ONCEupon a time... there was a little girl who dreamed of growing up to be...a farmer's wife.
Okay, so not all dreams come true (though it still might!) but as a writer and an actress, I've found a way to live a million different lives vicariously through my various characters, from zombies to princesses(!)
Inspired by my mum, also a children's writer - Elizabeth Dale – I have always enjoyed writing stories, and my first (somewhat macabre!) poem ‘The Fate of The School Hamster’ was published in Cadbury’s Book of Children’s Poetry, aged 8.
The acting bug bit soon after, whilst playing Mary in the local nativity play – only to lose my two front teeth just before the performance - d'oh!
Throughout school I wrote my own plays and competed in drama festivals, but kept my parents happy by getting a “proper degree”, studying English Literature at Sheffield University.
ADVENTURE #1 Study Abroad USA
So, of course, as I was studying English Lit, I decided the best thing to do would be to take a year abroad to study - in the USA! Having grown up devouring any and every teen American book (Sweet Valley High, Judy Blume, Caroline B Cooney) I leapt at the chance to go Stateside and chose North Carolina because that's where Dawson's Creek was filmed. (No, really!)
I continued to act (facing the terrifying challenge of convincing the American audience with my US accent!), took courses in Writing for Children, Screenwriting, and Novel writing, and attended my first SCBWI (Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators) conference – and was thrilled to win the Bill Hooks Jnr Prize for both the Young Adult Category (with the first chapter of Someone Else's Footprints!) and Best Picture Book.
ADVENTURE#2 Drama School Alas, the year had to end, so after Amtrakiking a bit, I came home and finished my degree, before following my dream and finally going to drama school. I spent an exciting, exhilarating and exhausting year at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, singing, dancing and playing everything from a yapping toy dog to Sonya in Uncle Vanya, and spent the next few years travelling all over the place pretending to be other people – from Laura in The Glass Menagerie (in Brussels) to a post-apocalyptic feature film thriller, to Juliet in a National Shakespeare tour.
ADVENTURE #3: Travelling South-East Asia
DO enter SCBWI writing competitions.
DO go travelling
DO NOT do both at the same time!
Having not yet quite hit the bigtime, I decided to take a breather and go on a belated GAP year through South-East Asia – only to discover whilst in a Vietnam internet café that I had been chosen as a winner of the SCBWI 2008 Undiscovered Voices competition! There followed a flurry of interest in Someone Else’s Footprints – but it wasn’t finished! D'oh! I tried valiantly to complete it whilst on various beaches/boats/elephants but ultimately decided it was best to wait until I got home.
ADVENTURE #4: Penniless Aspiring Actress/Author.
Not quite as much fun as the others, admittedly, as rejection letters are never fun to receive, and neither were my bank statements. I got busy writing and finished Footprints...but no-one wanted it. Even the agents and editors who had contacted me after UV didn't feel it was quite what they were looking for. It seemed I had missed the boat (figuratively and literally!) was staring at a black abyss of a future.
ADVENTURE #5: Publication!!
It's funny how life works, isn't it? Never in a straight line!
Having read my UV entry, the lovely Catherine Coe at Orchard Books contacted me to say how much she enjoyed it, but that her imprint didn't really deal with that age-range - would I like to come in and meet the Orchard team and discuss other ideas?
I jumped at the chance and felt very nervous and excited arriving at the impressive Hachette headquarters, with all their famous books and authors on display, but Catherine was completely lovely and put me at my ease. We discussed ideas for younger teen readers - but it was an idea for a rhyming fairytale series for their Crunchies imprint which really caught her interest - and she made me an offer for an eight book series! Hurray! My mum was thrilled and my Dad practically fainted (and finally put away the Tesco job application forms!)
At moreorless the same time, having got my name from Working Partners, the amazing Tony Bradman (wow!) contacted me about an anthology Walker were putting together entitled 'How To Be A Boy'. My initial reaction was "help! How do I write boy fiction?!" I've always written girl narraters and was extremely nervous and apprehensive, but it was just too good an opportunity to pass up, so I gave it a go - and it was great fun! I discovered a writing style I'd never attempted before and really enjoyed it and - even better - Walker chose my story DEAR TADPOLE for inclusion in their anthology! - my first professional publication! Writing as a fifteen-year-old boy! Wonders never cease.
On the back of these successes, I decided now was the time to approach agents again. It certainly was! After previously being unable to attract/beg/bribe a single offer of representation, I ended up in the incredible position of being able to CHOOSE from FOUR wonderful agents! I was totally overwhelmed - it was a position I had never imagined in my wildest dreams! After meeting with them all, and after many hours of deliberation, I ultimately decided to go with the very lovely Jenny Savill, who came with rave references from Sara Grant, who had just sold her wonderful novel Dark Parties.
There followed a blur of editing and cutting as Jenny tirelessly helped me edit, improve, and CUT (40,000 words!) the manuscript, until finally it was down to 100,000 words! Then we held our breaths as it went out to publishers...another rollercoaster-ride...!!
ADVENTURE #7: Book Deal!
After a lot of hard work, wishing, hoping, deformed fingers from keeping them crossed, and a slow succession of 'lovely' rejections (as lovely as rejections can be!) and near-misses, I ended up with THREE UK offers for Someone Else's Footprints! My book was going to be published! Hurray! I cannot describe the feeling - after standing on a knife-edge between success and failure - between wannabe and author - the sense of fulfilment and relief is the most amazing feeling in the world.
And not only is Footprints going to be published, but Simon and Schuster want my next book too! It's almost sounding like a career! But that's not all...
While all this was going on, my agent went off to Bologna and got a fantastic two-book offer from Delacorte Press for Young Readers (US); Doubleday Canada combined!
And then at the London Book Fair Droemer bought the German rights!
So I'm on a total high at the moment - my book's going to be published(!) in FOUR countries(!!) It's a total dream - a total rollercoaster - and I'm enjoying every second :)