My publishing journey began in 2012 when I attended a residential writing course. For the first few days I remember feeling sick with imposter syndrome. Before 1-2-1s with the author hosts, I thought about running away. I was sure they’d ask the killer question, ‘What on earth are you doing here? You can’t write!’
As it turned out I was, of course, worrying about nothing. Steve Voake and Gillian Cross are the most encouraging and loveliest of people to spend a writing week with. In my 1-2-1, Steve said, ‘you can clearly write.’ I spent a full minute blinking at him, and my imposter syndrome quietened into the background. The next day I wrote the first draft of a scene that went on to become The Last Spell Breather.
After the course, I’d wake in the night and wonder where my characters had come from, and what would happen to them next? A year later, I followed Steve Voake onto another writing course, this time a writing retreat. The year after that, I followed him again (sorry Steve!), onto the MA Writing for Young People at Bath Spa Uni, where he became my manuscript tutor.
Steve was the first person from the publishing world to show enthusiasm for my story. It bolstered my confidence and gave me the courage to keep writing. I will always be grateful to him. I can’t praise the MA highly enough, it gave my writing a learning framework, it gave me a deadline, and I met fellow writers who have become, and will always remain, dear friends.
Fast forward to May 2017. As part of graduating, every student has their first chapter included in an anthology. This is celebrated at a launch in London where interested agents and editors come to meet graduates.
I remember being VERY NERVOUS before the launch party. Old imposter syndrome was singing as loudly as ever. What if no-one had read my chapter? What if they had read my chapter and weren’t interested? What if they had read my chapter and thought it was awful?
The night of the party, I met lots of lovely people, gauchely pitching my story and not managing it at all well. Then … the crowds parted … and there was Liz Cross, head of publishing at Oxford Children’s Books standing by herself. And (I might be making this up), in my mind’s eye I can see her standing under a spot light, rather like a halo.
Now, the thing you need to know about Liz Cross is that back in the year 2000, she ‘discovered’ a new writer called Philip Reeve, who she guided to publication. That book was of course, Mortal Engines. Philip Reeve is one of my all-time favourite authors. When I saw Liz in the crowd, I forgot all about trying to pitch my story, I just wanted to thank her for enabling me to have so many happy hours reading Philip’s wonderful books. With a huge grin on my face, I walked up to her and gushed for 10 minutes … which thankfully she didn’t seem to mind!
And that’s when something amazing happened. Liz looked at my name badge and said, ah you’re Julie Pike, I read your chapter in the anthology and … I liked it.
Wow, I thought. Liz Cross who publishes Philip Reeve, LIKES my chapter. Nothing will ever be as good as this moment.
Then she said … would you like me to read your full manuscript?
Would I?! Once I’d picked myself up off the floor I said. Yes please! And that’s when she reached into her bag and brought out … a Willy Wonka golden ticket. (Not really, it was her business card, but it felt like a golden ticket to me.)
The next week, I polished my manuscript. Then spent half hour with my hand hovering over the email send button. I texted my writing buddies for courage. They texted back, ‘DO IT!’ And so, I took a deep breath and sent Liz Cross my manuscript.
And then? The WAITING began …
Thankfully, while I was chewing my fingers, things were going on behind the scenes, culminating in two exciting events. First, Liz emailed at the end of July to say she’d read the story and was mulling it over. I was delighted … it wasn’t a ‘no thank you.’ Second, on the last day of August I was offered representation by the super wonderful Jo Williamson.
With Jo onboard things sped up. September saw us in Oxford meeting Liz for feedback on my story. There were no notes, but there was lots of lovely conversation about plot and character motivation. By the end my head was full of feedback and bubbling with new directions.
I spent the next three months thinking about the story and making notes on any piece of paper I could lay my hands on – train tickets, gym membership slips, napkins, wrapping paper! By January I’d got my new outline. By February Jo had the new first third of the story. Useful feedback followed, along with a question. Would the manuscript be ready for London Book Fair at the start of April?
Gulp. ‘Sure’, I said confidently (shut up, Imposter Syndrome!). To help meet the deadline, Jo agreed I could send the remaining manuscript to her in chunks for her review and feedback. Two days before LBF, I sent her the finished manuscript.
A week later, I was sat on a crowded commuter train – the 5.35pm from London Waterloo. My phone buzzed. I could see it was Jo, but I didn’t fancy sharing the ‘it’s a no’ conversation with the whole carriage, so I messaged her to ask if I could call her back later. She messaged back, I’m going out, let’s speak tomorrow. IT’S GOOD NEWS!
I spent the journey home sharing my shock with the whole carriage … endlessly whispering the word ‘wow’ at the passing skyline.
Jo called me the next morning and told me the wonderful news that Liz Cross had offered for Spell Breather, and she’d even written a Magic Spell for me. This is what she wrote:
As the words wafted over me, I fell under their spell and for a shining moment everything was golden. The first chapter of my publishing journey was complete.
Onwards to Chapter Two!