I wasn’t sure what to expect from this panel at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival 2015: a discussion with three writers who have all come out of the Bath Spa University MA in Writing for Young People course. I worried it was just going to be a plug for the course. It was, but only because the three authors were so inspiring that if they’d had a sign up sheet outside I think everyone would have run out shouting “shut up and take my money!” In the end, though, this talk on writers’ creative journey was very good.
The discussion was run by Ben Horslen, Editorial Director of Penguin Random House children’s books. He was just as engaged as the writers and made some very interesting points.
Sally Nicholls, author of An Island of Our Own, wonderfully animated speaker and spoke with such enthusiasm on pretty much everything. One of the surprising things she brought up was that roughly 50% of her book pitches get thrown out. Not just vague ideas, either, but fully-formed plot summaries and the like. Just imagine what wonders we haven’t been able to read by authors because their initial pitch wasn’t spot on! She also mentioned her first recollections of being an author, although seemingly it wasn’t a decision she made, it was just always something she knew to be true – she was a writer. I loved the idea that she conjured of her walking round the playground writing stories in her head from Lord Of The Rings. That is a very thought-provoking thing to tell kids who want to write.
Sam Gayton… how to describe him? Bold, confident and exactly what you’d want from a children’s author. His own origin story as a writer was a favourite of mine. He remembers being retold the story of Jurassic Park by his parents as he couldn’t go and see the film at the cinema, which sparked his imagination. It’s a great reminder that it’s not just books which can inspire a writer. (Yes I know Jurassic Park was originally a book, but sometimes we just have to face up to the fact that the film is better, and you won’t hear me say that very often. City of Bones is another example.) He would be an excellent author to visit schools, he obviously loves his book Hercufleas so much that it’s more or less committed to memory. Listening to his reading was a joy.
David Hofmeyr had his first book, Stone Rider, published in July. He’s a very precise and articulated author and some of the things he came out with over the course of the hour were worth hearing. After a question was raised from the audience about the difficulty of getting published, he gave excellent advice on how to get your book noticed. As part of the Bath Spa MA, an author’s work goes into an anthology that goes out to publishers. Handy if you’re part of the course, but if not you can enter writing competitions that can often lead to agents and publishers. I would imagine that Wattpad and similar sites are also a good place to start. I will admit to having his book in my TBR pile (that’s ‘To Be Read’ for those who don’t know), but as the subject matter doesn’t really appeal to me to it keeps slipping by. I was hoping that hearing a reading from it would rekindle the desire to read it but I’m still not sure it appeals. (This does prove the point from the previous talk that you can’t please everyone!)