Many, many bars of chocolate ago a young boy asked me to write a book about a child who is bullied in the toilets. To this day I’m not sure exactly why he asked that. My first response was, I don’t write books. End of story? Not!
A few chocolates later I came across a scene that kick-along my children’s writing journey. As I was driving on a suburban road, I saw a group of magpies skylarking on the side. It looked like they were forcing one of their peers onto the road in front of my car, like a version of chicken.
There it was. My first story. Not set in the toilets, but it was about bullying. Once I started, I couldn’t could stop. I wrote six picture books in the “Feel Safe Feel Right” series that I self-published through Nurture Works. Many of these books have found their way into the hands of psychologists and chaplains, on school library shelves and feature in some of the BUZ – Build Up Zone programs in schools. The central character in each of the stories is a Pelican called Solomon. The stories help kids with some of the tough issues life thows up.
I started collecting and using picture books in my pastoral work with children. I saw the sheer beauty in allegory, the true wonder of illustrations and the incredible potential of children’s literature. I wanted to write kids picture books more than ever. I thought, if I ate a bar of chocolate for every day I didn’t work hard enough at that ambition I would be a calorie catastrophe. However, I wasn’t idle. I was collecting stories, researching and building my repertoire of words and sayings from children. Every time I had a conversation with a child it became part of the big story.
About three and a half years ago I began an online university course, a Diploma in Children’s Writing and Publishing. I wanted to write kids picture books, but the course introduced me to writing in several genres. One assignment I was asked to write the first chapter of a middle-grade novel. I didn’t want to write novels, I wanted to write picture books. I had an idea, again it was a magpie that inspired me. I accidently wrote double the amount of words I was required to, so I sent chapter 1A and 1B for assessment. But, I couldn’t stop there.
Many cafe visits, cappuccinos, cruises and bars of chocolate later my first middle-grade novel, ‘Maximus’ was complete. So I thought. Print-mock-ups, classroom trials, critique sessions, editors, submissions to publishers, rejections, rewrites, doubts and more chocolate, and it was still not finished.
Last year I accidently signed up for a pitch session with a publisher for a ‘romance’ novel, I contacted the organisers to let them know I had made a mistake. They contacted the publisher, who in turn said that they would see the first three chapters of my manuscript anyway. At the pitch session they told me their publishing company was wanting to venture into publishing some middle-grade and that it may be serendipitous for me to be pitching. I was asked if I could send my full manuscript. I reached into my bag, pulled it out and lay it on the table.
Less than a month later I was offered a publishing contract with Serenity Press. I’m still trying to find the word for the feeling I was experiencing. It was a combination of elation, disbelief, excitement, thrill, satisfaction, relief and sheer fist pumpness. I remenber asking Monique Mulligan, (Editing Director at Serenity Press) ‘Why do you want to publish my story?’ (I think I just wanted to double check I wasn’t dreaming.)
Her reply, ‘Because it’s a good story.’ And it suited the direction they were heading.
A colleague told me, ‘As of that moment I could officially call myself an author.’ (I think she was unaware that I had previously self-published.)
I soon learnt that a publishing contract doesn’t mean you stop working on the story. On the contrary, I think I have spent more hours on it since then, editing to make it ‘shine’ as Monique said in the process of making a good story great.
Maximus will be published in January 2018. Am I pumped? You betcha!
In the meantime, I have written fifteen picture books, all sent off to a spectrum of publishers, awaiting the barrage of rejections. That’s not being negative, that’s being realistic. In amongst the barrage I’m hoping to land some publishing contracts. I have also penned ‘Snapshot’ the sequel to Maximus (17,000 more words than Maximus) and I have started the third book in the Bayside Blues Series.
More ideas than I have time for are whizzing around in the grey matter, on white boards and the yellow pages of my ipad notebook app. That’s an exciting place to be. Watch this space ….