My journey to publication started before I could write. Like many children, I was big on storytelling. My mum says I convinced my Reception teacher that I was an Indian princess (spoiler: I’m not). I wrote throughout my school years – poetry, stories, angsty essays on the state of the world, everything. My French and Spanish A-level teacher said I should get a house by a river and just write. He was a bit unorthodox – we ignored the curriculum and studied poetry. It was amazing. He had tears in his eyes when I told him I was going to do Economics and Politics at university. ‘But I want to learn about everything,’ I said. ‘I want to change the world.’ Back then, I didn’t know that writing would be my way of doing just that.
A few years later, I became a city lawyer (I KNOW, OK). Fancy office, glamorous deals, and a fantastic team but something was missing. What happened to wanting to create things? What happened to making a difference? So I quit. I quit on a high – hardest thing ever. I did an MBA to understand what’s out there and where I might fit in. I worked with an education think tank, had two babies one after another, worked with a coding school for new mums, and even set up (and shut down) my own business. Sort of in that order. But I was still looking for my Thing.
And then I found it.
With two little people obsessed with books, I ended up reading a LOT of them. That’s when I discovered that it’s a real golden age for children’s fiction and non-fiction. I fell in love with books all over again. This time it was different – this time, I could see myself and the people around me in some of those pages. And picture books were now so tightly written, so clever, so uplifting, so moving, so bold and brilliant. People love the classics but…can you keep a secret? There are SO many I didn’t connect with growing up. To be a reader NOW…wow, that’s really something.
This renewed love of reading fueled an interest in writing again. So I did a bunch of things to work on my craft. I raided the library and the bookstore and I joined SCBWI and The Novelry. I went to the Winchester Writers’ Festival and had the most amazing Picture Books 101 session with Tracey Corderoy and Louise Bolongaro. Then, on Twitter, I came across two things that changed everything: (1) The Golden Egg Academy Picture Book Programme; and (2) The Penguin Random House (PRH) WriteNow mentoring programme for underrepresented voices. I applied to both. GOODNESS KNOWS WHY. My Imposter Syndrome must have been snoozing. BUT I GOT IN!
Ok, rewind a little. So my Golden Egg acceptance came in just after I applied for WriteNow in July 2017. That September, as part of the WriteNow shortlisting process, I had a 1-2-1 with an actual real Puffin editor, Anna Barnes Robinson. She was TERRIFYING. Ok, not really. She was utterly lovely but I was terrified because I had only been writing picture books for a few months and didn’t think I deserved to be there. I told her that too. She laughed. Then we had this amazing chat and we just clicked. Anna became my biggest champion at PRH. There were over 1700 applicants for WriteNow and she fought for me to be in the shortlist of 31 and then again to be in the final 11 as her mentee.
I found out I’d been selected in December 2017 and I’ve been walking on air ever since.
I learned so much about publishing through the mentoring programme but the biggest impact was on my confidence. I really felt like a WRITER. In May 2018, Anna made an offer for my fiction picture book, IF YOU SHOW A T-REX A BOOK, and signed Diane Ewen as the illustrator. I then found myself an incredible agent – Lydia Silver from the Darley Anderson Children’s Agency. And to make it a hat trick of good news, I also found out that one of my picture books had been highly commended in the Faber Andlyn FAB Prize. At the time, I was just finishing up at the Golden Egg Academy where I learned the art of being edited. I had some good news through that programme too but I can’t say anything just yet.
Meanwhile, PRH were cooking up an exciting nonfiction idea – HOW TO BE EXTRAORDINARY. Anna called me to say that they were looking for an author and Francesca Dow, Head of Children’s, suggested little old me! I was working on a similar idea at the time so I jumped at the chance to produce a sample, which was then stunningly illustrated by Annabel Tempest. PRH loved it! I then met with Anna and my new editor, the amazing Emily Lunn, to pitch ideas for people to include in the book. We had the same vision – we wanted something in there for everyone. We wanted to take it around the world. And we wanted well-known faces and unsung heroes. Rights/marketing approved my list and that was that!
Now, picture books take a LONG time to make. Everyone knows that. 18 months or more. Well, this one was written and edited in about 8 weeks and illustrated simultaneously (with some more time for Annabel’s colour artwork, of course!). It took less than a year from offer to publication on 1 August 2019. Intense, yes, but I had a dream team – Annabel, Emily Lunn, my editor, Steph Jones for design, Wendy Shakespeare and her copyediting wizards. Emily and Steph have a real gift for this stuff. It was the absolute best start to my career. It overtook my fiction picture book, which isn’t out until Spring 2020, but I don’t mind.
How To Be Extraordinary is jam-packed with ALL the things I believe in and I’m proud to call it my debut.
Thanks to WriteNow, my journey to publication has been so smooth. Not a rollercoaster but a bullet train. I’ve had so many other opportunities come up too (more on those soon!). AND I now have a super-supportive writing community and a secret underground writing group with the very best writers. They’re my rock and they’re so talented – I can’t wait for their work to hit the shelves. They say publishing involves a lot of luck (and a bit of a slog). I’ve had so much good luck. If you’re reading this, I’m sending lots your way too.