Our chat with Marie…
I’ve always loved writing, but I let go of that dream when, at fifteen, I was told by a careers advisor that girls like me don’t write. It took me until my early forties (yes, I’m ancient) to realise girls like me could do anything they want. I was facilitating a leadership development programme at the time, encouraging others to achieve their ambitions, and figured it was about time I stopped being a hypocrite and achieved my own. I took redundancy and started to pen some words. It was then it hit me – I knew absolutely nothing about writing. So, I joined SCBWI and signed up to do an MA in Writing for Children.
I was introduced to my agent Kate Shaw by my friend Tilda Johnson. I’d already been offered a book deal by Chicken House but wanted to take a longer-term view of things. I told Tilda I was hoping to find an agent who shared my sense of humour and was straightforward and down to earth - Kate fitted the bill perfectly. She’s just set up her own boutique agency and is open to submissions. Get in their quick!
So hard to choose but one of the books I read over and over as a child was Heidi by Johanna Spyri. I’d spend hours daydreaming about running around in the mountains with a friend as wild as Peter, stuffing myself with cheese then falling into bed in a hayloft where I’d watch shooting stars until I fell into a perfect goat milk induced slumber. When I re-read Heidi, however, for my MA, I was horrified by how didactic and moralistic it was. And let’s not even go there with the representations of disability and class. So, no, it’s no longer my favourite book. I still love cheese and mountains and shooting stars though.
Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Or better still, volunteer. All of my writing breakthroughs have come through SCBWI. Whether it was gaining a better understanding of the skills and attitude I needed to write a publishable book, meeting Tilda Johnson who introduced me to my agent or pitching to Chicken House at the Winchester conference, I did it all with the support of SCBWI.
Mmm, writing is my life. It’s one of the things I like to do most in my spare time and I also now make my living teaching writing (although I am heavily subsidised by my husband who luckily feels his investment in the arts is worth it). Because I have a performance management background, I like to set targets I don’t keep. I also make a lot of lists. Sometimes I make lists of lists. When that fails, I find the adrenalin released through blind panic can be pretty useful. I also get up very early and ask my writing friends to hold me to account with their water pistols!