answered – I have Daisy! She’s an actress who’s been dumped at Toadspit Towers, School for Witches, by her granny. Amber fell for Daisy. She fell for the voice.

Pg 93 in the catalogue! Click here!
You can read about Daisy on the Nosy Crow website. In August 2017 she will have her book birthday and I will be a published author.

So, EIGHTEEN LONG YEARS! Could I have done it sooner? Was there a short cut I missed? What if I’d done a creative writing degree? What if I’d done an MA? Would I have climbed the learning curve faster? Would I have been published faster? I don’t think so. No. Not me. There was so much to discover and learn. Not just about the techniques of writing but I had to discover my voice, discover what I cared about and discover what motivated me.


I thought comedy was the motivation, I thought I just wanted to make children laugh. But comedy is just the genre I use to write about the things I care about. It just took me a while to discover what those things were. 

What was the main thing that gave me the confidence to keep writing? SCBWI BI. Winning Undiscovered Voices and the Slushpile Challenge was incredibly motivating. I had to be doing something right if I'd won those. And you should never underestimate the power of SCBWI friendships. They just won't let you give up!

If you're writing for children and are a member of SCBWI BI (or Europe) you can enter these amazing competitions for free. Do it.

Em Lynas

Feel free to follow me on twitter and facebook if you are at all interested in books and writing for children. You can nip over to my website emlynas but I'm not often in.

26 comments :

  1. Massive congratulations, Em (do I have to call you Em, Maureen?), well done. What a long, long journey. I remember reading an excerpt from your gurning story and thinking, gosh, this is really good! I wish you all the happiness and all the sales! Lots of love!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can call me anything! I hope to get back to Gurner one day and do the set up properly. The world should see his face. And the widderwoman scene is one of my favourites. There's spiders. Lots of love to you too xxx

      Delete
  2. Loved reading this, having only got to know you during the last two years. BUT really hoping I don't have to wait as long.... can't wait to see your book in print. Always remember really struggling to find anything to suggest for improvement in our critiques!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Then I must share the changes that were made after my agent and editor feedback. I'm sure you're a lot more focused than I was.

      Delete
  3. Thanks for sharing this and CONGRATULATIONS! As another writer who has been writing for a LONG time, I sometimes get sick of hearing authors say something like, "My journey was really hard... I had to write for two years before I found any success". Thanks for being honest and willing to share that for some of us, it takes a lot longer!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My role model is David Almond. He took a while too. We're in with the best x

      Delete
  4. Thank you, Maureen. It has really inspired me - more than you will ever know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's lovely to know, Elaine. And thank you for all you do for scoobies x

      Delete
  5. That's a pretty classic writer's journey. Looong, windy approach to the inmost cave. You've definitely earned your reward. Also a helpful reminder to me that calls to adventure with no plot or ending are best refused.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I relate to this tale so much. I first decided I wanted to be a writer when I was 17 (just a few more than18 years ago!).
    Good things come with time and perseverance and picking yourself up along the way, with a little help from your Scooby friends.
    So WELL DONE!
    And welcome to the club. We'll teach you the secret handshake at your launch party.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay! Secret handshakes! I'm anticipatiing thumb wobbles and finger twitching.

      Delete
  7. HUGE congratulations, Em/Maureen/Madwoman - you are an inspiration. I'm really looking forward to the launch!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. New nickname! Madwoman Lynas. I think it's appropriate on some days!

      Delete
  8. Gosh I didn't realise your journey took as long as that. So inspiring! The outcome is so well-deserved, I can't wait to read about Daisy. Really well done Maureen x

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks x I wish I'd started earlier!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Totally with you on this Maureen. So much to learn about craft and the industry, and then even though you keep on getting better it never seems to be enough! You say It was very difficult to maintain any enthusiasm for submitting and sharing my work with the publishing industry and I share that feeling too. Although I'd known - objectively - for a long time that getting published wasn't going to make me happy, it wasn't until I finally believed it that I began to take pleasure in the creative experience again. And that's the thing we all need to nourish us on this long, long journey.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, BTW - massive congrats on the publication of the book!

      Delete
  11. Loved this - and could totally relate. I think you're probably right about the MA, too. It perhaps speeded some of us up - but certainly made us busy at being writers, as you cleverly put it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's really easy to be a busy writer! And fun.

      Delete
  12. Fantastic read Maureen. Congratulations! And I think you're right about the MA too, speaking as somebody who did one quite a long time ago & still trying to write 'the' novel that opens up doors. Good luck with the next part of your writing journey!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Kellie. I think doing an MA is an interesting thing to do, my husband is about to start one, but I needed to write what I needed to write and an MA wouldn't have fitted with that.

      Delete
  13. I really enjoyed reading that. Thank you for sharing your journey. I started writing children's fiction around the same time as you, though only seriously for the last eight to ten years and am as yet unpublished. Everytime I start a new book I say to myself that this will be the last one and after that I'm giving up, but I can't. I don't know if it's the need to write the story in my head or sheer bloody-mindedness that keeps me going!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sheer bloody-mindedness is essential!

      Delete
  14. Maureen, I love this post so much! (And at 12 years I'm hot on your heels!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One day we will be on that Winchester stage together Jo! There will be clapping!

      Delete

Comments are the heart and soul of the Slushpile community, thank you! We may periodically turn on comments approval when trolls appear.

Share buttons bottom

POPULAR!