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A Long Overdue Word About Poppy Pym

Gosh, this blog post is so overdue that there will be a lot to fit in. First of all, Hello! Thanks for stopping by. I’m very sorry that this post has been such a long time coming.

When I first started working on this website it was part of a Big Plan that I had to start taking myself and my writing a bit more seriously. (Not too seriously, obviously, I mean look at this website - the background looks like it's covered in tooty frooties. Which is why I chose it.)

I have mentioned elsewhere on this website that I have always loved to write, and that I have also always been shy about sharing my writing with others. Last May I saw a post on Twitter about the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing. It was a big, national competition and the grand prize was a book deal with publishing giants, Scholastic, literary agent representation with LBA, and the most jaw-droppingly beautiful fountain pen that you can imagine from Montegrappa. I decided to enter. This was the best decision I have ever made.

My beautiful Montegrappa pen

I had had the idea for Poppy Pym in my head for a couple of years, always with a vague sense that I would write it down one day. The main obstacle seemed to be the blank page on the computer screen… I had all these brilliant characters in my mind and while they remained there they were nothing but pure, blemish-free potential. They could be the best thing ever written by anyone, EVER. But I knew that as soon as I started actually writing something about them my words would stutter a bit, would fail to match up to the image in my mind, and that the idea would stop being perfect. Actually, that it might not even be good. That people might not like it at all. That was scary.

To enter the competition you had to send in the first 5,000 words of the book, plus a brief, one page synopsis. I thought that this was manageable and that then I would have something started that I could put away and work on once I had submitted my thesis. (HA!) I honestly don’t think it crossed my mind that I would hear anything else about it when I sent it in. In fact, I sent it on the last possible day, the day of the deadline, because I was still going back and forth with myself about whether there was even any point in entering. (Thinking about this now makes me go a bit hot and cold - there aren’t very many occasions in your life that you can actually see and recognise those ‘Sliding Door’ moments, but WOW, this was one of them.)

To cut a long story short, a couple of months later I made the shortlist and had to produce a full manuscript. I wrote this very fast. VERY FAST. I wrote it feverishly, fuelled by mugs of tea and in an intense period of solitude. Fortunately I think this mania suited the madcap nature of the circus-based caper I was writing. I believe it was also incredibly fortunate that the idea had been germinating in my mind for such a long, long time which meant that I could write in this way, that the story already existed in a fairly well rounded form. This is not to say that it all flowed effortlessly through me, by any stretch of the imagination. When Paul came home from the family holiday that I had missed in order to work on the book he found a mad-eyed, gibbering husk who hadn’t had a conversation with anyone except the lady at the Tesco checkout for over a week and who was listening to Oom-Pah-Pah circus music on a loop. It was not like one of those beautiful montages in which flowers bloom in a vase on my desk and I sit in crisp linens communing with the muse. Although this is, obviously, my plan for the next one. (HA again!)

It was October and I was back at uni and in a lecture when Lena, my lovely editor at Scholastic, called to tell me that I had won the competition. I could see her number flashing up on my silent phone but I couldn’t answer. I called her back with shaking hands outside the lecture theatre and I’m not even sure now what she said except that she was very kind. I think I asked her several times if she was joking. I am fairly sure that I swore at her. I definitely cried. I also had some trouble making coherent sentences, which is not really the ideal first impression for a writer to make on her editor. All in all I think I handled it pretty well. After this I spoke to my agent Louise, who is also very lovely and who patiently reassured me several times that she was real, that this competition was real, and that I wasn’t - as I suspected - victim of the cruellest practical joke of all time ever.

Later on I was lucky enough to meet some of the other shortlistees and they are the nicest, funniest, most generous and talented individuals you could hope to meet. It has been a joy to be on this roller coaster with them. I also know that out of over a thousand entries the six of us were chosen, and that means that all six of us beat incredible odds. Rohan Agalawatta, P J Bristow, Nicola Sangster, Nicola Teasdale, and Kate Wiseman are all names that you need to keep an eye out for, because this competition found all of us. (And we’re pretty much a children’s literature super gang now.)

So Poppy Pym is being published. I still can’t believe it. I want to talk about it all the time and think about it all the time which is making being a functioning human being very difficult. The book will be out in September and I am in the very interesting process of editing things - something which I will write another post about, this one is already far too long. Quite a few people have read it now - something that still seems very strange - and they have all been, without exception, so kind and generous in their reactions and feedback. With their help the manuscript is finally beginning to do justice to the vision that has existed in my mind for such a long time. It is nowhere near perfect and, unfortunately, it is not the best thing ever written by anyone, EVER, but I absolutely love it, and I really, really hope that soon you will too.

My first ever piece of fan-mail, courtesy of Imogen.

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