Once upon a time, when monsters still roamed the earth, magic could be bought at the corner shop, and people existed who weren’t yet on Twitter – sometime in late 2010, if I recall correctly – I decided to write a children's book. Why not an adult novel? No idea, although it *maybe* has something to do with my being totally immature. Or that kids’ books are way more fun. Take your pick.
Anyway. I sat down at my desk and wrote this sentence: ‘Lucifer was sulking’.
Little did I know then what a long, stomach-churning, hairpin-ridden road this sentence would lead me down. The kind where one minute you're about to go off the edge of a cliff, and the next you're sitting in the best divebar you've ever found chatting with the hitchhikers you picked up who are now your new best friends. I gleefully scribbled pages of notes and the first couple of chapters, but then the bane of many writers’ lives struck me: the Shiny New Idea. So, foolishly, I put the devilish story to one side, and instead bashed out a middle-grade historical adventure in three months. It was a lot of fun to do, and I was thrilled that I’d managed to somehow write a whole novel without wanting to kill myself or my computer. Unfortunately, like many first novels, while it had a lot of good things going for it, it had parts that should’ve been washed down the nearest sewer to feed the giant alligators. I got some agent interest, which shocked and excited me as a rookie, but in the end it didn’t come together.
Never mind, I thought, I’ll just write something new. I’ve done it once, how hard can it be? *Waits for you all to stop laughing* So I tried. And tried. And tried. But after starting and stopping with several ideas, and banging my head against the wall enough to frighten the cat, I just couldn’t get any traction. Then I remembered my first story. The one about Lucifer’s youngest son, who was hopeless at being evil. I was pretty sure it’d be a really fun tale, if only I could tell it properly. By now, due to a hole in the spacetime continuum and not at all due to too much time-wasting, it was somehow late 2012. So once again, I sat down and bashed out a novel in three months. This time, though, I didn’t just have well-meaning friends to beta for me; I also had two brilliant, perceptive critique partners I’d found online (waves to NK Traver and Danica S). So I revised and edited with their help, then began the querying process again in April 2013.
Then *booming voiceover voice* something happened that would end up changing everything. I went on a weekend writing retreat (a present from my mother – thanks Mum!), mostly because I thought it’d be nice to meet and talk shop with fellow kidlit writers in the flesh, instead of just over the intertubes. Not just any retreat either, but a SCBWI workshop that included a one-to-one with an acquiring editor. We writers would send in our first chapter, then receive a face-to-face critique. I left for the weekend with high hopes, and wasn’t disappointed: I met lots of lovely kidlit folk, ate a bit of cake, drank more than a bit of wine, learned a lot, and as the cherry on top of the cake, had several emails that same weekend from an agent who was besotted with my novel. By the time my meeting with the editor came round on the Sunday, I was just hoping she wouldn’t hate my story and rain on my parade, because I was having so much fun.
Easy, right? Yeah, not so much.
Fast forward from May to August, and things weren’t looking quite as rosy. The agent from the weekend of the retreat was now less besotted. I’d had a few other requests, and several nice rejections asking to see the next thing I wrote, but I was still no nearer to finding an agent. And I hadn’t heard back from the editor. All in all, I had queried around a hundred agents. A HUNDRED. LIKE THE DALMATIANS. (Pro tip: I would’ve gone crazy at this point if it weren’t for my writer father and the lovely NK Traver making me laugh and keeping my spirits up. Make sure you have people around you who understand the insanity querying can drive you to. Also, bourbon.) I began to get a sinking feeling in my stomach. Much as I hated to admit it, it looked like it wasn’t going to happen for my devil book. I was just going to have to trunk it and write the next one. Or possibly run off to Antarctica and start a new life as a penguin herder.
But I can’t walk in snow boots, so instead I set off for a week in France to visit relatives, lie in the sun, and start work on a new story. I tried to be optimistic, but rejections kept pinging up on my phone, cackling evilly at me and reminding me how much I sucked. At the end of the week, I got sadly onto the train home to London, accompanied by my mum. And then, a little outside Paris, magic happened: An email pinged up on my phone, but it wasn’t a rejection. I stared at it, then stared some more. It was from the editor. ‘We would like to invite you to our offices to meet the editorial team,’ it said. ‘We are enthusiastic about your manuscript.’ If I’d been in a movie, bluebirds would definitely suddenly have appeared.
The train was packed, and my mum was sitting in the only other free seat at the end of the carriage. I dashed up the train and started hitting her on the arm shrieking ‘OMG OMG OMG’ before shoving my phone under her nose. Because as a writer, I’m always eloquent and self-contained like that. In a lovely bit of serendipity, we had an hour to kill in Paris before catching our connecting train home. So we dashed over to a beautiful café outside the station, ordered champagne, and toasted my good news. I looked so radiantly happy, the waiter asked me if I’d just got engaged.
And, of course, I went in to meet the editorial staff at the publishers. And they were lovely! They offered me cake but I was too nervous to eat any! They told me my book would now go onto acquisitions! They even said they might be interested in a sequel! In return, I basically just tried not to faint.
When all of this excitement died down, I still had to wait for their verdict. I knew that books could go to acquisitions but fall at the final hurdle. So my new agent sent the book out to several other children’s publishers in the UK, and I hunkered down to wait. Nervously. Very, very nervously. After all, I knew that many writers didn’t get their first books published, even with a vote of confidence from an agent. But I crossed my fingers, drank slightly too much bourbon, ate definitely too many biscuits, refreshed my email so often I gave myself carpal tunnel, and hoped I’d be one of the lucky ones.
And, finally, a few weeks and several postponed acquisitions meetings later, the verdict came in: We had a deal! Not just a deal, but a two-book deal, and who with – why, that very first publisher who’d shown interest in my book ever since the beginning. I couldn’t have wished for a happier ending.
So now I’m thrilled to say that my devilish children’s book BRIMSTONE FOR BREAKFAST, about Jinx, a twelve-year-old demon who is terrible at being terrible, and his funny, crazy adventure through Hell, will be published by Orchard Books/Hachette UK in Summer 2015, with a sequel to follow! Who says evil doesn't pay?
(PPS All Hellboy pics are of course the work of the amazing Mike Mignola.)