10.49am, 16th May 2013 – that’s when my brilliant agent, Bryony Woods from DKW, announced that Little, Brown was offering me a two-book deal.
I’m a big one for celebrating key moments in life (my poor husband has to remember all kinds of anniversaries: when we met, when we started going out, when he proposed, when we got married…). The 16th of May will become one of the biggies in my annual calendar. It was the day my dream of becoming a published novelist shook off its fairy dust and grew solid foundations.
I was raised in a family that told stories – my mother and her identical twin were a vivid double act: the minute life happened it was transfigured by their run-away imaginations. I listened and, as soon as I could hold a pen, I started scribbling. Terrible poems with forced rhymes. Stories unashamedly copied from my favourite books. Naval-gazing diary entries. And then, when I was thirteen, my first novel, Anita, illustrated and bound (with Sellotape) by a school friend, Ria.
By my early twenties I’d written my first ‘proper’ novel. It caught the interest of an agent but I was so busy building my career as a teacher and the novel demanded so much re-writing, that I stalled. After a few years of living and working in boarding schools, I was brimming over with ideas for Young Adult novels – and itching for some time to write. My husband, Hugh, (lovingly) gave me the ‘now or never’ talk, so I took a year’s sabbatical and wrote full time.
Within a few months, my YA novel, When I Hold My Breath, attracted the attention of my agent, Bryony Woods. There followed months of editing and sending out to publishers and rejections and near-acceptances. While this was going on, I worked on a second novel – I always have to be writing, it’s a compulsive thing. And it’s this novel, What Milo Saw, that was snapped up by my editor, Manpreet Grewal.
With Milo, I found my voice. The writing came naturally – and was fun. I discovered the ingredients that make my writing distinctive. A novel written for adults, told from a child’s point of view, set in contemporary Britain, which tackles some big issues through a moving story and a quirky cast of characters.
What I learnt from this journey is that if you really want to be a published writer, you have to sow lots of seeds, try out different genres, keep polishing your craft, read until your eyes ache, knock on doors until your hand hurts – and never stop scribbling.
The months that followed ‘my book deal moment’ were full of wonderful surprises. Meeting ‘team Milo’ at Little, Brown – and with it the humbling realisation that I had a troop of talented people dedicated to bringing my story to readers. Foreign rights sales. The revelation of the cover. The arrival of the uncorrected proofs. Pre-order pages on Amazon and Waterstones. Reviews. Boxes of translated books from far flung places of the world. And, above all, lovely comments from the increasingly wide pool of readers who were falling in love with little Milo. That magical, tingly feeling I get when someone tells me they’ve read Milo, never disappears. Being read is the greatest privilege in the world.