One of my earliest memories is sitting with my mum and two sisters in my front room. It’s night time and we’ve got all the lights off. The only thing I can see is the red ‘standby’ light from the video recorder in the corner of the room.
“Tell us a story,” I say.
And my mum does just that.
So many times we’d sit there in the dark before bed time and Mum would make up stories. I can’t remember what any of them were about – the plots are forever lost to time – but I remember the feeling.
My grandad was a master story teller as well. He’d make tales up on the spot and I’d sit on his knee until I was far too old to do so. I tell his stories to my own children and maybe one day they’ll pass them on to their own families.
So, I guess my love of stories began with verbal story times.
As I went to school and learnt to read, this progressed to a love of books. I devoured books as a child but I don’t remember reading many classics. I’d just read whatever I could get my hands on and, more often than not, this would be one of my nan’s Mills and Boon books!
Sometimes, as my own children were growing up, I’d inwardly groan when they’d ask for another story on a long car journey, but looking back now, I’m so glad that we shared those moments. The stories had unrealistic characters, repetitive plots and silly resolutions. My children loved them!
In 2015, my RAF husband was posted to Afghanistan for eight months. I had a LOT of time on my own in the evenings which I filled with eating chocolate and watching box sets (still one of my favourite things to do). But one night, when reading my children their bedtime story, I thought, ‘I could do this,’ and that became my focus for the remainder of my husband’s posting.
I wrote in the bath, on the train and waiting for my children at various after-school clubs. When I heard about Winchester Writers’ Festival, which was just down the road from me, I HAD to go.
I had such an inspiring time there. I learnt about the industry. I learnt what agents do and what they’re looking for. Little Tiger critiqued five of my picture book texts and said, “We look forward to seeing how Donna’s career develops.” A career! Me! Maybe this could actually be my job?
The most important thing to happen at Winchester Writers’ Festival was meeting Becky Bagnell of Lindsay Literary Agency. Becky liked one of my texts, not enough to sign me on the spot, but enough to ask to see more. We worked together for several weeks, emailing each other back and forth, until, one very happy morning, Becky offered to represent me. Now, all the advice says to take your time before accepting an offer, let other agents know you’ve been offered representation, talk to other writers…but I said ‘yes’ instantly. Becky had been the first ever agent I’d submitted to (a year earlier when I received a form rejection) and I just knew that’s where I wanted to be.
This was August 2016 and I remember saying to myself, “I’ll have a book deal by Christmas!” Oh, how I laugh now at my naivety! My first three books went out and we got some really positive responses. The texts went to editorial meetings and one editor in particular loved them. But her team said ‘no’. Then they said ‘no’ to the next lot and the ones after that.
Every time a rejection came in, I allowed myself the day to wallow, to eat chocolate and feel sorry for myself. But, the next day, I’d start writing again.
Then, in February 2019, I got the email I’d spent four years waiting for! Ellie Brough at Quarto publishing made an offer on ‘Oh No, Bobo!’ She loved the text and I was over the moon to learn that it was going to be illustrated by the brilliant Laura Watkins. I’ve now got another book deal that I’m not allowed to talk about yet and several more that I’m hopeful for.
There are so many talented authors and illustrators out there who are waiting for their big break. You need a bit of luck in this industry. Some people get their straight away and some, like me, have to wait a bit longer. If you’re still waiting for your turn (and as long as writing still makes you happy) then please keep at it. I’m sending you all the luck in the world!
Read our review of Oh No, Bobo!, here.
‘Oh No, Bobo!’ is released on 21st April. Pre-order a signed copy (with FREE postage) from the beautiful Button and Bear bookshop.