More moaning from Mrs Maungy

What do people want?

Last year’s SBWI conference, I submit my weird and wonderful work in progress for a one-to-one. I get a lovely agent: young, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I have more butterflies in my stomach than Tropical World at Roundhay Park, Leeds. I almost run away. She is clearly a girl of taste: she says I can really, really write, but has some problems with the commercial saleability of the central idea. Okey dokey.

I read around. A lot. I learn lots more about ‘show not tell’, ‘killing my darlings’ and generally writing in, shall we say, a more conventional manner. My ‘voice’ is now not so thick with regionalism that you need translation.  I have a contemporary setting. I have a hero whose gender is very, very clear. I edit for consistent point of view, I cull my own adverbs and read every last one of the 30k+ words aloud.

Out with the fey and in with the action.

Off a sample goes. Hoorah. She wants to see the rest. My heart is a party balloon.

I push the hope down inside me, trying not to let it slip out, trying to keep calm and carry on. I tell myself whatever happens, I’ve learnt a lot and I’ve nothing to loose. I tell myself she’s bound to reject it and not to get too Tiggerish.

 She’ll probably ask me to come back after the MA – that would be something. The dreams, the hope persecute me.

It’s not for her. 

She was kind enough to say she really liked the  strangeness of the earlier piece – she  found that rather appealing. And thoughtful enough to say ‘The Thirteenth Pharaoh’ has lots of great action.

But what do I do now?

Write self indulgent bizarreness that I fear no modern kid/agent/publisher would ever like?

There’s no point writing something so strange it’ll never get published – but on the other hand, I am strange. In the Venn diagram of normal, I’m not in any subset.  I like ghost ships and sea witches and Vikings and hobs and dragons and selkies and pirates and smugglers and weird underwater creatures. I know far too many fairytales, remember too much  folklore and definitely know far too much about Middle Earth. I have to write peculiar and children appreciate it better than adults.

Or get over myself, learn to please, learn what kids/agents/publishers want and deliver the goods?

I try to fit in. Honest. But oddball is as oddball does. I can’t write what most normal children want any more than I could belong to the school hockey team. ( I was rather good at cutting up oranges, though.)

I feel as though I’m learning how to steer a narrowboat – veering from crashing into one bank to denting the other. In slow but inevitable motion.  I’m careering from the freakish to the  frankly dull.

Eventually I might learn enough to get somewhere?

19 thoughts on “More moaning from Mrs Maungy

  1. Ha, you’re going through what all of us go through, dear heart! Welcome to the club. I’ve been down the same road, think I even subbed to the same agent, with similar results.
    I think you have to write the stories you have to write, while keeping an eye on what the market is up to. I think you also have to accept that you have to sub to lots and lots of agents and that not only is hard work and a thick skin involved, but also a degree of luck.
    If oddball is what you do, then make your oddball the best there is. Someone will love it.
    From your non-spammer pal xx

  2. But you are still steering and not jambed sideways between the banks, I’ve done the actual thing and when you get the hang of doing everything back to front, it’s the proverbial piece of P!!!!

    Also you are the loveliest oddball I know, don’t let the buggers get you down xxxx

    • Garry – you’re a sweetie! But what if my stuff’s too weird for anyone but me? Or just not good enough? Time will tell.
      PS I am very impressed you can steer a narrow boat.

      • If the world wasn’t full of slightly odds and weird, what a boring life we’d lead!!!

        You have only just begun, your boat is chugging alomg the Wey. once you’ve broken through into the Thames the whole damn network is your is your oyster, with endless routes open to you. You may hit a few dead ends, but sooner or later your boat is going to bump into the right lock keeper.

        Also don’t forget you’ve a lovely family and great freinds that love your oddness and believe in you x

  3. Ah Philippa – you are so not alone. You must write true to yourself, you must. Think Mark Haddon, Jennie Downham, crikey, Siobhan Dowd, Philip Ardagh…odd.quirky, truly themselves. Stick it at – we all have to have hope that one day it’ll be right for somoeone….

  4. Let’s face it – good writers are strange. None more so than myself, I’m sure. God forbid we should ever become boring and run out of things to say. I know the agent of which you speak and she didn’t really get my book either – although to her credit she did try!

    You will have to compromise and write in ways you didn’t think you could do to get published. But if you lost yourself in the process, what would be the point? Publishing needs personalities and offbeat points of view and surprise. Give them something brilliant they’ve never seen before and they’ll be beating a path to your door.

    • I appreciate you taking the time to comment, Nick. In fairness, the young lady in question preferred my weirder stuff – it’s now I’ve tried to be ‘straight’, more ‘commercial’ it doesn’t appear to have worked. I have too many ideas to pursue – I want a fairy godmother/father to tell me which ones are worth folllowing!
      Thanks again, P.

  5. I totally rewrote Windrunner’s Daughter eleven times before I … no I never got that one right. My next book sold – because I’d learned so much from rewriting WD. I’m currently rewriting WD for the twelfth time (and by rewriting, I mean throwing the whole thing out and starting again – not edits).
    I think it takes a long time to find your voice – that thing that makes you YOU, allows you to be strange, unique and wonderful, but also allows you to be accessible to the reader.
    You’ll get there.

  6. Have you read some of the stuff that does get published?
    Try The Thirteenth Pharoah out on the kids if you haven’t already.
    Never give up. Never surrender

    • Thank you for your words of encouragement Jan. 13th Pharaoh is having a rewrite before being pushed out onto an unsuspecting publishing world.

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