14 Apr My Write Now Journey
Today is the second anniversary of the announcement of the longlist of the Write Now prize (which my debut novel, The Box of Demons, went on to win) so it seemed as good a day as any to unleash my brand new website on the world, and to tell you a bit about my journey through the Write Now experience.
It all began in January 2013. I had been sending The Box of Demons to agents and publishers for most of the previous year, all with the same result: rejection. I’d pretty much given up hope on it. And then one day – January 15th 2013, to be precise – I got an email from Macmillan Children’s Books. I assumed it was another rejection; instead I was pretty stunned to discover it was about the Write Now prize. They’d liked the two chapters of The Box of Demons I’d submitted, and wanted to read more. Two weeks later – and they were long weeks, I don’t mind telling you – I got another email to tell me the book was longlisted.
If I thought the wait to hear about longlisting was long, I hadn’t seen nothing yet. It took three excruciating months before the shortlist was announced, during which time I’d already decided what the shortlist was going to be, based on the one-line descriptions announced in The Bookseller, and had convinced myself The Box of Demons had been lucky even to be longlisted.
When the announcement was made, I missed it. I was on holiday on Poland at the time, and didn’t have internet access until the day after. That was a good day. I think I let myself enjoy the glory up to the end of the holiday, before going back to worrying, trying to not to get my hopes up, and telling myself I didn’t have a hope in Hell of actually winning it.
Then, at the end of August, I got a call from Rachel Petty at Macmillan. I braced myself for disappointment. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted. At least I can forget about it now. I’ll try not to cry on the phone, I thought in the microseconds between Rachel introducing herself, me saying hello, and her telling me I’d won.
I’d won. The Box of Demons was going to be published. I was going to published. I was shaking. I assume thanked Rachel, since my head went a bit whooshy and unfocused for a bit and I can’t be sure, and we arranged to meet in October to start the editing process. I spent most of September thinking how they were ever going to edit it? I knew it was long – 128,000 words – but I couldn’t think of a single thing they could cut to get it down. Everything was essential, surely?
It wasn’t long into my first meeting with Rachel that I realised actually, no, it wasn’t. Rachel’s blindingly talented, and as if winning this thing wasn’t already a massive stroke of luck, ending up with her as my editor has been the writing equivalent of winning the lottery. Of course I didn’t need all those flashbacks. Of course Lucy was underused, of course the bit with the savage murder was too dark for the rest of the book, of course, of course, of course. I ended up cutting nearly half of it, and you know what? At least 40,000 of those words were easy to give up once I’d had my meeting with Rachel. It’s a better book, and I’d say I’m a better writer, for working with her.
The nicest bit of the process, once all the hard work of cutting and rewriting was done and the manuscript was locked, has been the little milestones along the way. Seeing the first mock ups of the cover. My name on the copyright page on the PDF proof Rachel sent me. Chris Riddell’s pencil sketches of the characters for the pop-up cover, which came with the jumping-up-and-down-with-excitement news that Chris Riddell was doing the cover. Getting sent this GIF of my actual printed book actually being opened.
And there are still milestones to come: I’ve yet to get my hands on a copy for one thing, and tomorrow I’m going to my first ever London Book Fair (my first anywhere book fair, actually). And then there’s the biggest milestone of all: Publication Day.
I’m going to continue to chronicle my adventures as they unfold, and so I hope you’ll stick with me right up to June 4th, and beyond…