Back in 2006 I decided that I wanted to be a writer. I knew nothing about how to make that desire a reality. I did know, however, that I had many stories in my head that I wanted to tell, and I knew how transformative and powerful stories could be in changing lives.
The day I decided to be a writer I should have been unpacking and giving the new (old!) little cottage we’d just moved into a makeover. But I wanted to write, I longed to write, and so glamming up the old house would have to wait a bit…
So, how could I make this burning desire to tell stories a reality I wondered? I unpacked the computer and googled: ‘How to become a writer?’ Google replied that I should read the ‘Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’ so I went immediately to the local library and persuaded the librarian to let me borrow the book (that wasn’t allowed out of the library) for the night.
That evening I read it from cover to cover, made notes, and jotted down addresses. The next morning, bright and early, I was ready! The handbook had said to write about what you know about, and then perhaps seek an agent to represent you and your work. Oh stories – yes – of course, I thought, I’d definitely need to write those down!
So I wrote some, in rhyme, as that came instinctively, and I send them off to a few agents who seemed to represent picture book writers like I wanted to be. The rejections tumbled in a few weeks later, telling me not to write in rhyme.
I found a fresh folder to put these rejections in, and the future ones I was sure I’d accumulate. J.K Rowling did that too I thought, so I felt like I was definitely on the road to being a writer!
I wrote more stories. They were tumbling out! I never knew I had that many. I wrote about what was close to my heart, new beginnings and moving house and all of the emotions that that stirs up inside. I sent my stories off to some more agents that had looked good in the handbook, after checking out their websites too. Predictably more rejections followed that swiftly went into the folder, and then I sent the stories off to more agents – including The Eve White Literary Agency.
And then, in mid-December, Eve emailed me. I got the email one Friday afternoon when I’d just returned with my girls from school. It was one of those moments when you feel the joy so intensely it feels like you’re going to burst! A moment that I know I’ll never forget. The story about moving house had really resonated with Eve, as she had happened to have recently gone through just the same thing. I had also been lucky as Eve had told one of her readers that day that she wasn’t looking for any more picture book writers as she had enough. And yet, for some reason, when the reader opened my envelope (we had to send them by post back then!) and saw that they were picture book submissions, she still read them.
Not only that, but she happened to mention my stories in passing to Eve before she left that afternoon. She thought Eve should take a look she said, and when Eve did, the story about moving moved Eve to tears, and so roughly twelve weeks after googling how to be a writer, I found myself represented by Eve’s agency.
I was elated. I was going to be published! And soon I thought – really soon! But no. It didn’t happen like that at all. It was lucky that I had a rejections’ folder, as it was going to get filled with a lot of rejections from publishers – and advice and plans and more rejections and more advice; keep this, lose that, think about the core, too overindulgent, too long, too short, lots of heart but “…not quite right for us at the moment!” The rejections typically came at four o’ clock on Friday afternoons (when editors were clearing their desks before the weekend) and so over the years I learned to go out at that time and face them later!
And through all this Eve and I walked the journey to publication together. She never stopped believing in me or my work. I literally inundated her with stories, week in week out as I was writing full time and actually loving it, and naïvely not thinking it might actually never happen. The rejections stung but I learned from them, we had no money so holidays promptly stopped and anything else that wasn’t necessary. My husband and my daughters supported me incredibly and I’ll always be indebted to them. Eve did too, and through it all we kept working away together, crafting, drafting and rewriting; waiting for the right moment, the right character, the right story, some publisher to give a new writer their opening break.
And the feedback gradually got better and better, and we took the good and thought about it, remembering to keep the writing real and heartfelt and meaningful, and original.
Then it happened, one day Eve sent me an illustration of a troll.
A publisher had asked her if any of her writers might like to take him into their lives and think about his story. Eve asked me to think about him very carefully. And I did. I didn’t rush. I let him live with me. And the story wouldn’t come, so I left it, remembering all the folders of advice. I allowed my mind space and I didn’t try too hard. And then, one night when I was at a concert at my daughters’ primary school, a child was playing the drums in such a thumpy, grunty way that the troll’s name suddenly came to me. He was The Grunt. From that start I could piece together all manner about his life. So, he was a nightmare – he didn’t like friends, he didn’t like Tuesdays and he certainly didn’t like parties, so I decided the next day to throw all these things at him and see how he’d cope! The result was a different take on a story about real friendship, about evaluating and about reaching out when it matters. And this resulted in a publisher finally actually wanting to meet me, and Eve came along as I’d never been to London on my own either!
In 2010 ‘The Grunt and The Grouch’ was published by Little Tiger Press. Eve and I had finally done it. I was published!
And that for me as a writer is where the journey really began. More and more stories poured out of me. Not all good, but I’m still learning all the time, and I will forever. I have now published over fifty books; picture books, young fiction and middle grade, and stories in rhyme too. And Eve has always stood by my side and I’m so grateful that her faith in me has never wavered.
I guess what I’m saying is that we all need people to believe in us but we have to believe in ourselves too. Not in an arrogant way, but in a way where you’re prepared to take the bad with the good and learn from it, and always say “Yes!” when your head is crying out “NO!” Say “Yes!” and then make a plan. You need to be thick-skinned and tenacious, you need to acknowledge your weakness as well as your strengths, and most of all you need to love what you do and write with a deep and honest simplicity. Stories with heart, that have come from the heart, are the ones that leave us changed in some way, or make us question and think again. And those are the ones I come back to, again and again.
I’m grateful to Eve who, (when I remember to ask for her help!) is still as supportive eleven years on as she was when that first story landed on her doormat. We are still as excited about the stories now as we were then, and I hope that will never, ever change.