I’d always wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember, but I’d never wanted to be an author! It was just something people did, an occasional activity and not an actual profession as far as I was concerned.
When my children were little, in addition to reading them books I used to tell them my own stories. They grew up with some characters we created, most loved among them a pair of sisters who were as different as night and day. One day I decided that I was going to make up a new story, but this time write it down as a book. I’d print it like a real book and maybe even write a series so we’d have a set. It was a gift to myself and my daughters, that we could keep forever.
I was very excited when I started writing. I went to the bookshelf and read a few popular children’s books to start me off. I remember reading four of them back to back that first day, the first Wimpy Kid being one of them.
I wanted to write the kind of books I enjoyed as a child, but with characters like me and my children. I went online and looked for recommendations.
To my surprise I found that things weren’t that different these days either, something I hadn’t noticed when buying books for my own children. But no matter, I’ll just write my book. But a little idea was set off in my head. Could I write a book for… publication? I knew it was tough, and I knew also that I didn’t have the skills to do it.
I wrote my book though, and finished it in no time at all. It was a middle grade mystery – not very good when I look at it now, but there were some characters there worth holding on to. I started to read online blogs and articles about the craft of writing. I taught myself things and rewrote my book. I then sent it to a literary consultancy for edits, and learnt a whole lot through that too.
I was however too scared to take the step of sending it out to literary agents. I entered a few Twitter pitch competitions and a few (mostly US) agents read it that way, but I solely kept it at that. The reason was that I had a strong feeling that this wasn’t my best. I couldn’t let my book go out; I could do so much better.
Whenever I would read a children’s book I’d check the author’s bio and acknowledgments. Something kept coming up in them, the words Bath Spa University and MA in Writing for Young People. I was suddenly struck by a dream. Maybe I could do that course! I looked up the university and it was hopeless. It was over a hundred miles away from me.
But the little thought that was set in motion all those months ago was getting stronger now. Here was a chance to really improve my writing so that I could write my best book possible, and give myself a chance at publication too by attending this course with a proven track record.
There was the small matter of me not having any kind of background in writing, not having any references to put on the form, and the distance to the university, but I was determined to conquer them all.
When I was called for the interview I was stunned and elated. I met the course director and a tutor and they were so lovely and welcoming. When I got home after the interview I had my offer by email.
The MA was a game-changer for me. I wrote a new book there. One full of adventure and peril and richness; one that felt like only I could write. I learnt a whole lot on the MA, as well as also acquiring a supportive network of other writers all determined to do our best. Standards were sky high. I remember in my last workshop module three of us sent off entries to the Joan Aiken Future Classics Prize; all three were shortlisted. All seven of us in the class are now published, or to be published this year.
Armed with my new book, then called The Thief of Serendib, I left uni and worked on my novel. I got two markers’ reports with feedback, so I edited based on that. Meanwhile my would-be agent contacted me out of the blue.
She’d come across the title of my book on Twitter and was interested and wanted to see it, but I hadn’t finished. I told her so and every month or so after that she’d send me a message asking me if it was done. When it was ready I sent it to her, and queried other agents too. But she was the one who liked it from the very beginning, and just from the title too!
By the time graduation came round I already had my agent, and she started talking to editors about my book. Everything happened very fast after that. I signed with Jo in February, we did an edit and went on submission and I had my first offer from a publisher at the end of April.
I signed with Nosy Crow in May, and the deal was announced in September. I feel very lucky at how fast and smoothly everything went.
The focus of my book changed slightly during the time it went from manuscript to completed book. Jo always said that editors’ eyes lit up when she mentioned the elephant, and it would have to be a main point in our pitch. My editor seemed to be of the same opinion.
I always knew Ananda the elephant was important, but just how much I wouldn’t have guessed when I wrote that first chapter.
He truly is one of the stars of the book – he sparked a slew of elephant puns and even got on a window of a Waterstones. Finally, he not only made it to the title of the book, but there he is now in all his glory on the cover too.
Want to win an AMAZING The Girl Who Stole an Elephant prize pack? Follow the blog tour (see image below for details) this week to find 7 hidden letters that create our MYSTERY word – then DM the word to @NosyCrowBooks for your chance to win!