Our chat with Liz…
This is what I always say when I’m doing school visits, because I’m often speaking to children of that age: I really started writing when I was nine or ten, and my class had a brilliant, kind, imaginative teacher. She let us do lots of creative writing, and that’s when I realised how much I loved it and that I could lose track of time and be in another place entirely while I was writing. Sadly, over the next twenty years my critical inner voice got louder and louder and I lost that child-like connection with my creativity, till I had kids of my own, and then I started again, in my early thirties, though it took ten years of trying before I was finally published in my forties.
Probably the most daunting moment was when I’d written two novels and they’d both been rejected by many publishers. I felt like I had one final shot to get it right. I started writing the story that became Dragon Daughter, but it was too complex and difficult and I got all tangled up in my plotting. At the same time, another story was clamouring for attention: one with three teenager characters from my town. It felt clear and lovely to write in comparison, and I kept being unfaithful to the fantasy novel and writing this one instead! That’s when a friend emailed to say she’d seen a PhD studentship advertised in YA fiction, and had I thought of applying? I hadn’t, but I did, and the YA novel became Eden Summer, and a few years later I went back to Dragon Daughter with my editor’s help and got it untangled finally.
Getting feedback from young writers is the loveliest and most rewarding thing. It reminds me why I do this, and keeps me on track! Recently I’ve had some absolutely beautiful feedback from both boys and girls, telling me that Dragon Daughter is their favourite book. The best thing is that they have imagined what their own dragon would be like and gone into great detail about it. I’ve even had artwork posted through, and I love that, too.
To have faith and keep going. That’s what Melvin Burgess said to me when I was in the very long, very difficult apprentice writer stage. He said that was the only difference between writers who didn’t get published and writers who did: not giving up. Some writers might decide that publishing isn’t the important thing for them, that they love writing for its own sake, and for what their creativity gives them. And I respect that completely. But because I’d been such a passionate reader, aged about nine and ten, I knew that I really wanted to make something for young readers – that’s what drove me then and drives me now.
Ha, very good question!! Right now, we have a young puppy, and I have two teenage children, one of whom is home educated, and I have other work commitments. My day starts very early at the moment, so I’ll try to write when the pup has her first nap, and when my 17-year-old has left for college – that’s usually around 8am, and I might get an hour or two if I’m lucky. But if I do that every day, it all builds over time. If I get my writing done first, I feel much happier for the rest of the day, and everything else falls into place. Then I can keep returning to the story in my head as I do other things, and it is still developing and ‘composting’ at the back of my mind, and when I open my laptop again the next day, I can usually see the next step. Even if I only get twenty minutes to write, it’s better than nothing and it still counts and keeps the faith.