A Lucky Break

This is the first blog on my brand new website. As some of you know, I was self-publishing my books for more than ten years (under the imprint of Tortoise Publishing) before Orion Children’s Books took me on last year. Several people have asked how I managed to become a ‘proper’ author. The short answer is a great big dollop of luck. A longer answer is this:

A lady called Louise Weir emailed me to say she’d like to make my book Midnight on Lundy a book of the month on the website www.lovereading4kids. Well, as you can imagine, I was thrilled. Apparently Louise had picked up the book because she had happy memories of family holidays on Lundy.

It was hard work doing research on Lundy!
It was hard work doing research on Lundy!

We started exchanging emails every so often, and one day she asked why I self-published my books. The answer was simple – I hadn’t been able to persuade an agent or a publisher to take me on (although I’d been so disheartened by rejections that I hadn’t tried for ages). She suggested that I should send my books and a covering letter to Orion Children’s Books.

I was amazed when Fiona Kennedy from Orion emailed me to say she’d like to come to see our farm and meet me. She visited us on a lovely sunny day in June 2011. I was so anxious not to get my hopes up that I talked non-stop about anything but books. We gave her a tour of the farm and showed her our Exmoor ponies on the moor. At about four o’clock, Fiona said that the tour of the farm had been lovely, but that she really needed to sit down and talk to me about my books, so we did. As you can imagine, I was delighted (actually, I was too

Orion suckling his mum when he was a couple of weeks old. The other foal is Gaia.
Orion suckling his mum when he was a couple of weeks old. The other foal is Gaia.stunned to feel anything much!) when she said that Orion would like me to re-write my existing books for publication in 2012, and they would like some completely new stories for publication in 2013. Wow!

Since then my life has changed quite a bit. I spend much more time writing, which I love (except on bad days when my mind goes blank – but everyone gets those, I’m told). I spend even less time than I used to cleaning the house (I’ve always found housework incredibly boring) and I don’t have to sell and distribute my own books (hurray!). The only downside is I seem to be spending far less time with my family, out on the farm or with the horses and dogs. However, if I get my act together (and spend less time on Twitter and Facebook or staring at my computer screen while sipping coffee) I’m sure I’ll be able to make time for everything, including handling my Exmoor gelding, Orion. He was born on the moor last year. More about him in my Orion the Exmoor blogs.

How to write a story: ten tips

It’s great that so many people want to be writers. At least, that seems to be the case from the amount of times I’m asked how to become an author. Here are some things I’ve found out in the twelve years since I decided I wanted to write stories:

1. There may be a few natural geniuses out there, but most of us have to learn how to write well. Read as much as you can, write as much as you can, accept criticism from people you respect, learn from your mistakes and don’t get too disheartened when things go horribly wrong.

2. Try to work out why you like some stories more than others. Write the kinds of stories you’d like to read. I’ve always loved horse and pony stories, and now I’m writing them.

3. You’re much more likely to be taken seriously as a writer if your spelling, punctuation and grammar are good. (I struggle with all three.)

4. Ideas for stories can come from anywhere, and often when you least expect them: books, conversations, real-life events, TV, film, radio, newspapers and magazines or out of the blue at three o’clock in the morning. It helps to write ideas down in a special notebook so you don’t forget them. Experiences – good and bad – are particularly useful. Try to put your feelings into words and write them down too. It’s important to take care of your notebook; I often put mine down somewhere and then spend ages hunting for it.

5. Good stories follow certain rules of story-telling. The most obvious one is that they should have a beginning, a middle and an end, and that the things which happen should connect with each other in some way. This is where stories often differ from real life, where lots of unconnected things may happen which don’t seem to make any sense at all!

6. Write about something which interests you. If you’re bored while you’re writing, it’ll show.

7. The more you write, the easier it gets because your brain becomes fitter. The trouble is that your body may become less fit, and writing tends to induce cravings for chocolate and cake, so don’t become a writing zombie. I’ve found that a dog who needs a walk every few hours is a great help.

8.  Make sure you choose a husband / wife / partner / friend / pet who’ll understand when meals don’t appear, appointments are missed and you give up talking all together because you’re so wound up in your latest story.

9. I’m easily distracted by emails, Facebook, Twitter and the internet in general. If you have the same problem, try to be strict with the time you set aside for writing every day. I sometimes turn off the internet so I’m not tempted. Write in a place where you feel comfortable and you won’t get interrupted. (Easier said than done.)

10. Become a writer only if you really enjoy writing and you don’t mind spending a lot of time alone. If you decide to become a writer, give it all you’ve got. Learn as much as possible from others, strive to improve your work and keep going even when you feel like giving up. Make the most of every opportunity; you never know where things may lead. For example, I published my own books for ten years, and I found it really hard work. Then one day I replied to an email from Lovereading4kids, and that eventually led to me being taken on by Orion Children’s Books – a very happy ending!