Friday 22 January 2010

Guest Blogger Keren David: rewinding the path to publication

Guest blogger Keren David is a writer and journalist. Her debut YA novel When I Was Joe is published in the UK by Frances Lincoln books. The sequel Almost True will follow in August. Both books will be published by dTV in Germany, Walker Books in Australia and Frances Lincoln in the US. She lived in Amsterdam for eight years and Glasgow for two but it is London that feels like home. Connect with Keren on Twitter @kerensd or on her blog Almost True

I get a little embarrassed when I tell my story of how I got published. It is far from the usual lengthy saga of years of hope and struggle.

In fact I went from starting to write the book to publication in around 21 months. A plot-planning exercise at my evening class in March 2008 turned into a first chapter by April. Three months later I had an 80,000 word first draft of a novel.

July 2007 Australia Cambodia Thailand 043
2007, in Cambodia
I had an agent in November, a publishing deal the following February and When I Was Joe, a thriller for teenage readers about a boy in witness protection was published on January 7 2010. Oh and in the meantime I’ve been working on a sequel Almost True, which is going to be published in August.

Sickening, I know. If you’re a struggling writer with numerous manuscripts stuffed into drawers then I bet you hate me right now. Jammy cow. How come she had it so easy?

Well, now I come to think about it, maybe I’m exaggerating the speed of the whole process. Maybe my path to publication actually started in September 2007, when my family stopped being expats after eight years in Amsterdam and arrived back in London.

Adjusting to a very different way of life was traumatic and exciting at the same time. Watching my children start at new schools and make new friends helped me imagine my way into the head of a boy who has to change everything about his life, including his name and the colour of his eyes.

Keren David :Keren David
Family life

Or perhaps the starting point was actually March 1999, when my husband got a job in Amsterdam. Moving there with no friends, no extended family, I struggled with depression and loneliness. These were pre-internet days. Without that alienating experience of feeling utterly isolated, could I have understood how lost and angry the boy’s mother might feel?

Or maybe the novel was born along with my son Daniel in February 1998. Daniel never got to go out into the world, as my fictional characters will. He was stillborn, at full term, a terrible, inexplicable tragedy.

Losing Daniel gave me a far greater understanding of suffering - a dreadful thing to live through, a bittersweet gift to a writer. Losing him made me determined that some day I would do something worthy of his memory, something that might make a difference to others. It took ten years to realise what that might be.

Keren David
Working at the Independent

Learning how to write a novel went back earlier though. Rewind to August 1981, when I screwed up my A levels and found myself unexpectedly lacking a place at university. Instead I landed a job as a messenger girl on a national newspaper, and even when I’d retaken the exams and got my college place, I couldn’t bear to leave. Decades of reporting, writing, and editing didn’t make a novelist, but they did give me essential skills to enable me to write - and write quickly. Write about what you know, they say, well, my training and experience is in news. I know about crime and justice and politics. And so that’s what I wrote about.

Let’s go back further - to the late 1960s. At infant school I met a girl called Hilary, who became my Best Friend. We’d invent whole schools of children, drawing them, naming them, making up stories about them. We played with Barbies and Sindys, acting out lurid adventures. We convinced ourselves that there was buried treasure in the school playground and planned to meet in the dead of night to dig it up.

Our friendship nurtured our imaginations - and we were lucky enough to be at a primary school which valued creativity. At 11 we wrote a play and performed it to the whole school – and I experienced the joy of making an audience laugh. Even when I was terminally bored at secondary school, even when I was busily building a career or buried in motherhood I never quite forgot the sheer fun to be had from losing yourself in a made-up world.

scan0002 (1)Or take it right back to the beginning. Somehow my scientist parents had a little girl who liked to watch and write and weave stories. Who knows where that comes from? Who knows when it started?

So, 21 months is just one measure of my path to publication. And it was fast, and it did feel urgent and during those months I had my share of luck and desperation, determination, rejection, dejection and complete elation. But the real story is longer and deeper, and I’ve hardly told you any of it at all.

I just hope that I can keep on writing, because now I’ve discovered that I can write books, it feels like it’s what I was always meant to do.


  1. What a wonderful thought-provoking post!

  2. My admiration for your writing continues with this, Keren - a wonderful post. Loved the book; can't wait for the sequel.

  3. I came to the conclusion a while ago that the only way I can write with authenticity is to poke at those scabbed over emotional scars. Thanks for sharing, Keren.

  4. Wonderful ,Keren. Brought tears to my eyes; I didn't know about Daniel.

  5. there's no question that if we are to write authentically then one's entire life experience is all part of the mix, the process of becoming and creating.
    Excellent post, Keren.

  6. thanks for a gentle, educational honesty. humbling.
    best crack on with on story of 15 years !!
    enjoy life

  7. What a lovely, well written and interesting blog post.

  8. Wow. I don't know what else to say other than, wow.

  9. A lovely post, Keren. We often hear about people who are an 'instant success'. Your post shows that, despite what looks like getting published quickly, you have been honing your skills - and your life experiences have been feeding into your writing for years.

  10. Keren - thank you, was joy and sadness to share this.

  11. Hi Keren, it's the experiences we have in life that helps to make us who we are. That we are able to share both the wonderful and the painful experiences with others through the gift of writing is so emotional and rewarding. Thanks for sharing, Keren and I hope you sell a billion books.
    All the best, Dennis.

  12. Such and interesting and tryue way of looking at things, Keren. A very thought-provoking and moving post. I wish you masses of luck with your new books and i hope your journey continues just as interestingly and positively.

  13. Thanks everyone, and thanks Candy for inviting me to do a guest post.


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