Our chat with Debra…
I’d always written as a child and always wanted to be a writer. I was one of six and the shyest and quietest. The upside of that was that I listened, took things in. Mum knew a lot of people. We were always bumping into people in town where we were expected (as many kids of that era) to be quiet and not interrupt. I heard the nuances, accents, observed the faces, what they wore, their stance, their reactions. That was the beginning. Our parents exposed us to experiences, took us places, encouraged us to read (we’re all still bookworms even now,) we listened to the News. They encouraged curiosity.
One parents evening, a teacher praised my writing and told mum my stories were always enjoyed in the staff room at lunch times. It was then she bought me my own typewriter. It wasn’t my birthday or Christmas so it was a wonderful gesture. That typewriter was probably the beginning of everything, although I didn’t know it at the time.
I decided I wanted to be published when my father died in 2011. Life is short, and I wrote a poem called Grandad’s Leaving Home and sent it to Brian Moses. The feedback he gave me spurred me on and I’m proud to say Brian has published me many times since.
My advice to unpublished writers is just not to give up. Tenacity is an essential quality in a writer, we get nowhere without it. Nobody is going to chase you to get you into print, you have to resolve to finish that draft/poetry collection and send it away. I had my big break when I sent Brian Moses some poems. It was a year later I had my first poem selected for Off By Heart by Roger Stevens, then it was another two years before some poems were selected by Brian Moses for his Poems About series with Hodder. I wrote in between, honing my craft, writing on various subjects so I’d be ready should a call come for poems for an anthology. So masses of patience involved!
The children’s poetry world is a hugely supportive and encouraging one, but also very competitive as there aren’t so many anthologies being published now. So, keep your ears open for opportunities.
Like many writers, I visit schools but not every week or every day so I slot my writing in between keeping house, seeing family, walking a demanding Collie and preparing meticulously for those school visits. It’s important to be able to say ‘No’ as my writing deadlines increase. My writing is my work, just as anyone else has work and it has to be done.
I aimed high. I knew who I wanted. One of the most respected and experienced children’s publishers in the UK, Janetta Otter-Barry of Otter-Barry Books. She had published so many writers I loved and respected. Janetta has a reputation for being discerning, so if she wanted me, it meant something. I prepared a sample of poems and nervously pressed ‘send.’ Thankfully, I didn’t need to hold my breath for long before Janetta responded and here I am....It’s been a fabulous journey and a wonderful union between writer and publisher and everything I’d hoped for.