Away with the Fairies

On Saturday 12th January, I went to the launch of the Golden Egg Academy in Bath. I expected that I would meet at least a couple of people I knew – and I could now tell them about my latest success. I had known since before Christmas that The Selkies of Scoresby Nab had been long-listed for the Times/Chicken House Competition. You would think I’d be bursting to tell anyone and everyone – but I felt oddly reticent. Shy even.

I found myself lost deep in La-la land: talking with the Barry Cunningham, finding that Beverley Birch had read a  previous blogpost and remembered it, welcomed by Imogen Cooper as an equal. I had slid into a world of my imagination.

But in my daydreams, it had been easy, I had confidence – not this edgy feeling I have now. I feel I’m tiptoeing on the borders of Fairyland, nervous and full of hope and fear.

Joanne Harris by kind permission of Kyte Photography

I’ve had lovely little glimpses and excursions: a workshop with the much-admired David Almond; twitter conversations with the wonderfully accessible Joanne Harris; and even Susan Hill. There was astonishing interview with Greg Mosse on the MA at West Dean where for a moment he helped me soar, to feel like a proper writer.

But I’m scared. I’m frightened to succeed.

I’ve grown accustomed to being second-rate, an also-ran. Grade B ‘O’ & ‘A’levels, a II:I English degree at Loughborough, not Oxford, a minor teaching post. It’s all been quite comfortable – and I bitterly resent it. It’s also painfully true that I envied Susie Wilde her well-deserved First in her MA at West Dean.

There are times I really don’t like myself.

I wonder, am I bringing my own danger into the Perilous Realm? I really don’t mean to be smug or condescending or self-satisfied – but I hear those thin, superior voices in my head. They distract me from paying proper attention, they tell me I know that or this already.

On one hand, I am so wary of pride that I find it hard to rejoice.On the other, I so desire recognition from authors I wish were my peers that I fear I must be insufferable. I look to see who has congratulated me far too often – yet I am genuinely moved when anybody does wish me well.

Am I hunting for fairy gold?


‘It’s not about good books any more…

… it’s about the hook.’

This quotation comes from a very recent Hodder Children’s Books Acquisition Meeting courtesy of Beverley Birch.

Beverley presented an illuminating talk, followed by a Question and Answer session, to the Hampshire Writers’ Society at Winchester University on Tuesday 10th January 2011. It was a sobering presentation.

The essential point for us as aspirant writers in the current market to grasp is that our chances of being taken on by commercial publishers have very little to do with the readership. It is not about children.

It is about the buyers from Tesco, Asda et al and to a lesser extent, W.H. Smith and Waterstones. If we do not have a ‘high concept’ pitch ( think ‘Snakes on a Plane’) that will appeal to these buyers, then we may well be better off self-publishing.

It is not enough to have a coherent plot, engaging characterisation  and a well-conveyed setting. There must be pace and suspense, of course.The voice of the piece also must be distinctive and vigorous – and it must be commercial.

It is this last that shrivels my heart.

What do you do if your imagination runs to less easily marketed ideas?

What do you do if you’ve never been attracted by the mainstream?

Any thoughts?