Our chat with Andy…
I didn’t really think about being an author when I was very young. Although looking back the signs were there – I was always making up stories for games and inventing adventures to transport me to places. I just saw that as playing though, and those stories didn’t make it onto the page.
I remember when I was about ten I was in awe of my best friend’s dad because he was a real live poet – Douglas Oliver. But, although I thought that was so unbelievably cool, I still didn’t really think of being a writer myself. I saw some of the poets he knew, and looking at them, it seemed like you had to be a man, and possibly one who wore a black polo neck and had a beard and talked really importantly and seriously about Serious Things.
I know I wasn’t really writing at this point – in primary school, writing to me was all about having to squash things into rhymes and not being very good at it – and being told so!
It wasn’t until I went to secondary school that I discovered you didn’t have to rhyme and then I started enjoying writing. I wrote the most around my O’levels and A’levels – lots of angsty stuff! I had a wonderful English teacher for four years who encouraged me to fill notebooks with all my scribblings. I left school thinking of myself as a writer in a weird ‘this is part of who I am’ way, but not actually believing I would ever do anything more with it than ‘scribble in notebooks’. Getting published was something other people got to do.
I think this is why I love the fact that so many authors now visit schools, and are accessible to contact through social media. I would have loved that when I was young. It would have made me feel like ‘if they can, maybe so can I’.
I met Jo (Williamson from the Antony Harwood Agency) at the SCBWI Agents’ Party in 2013. I’d only just joined SCBWI and I saw a mention of the party. It sounded like such a great idea that I booked a ticket straight away – basically before I had time to think too much about it and get cold feet!
Despite the nerves I pitched to every agent that night. Jo was actually the last person I spoke to.
It was particularly hard because as I stood waiting to pounce on her I heard Jo say: ‘Wow, that was the best pitch of the night’ – to someone else! But instead of running for the hills I thought, right – time to step up.
I only mention this because I’m not sure where the resolve came from to go to the event at all, let alone talk to Jo after hearing that, but sometimes we just surprise ourselves – and I want to reassure anyone else out there who is reluctant/terrified/already running for the hills when they think of approaching an agent, that it can be done!
As a result of the Party I suddenly had multiple requests for the full manuscript and within a week I’d received two offers of representation. I knew from our meeting that night and after talking to her on the phone that Jo was definitely the right person to sign with. I went with my gut and I’ve not regretted it for one minute.
For me Jo has been invaluable. Not just getting my work in front of publishers/editors who I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise, but the fact I have someone cheering me on and buoying me up in the face of rejections. And most importantly giving feedback and editorial input on the work and helping to navigate and negotiate contracts.
At the end of the day it’s important to feel your agent has a real passion about your book – and is interested in you as a writer for the long haul. But also that they really know the industry and are tenacious enough to get your work published.
Also the fact I was talking to Jo about Bake Off within the first few email exchanges spoke volumes about how comfortable and relaxed I felt around her. This was really important for me. There are enough ups and downs on this writer journey that having someone on your side, who you also get on with, is a huge plus.
To be honest there have been lots of ‘moments’ – and still are. I’m pretty sure the daunting part of all this isn’t going to suddenly disappear once I have the books published. I constantly feel a bit out of my depth and I don’t imagine that is going to change. Especially the more I find out about what is involved in writing and promoting books.
But my writing buddy Tizzie Frankish and I made a pact early on to ‘act as if’ whenever an opportunity came along. Say ‘Yes’ with a smile first and think (or worry about it) later.
There are a few things though which have helped me carry on:
Accepting that I’m not necessarily going to feel comfortable a lot of the time, but that’s not a reason to stop doing it. Knowing that rejections sting, but the best way to take the sting out is to get yourself and your work out there again
Having my lovely family cheering me on. And also finding good buddies who are going through all this too and can reassure you and offer advice – and a bit of perspective. Social media is a great place to start connecting with other writers.
Remembering that at the end of the day I am choosing to do this. (That often takes the pressure off.)
And finally a bit of gratitude helps me – remembering that I am lucky to be doing it at all.
I also loved funny books though and my favourite of these was Bottersnikes and Gumbles written by S A Wakefield and illustrated by D Digby. This is still a book I love to read to my children – and will probably continue to read and enjoy even when they are grown up!
The books I love reading now are still the ones ten-year-old me would have loved. I just wish I could go back and give myself a heap of books by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Katherine Rundell, and Emma Carroll.
That and these two quotations which I have pinned to my wall:
It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer. ~Albert Einstein
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. ~Winston Churchill
One other little piece of advice I’d add is make yourself a ‘Wow Wall’ – gather any positive comments or feedback you have ever had about your writing, print them out and put them altogether on a board and keep it somewhere you will see it (and if it feels too cringy having your praise on show put it somewhere only you will see it). You get enough knock backs and rejections, seeing this wall will help counter that.
I had mine on my cupboard door in front of the loo – not very glamorous, but it meant I got to read those words several times a day!
Answers on a postcard. Seriously, if you have the answer to this, please post it to me.
I’m still struggling with this one. I have ME/CFS and one of the reasons I came back to writing was because when my youngest son went off to school I needed to do something, but I wasn’t well enough to manage a full or even part-time job alongside looking after my family.
Of course when I started out it was easier to manage, no deadlines for one thing. And if I had a bad patch I could step away. Now I have the publishing deal and have had three books to write, things have been more difficult. My family have been great and supported me, and both my agent and publisher have been amazing, but it’s still a huge challenge.
There is always more to be done with writing and promoting your books. The list is endless and it will expand to fit the room you give it. I think it is important to figure out what you can and can’t do. And then be clear with other people -and yourself!