In June 2019, a life-long ambition, stemming from early childhood, came true when Firefly Press published ‘Tulip Taylor’. Yes, I’d had another novel out in the US and France. Yes, I’d self-published an early version of ‘Rebel with a Cupcake’ in the UK to some extent. But I still craved having a novel out in my home country. And then it happened…and it was the beginning of six months of lots of brilliant things. 2019 was in short a pretty good year for me.
Some of the good things were trivial but lovely – a shiny author banner with my name on and the glorious illustration by Niki Pilkington/cover by Anne Glen for me to use at book and school events. Others were more significant. I launched Tulip surrounded by my lovely SCBWI friends at an event in Manchester. Being part of SCBWI has been a vital part of my journey as it’s through the courses, conferences but most of all through the monthly critiquing that I learned what I needed to know to write and craft Tulip. This was followed up by a number of school visits which seemed to go down very well – young people really responded to the challenges posed by having a parent as Tulip does who wants to make money out of her and her siblings online. They also laughed at the jokes so that was a bonus!
After than I was invited to do a panel event and a workshop at @YALC in London. I’ve already blogged about that but in short it was one of the glorious days where you feel like a writer. Much of writing is doing what I’m doing now – sitting in the study I share with two other members of my family, staring out of the window, just getting words down on a blank screen. So, the days when you get out and about to celebrate your work and to be seen not as a mum or teacher are really rather special. The three seconds when my signing queue was longer than Holly Bourne’s was a thing of beauty.
After the summer break, I did a panel event as part of Manchester Children’s Book Festival and a number of library and school events. I’ve been massively appreciative of all the teachers and librarians who’ve taken time out to support Tulip and myself. Life was its normal juggling act of trying to carve out time to write along side teaching, tutoring and overseeing the lives of two teenage daughters.
In early 2020, just before the biggest plot twist I’ve ever experienced, I delivered a writing weekend for @WriteMentor in Sheffield. Despite having planned for days and for every eventuality, I was still nervous but it turned out to be a lovely experience. One of the attendees was a former pupil of mine, all grown up and now an English teacher who wanted to be a writer. It was a strange but gratifying to see the various strands of my life – teaching and writing (both based on a passion for the written word) came together in such a serendipitous way.
Then Covid-19 happened. I have very little to complain about compared to others who have struggled and lost so much. All that has happened to me is that my world has got a lot smaller. But it turns out that I like my little world of family, walks, writing, online teaching and socialising and in this I am truly lucky. Relaunching ‘Rebel with a Cupcake’ in lockdown was not the circumstances that myself or my publishers would have chosen but bloggers and fellow writers have been wonderfully supportive and messages from readers tell me that it is finding itself an audience out there.
Before lockdown happened I’d already been asked to be a judge for the Sadie Massey Review competition for the Portico Library and I’d also committed to be mentor for @WriteMentor’s summer writing programme. Both these experiences have hugely enriched my lockdown life. For the Sadie Massey prize, myself and my fellow judge Mo had to decide on which of the nearly 500 reviews were worthy winners and runners up in each age category. Seeing children’s passion for books was a beautiful thing and it took some time to decide up winners. I’d only intended to sign up for one mentee with @WriteMentor but again 2020 decided that there was yet another unexpected twist on the cards, I decided to offer to mentor two writers, the very talented Georgia Roworth and Sophie Tovey. Reading through their work and offering some thoughts and feedback has been a genuine highlight of the early summer so far. I am very excited to see what these talented women go on to achieve.
And that’s me pretty much up to date. Except for one thing. Like so many, I’m finding writing during lockdown hard. At first I did Camp Nano and just wrote for fun for three weeks. It was gloriously messy and liberating. But sometimes, if you want to be taken seriously as a writer you need to treat writing just as seriously. Which means putting your bum in the seat every day and aiming to write something that’s good enough to share with others. Since then, I’ve been working on another book which requires rich worldbuilding and seriously plotting so not something you can just pound out. I’ve found aiming to write 500 words a day hugely beneficial. I can be guilty of wildly overestimating how much I can write at the best of times. Currently, the horrendous daily news and the lack of time and space to myself have severely impacted on my ability to put words together in any kind of meaningful way.
But over the last six weeks, something miraculous has happened. My 500 words a day have slowly started to build into something which in the next two weeks might conclude in being a very, very rough first draft. Some days I even manage 1500 words. There is definitely some rubbish in there but there is also some gold: some scenes which after a bit of a polish will shine, some characters who are slowly finding their voices and a plot which appears to make sense (at least to me anyway). And yes, sometimes my scenes are making me laugh which is the first step on the way to making others laugh.
I am not about to make any predictions about what the next twelve months will hold. When I was launching ‘Tulip Taylor’ I could never have foreseen the devastation of Covid or that we’d been in month 4 of a social shut down. So, I can’t control future events, whether any of my writing will be published. But I can control whether I turn up in my study, get my bum in the seat, my hands on the keyboard and keep on writing. Because every day I write I feel so much better than the days I don’t. It might be an addiction but currently it’s an addiction that brings me more pleasure than otherwise so if you’re looking for me, I’ll be in the study. Writing.
‘Tulip Taylor’ and ‘Rebel with a Cupcake’ are available from any bookshop of your choice or direct from the Firefly website.