In 2006, I left Bristol University with an English degree. After two unfulfilling years in PR, I booked a one-way ticket to Africa. There I taught English and wrote my first children’s book. After four months I came back to the UK and went into secondary school teaching, first in Berkshire and then in London. I submitted my children’s book to thirty literary agents - and it was rejected by every single one. I taught English for four years and in the evenings and holidays, I wrote another book. I sent it to thirty literary agents - and it was rejected by them all. Again. A few agents said they saw ‘glimpses of brilliance’ and ‘raw talent’ in my work but that my plots were unoriginal and my writing style was amateur. I wrote a third book. You can guess where this is going: it was rejected by every agent I sent it to. By this point I had racked up 96 rejections from agents.
But something inside me refused to give up. I kept every positive comment any of the agents gave me (in their rejection letters) and I took every bit of advice they offered: I went to literary festivals, I read more children’s books, I attended writing courses, I started blogging and I re-worked my writing until it was the very best it could be. And perhaps most importantly: I stopped putting my focus on getting a book deal and starting thinking about writing a story that really mattered to me.
Getting published - The Dreamsnatcher
I quit teaching full time, I wrote The Dreamsnatcher over the course of a year and I literally threw everything at it because it was finally a story I wanted to tell: I watched wildcats prowl in the New Forest, carved wooden flowers with a Romany gypsy and wrote every spare second I could until there were literally no words left inside me. Then I sent off the book to one agent. She signed me and within two months I had a two book deal with a major UK publishing house. Excitingly, The Dreamsnatcher has now been named a Top Ten Children’s Book Not To Miss in 2015 by The Bookseller and I’m in talks about film and TV options.
I won’t ever forget the struggle of writing before being published – of the despair, loneliness, hurt and disappointment. But if you want to embark on any sort of creative process, you’ve got to keep believing in your work and in yourself. In some cases people get lucky quickly but for the rest of us, it’s about sheer graft. It’s about looking for opportunities and making them happen – and it’s about learning to fail and being bold enough to bounce back. As my mum said to me every step of the way: ‘If you’re not failing, you’re just not trying hard enough.’
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