As I approached my late thirties I was pretty sure that my dreams of being in print were well and truly over.
Encouraged by my English professor at University, the poet Philip Hobsbaum, I’d had poetry and short stories published, and I tried to write a big ‘serious’ novel in my twenties. The novel I wrote was structurally a mess and didn’t fit any recognisable genre, and so unsurprisingly it did not win me an agent or a publishing deal, although I had a very kind letter from Robin Robertson at Jonathan Cape encouraging me to ‘keep going’.
What went wrong? I became unsure of myself, I lost my confidence for a while. Then stuff happened. My dad died. I had my first child. I had my second child. There was always an excuse not to put myself on the line again, not to make myself vulnerable, open to rejection.
I could never stop writing altogether. I wrote lots of short stories (which I never sent anywhere), but I pretty much gave up on every being published, which was quite heartbreaking. Wanting to write had been part of my identity since I’d been about four years old. It was how I justified to myself all my daydreaming, it was why no other career had ever completely ‘grabbed’ me. If I wasn’t ever going to be a writer, then who was I?
One day a friend said ‘You’re funny. Why don’t you write funny?’, because she knew I was a huge comedy fan and I went to a lot of stand up. You could call me a comedy nerd, following lots of comedy from here and the US, the quirkier the better (I love ‘Episodes’, ‘This is Jinsy’, ‘Black Books’, ‘Gavin and Stacey’, ‘Inside Number 9’, ‘League of Gentlemen’, ‘Nighty Night’, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, ‘Seinfeld’, ’30 Rock’, the list goes on and on.) It did seem odd that I’d never tried writing humour before, since I love it so much.
Although I’ve always read and loved all types of fiction from all genres, I’d always felt that I should be writing something very serious and ‘important’. Was this the curse of studying English Literature? I don’t know. But I had a word with myself and decided to loosen up and have some fun, instead of trying to write the next ‘Ulysses’.
I bought Carole Blake’s book ‘From Pitch to Publication’ which helped me to understand the nuts and bolts of writing a book for a particular market. I decided to try teenage humorous fiction. Carole Blake’s advice worked, because a few years later I had two teen novels published by Scholastic – ‘Diary of a Parent Trainer’ and ‘My Big Fat Teen Crisis’ for girls aged 11-15, both humorous but with serious issues in there too.
Then I was lucky enough to have ‘The Abominators’ published by Little Brown Young Readers. It is a series for children aged 6-11 which I wrote for my own sons. It is about a very posh boy called Cecil Trumpington Potts who wears silk pants with the family crest embroidered on them. He has never met any other children, he wears his hair in a centre parting and he talks in baby talk. When he joins Grimely East Primary school he decides that he wants to join the most mischievous gang in Year 5, ‘The Abominators’. What could possibly go wrong…?
Today I am sitting pinching myself because not only has ‘The Abominators’ series made it into print (in 2013), but last week on World Book Day a primary school pupil dressed up as Cecil Trumpington Potts, and today his teacher sent me the photo below (with permission to use it).
This is year 4 pupil Ben, I can’t say where he lives and what school he goes to, but he has absolutely MADE MY DAY. He recreated Cecil’s bow tie and his centre parting – and the family crest on the panty wanty woos!
If someone had told me when I was on the verge on giving up on writing, that a child would be going to World Book Day dressed up as a character from my imagination, I would never have believed them. Thank you Ben, and thank you to all the children who have read and enjoyed ‘The Abominators’ and my other books (including the 6000+ children who have borrowed them from UK libraries). You have made it all worthwhile, and I’ve had SO MUCH fun along the way! I’m glad I did not give up.
Year 4 pupil Ben dressed as Cecil Trumpington Potts on World Book Day