Thursday, 27 June 2013

Announcement post: Hazel and Daisy are going to Random House!

Some authors take a while to realise that what they want to do is write books.

That’s never really been my problem. Actually, I can’t remember a single moment in my life when I haven’t known that I wanted to make up stories for other people to read. As a toddler, one of my favourite activities was watching my father write his books. He did it longhand, with a bright purple pen on a yellow legal pad, and the process totally fascinated me. It looked like random scrawl, but when he gave the pages to his secretary she’d hand back impeccably typed-up drafts. From watching him, I came to the (not completely illogical) conclusion that writing and reading was a telepathic process, so I wrote my first book before I actually knew how to read. I doubt it was very good. I think it was about rabbits.
This is a very roundabout way of explaining that, for my whole entire life, my single burning ambition has been to publish a novel. 

I’m going to have to come up with a new ambition.

As you all know, I began the year by finding myself an agent. My agent, Gemma Cooper from The Bent Agency, helped me rework my book, and put it out on submission to publishers. Then one day Natalie from Random House (Random House! Random House!) called Gemma up and invited us to their offices for lunch.

What happened when we got there was kind of overwhelming. They hadn’t just set out lunch, they’d recreated Hazel and Daisy’s midnight feast from the book. We drank ginger beer and ate coffee-and-walnut cake, and Natalie and Annie, the publishing director, told me that they loved Murder Most Unladylike. Actually, they wanted to pitch it as Agatha Christie for 10-12 year olds, and how did I feel about turning the book into a series? 

As I told them at the time, I felt like that was the best idea I’d ever heard.

And then Random House decided that they wanted to publish it.

So I can now announce that my debut novel and the first book in the Wells and Wong Mystery series, Murder Most Unladylike, will be available to buy from all good bookstores in spring 2014. Actually, you can already pre-order it from Amazon UK. (I know, right?! I know. Go on, buy six copies each.) 

Murder Most Unladylike even has its very own page on the Random House website, complete with an (utterly spiffing) synopsis:

Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t, really.)

But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there’s more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.

Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?

Isn’t that great? 

I’m still slightly struggling to believe all of this wonderfulness. The cover is in the works, Natalie’s editing notes are on their way to me, and my name can now be seen on the Random House website next to Paul Stewart’s (this sends me into a spiral of desperate excitement. I seriously IDOLISED Paul Stewart as a child. I read the Edge Chronicles and then put badly-disguised banderbears into everything I wrote for about three years). 

Spot the bird

And the excitement’s not going to be over in spring 2014, either. The deal is for three books, so I’m delighted to say that I’m going to get to work with Natalie and Random House Children’s Books on two more stories about Hazel, Daisy and their investigatory shenanigans. Isn’t that amazing?

Natalie and I celebrating the beginning of our very own detective partnership
I’m so pleased that my sleuths have found the home that they have. Natalie is incredibly enthusiastic about Murder Most Unladylike (which is pretty amazing in and of itself), but she’s also got a lot of cool new ideas for how to make it, and the two books that follow it, even better. I can’t wait to get started.

You know what? I’m really enjoying 2013.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

My first writers' retreat: Team Cooper 2013

Last weekend I went to my first ever writers' retreat, organised by the best of all agents, Gemma Cooper, especially for her clients.

What is a writers' retreat? I hear you ask. (I hear this because I am psychic. Or maybe you haven't asked, and I'm just wrong. Whatever. I'm going to tell you anyway.)

This is not what a writers' retreat is
I think a lot of people have vague, slightly religious visions of a large house in the forest, filled with ethereal people in muumuus who look a lot like Margaret Atwood.

Maybe that is what happens sometimes. I don't know. But the writers' retreat I went to consisted of a group of people talking enthusiastically about everything from Doctor Who to ballroom-dancing unicorns and taking frequent breaks for cake, wine and workshops.

The workshops - which included a talk on the publishing process by Annalie Grainger of Walker Books and a seminar on school visits by Mo O'Hara (who, judging by the presentation she gave, does THE BEST school visits ever, complete with comical fish impressions) - were completely fantastic. I came out a lot more confident about my own writing process, and desperate to get started on about ten new projects. Oddly enough, though, I think the most exciting part of the weekend was just being able to spend time with the other members of Team Cooper.

Even though I spend my working days with people whose job it is to create and sell books about time-travelling pirates and sexy Russian soldier witches and then come home to a boyfriend who last week told me that he wanted to change his last name to Ladle, it's sometimes quite difficult to explain to them that my head is full of people without sounding totally nuts. So it's pretty nice to hang out with similarly afflicted weirdos, who, when you begin to describe the intricate lives of your characters, say "THAT IS SO COOL!" and actually mean it, and then tell you about their own brain-children. On the retreat, we were all mad, and that was OK.

Actually, this whole experience has reminded me that not only that am I lucky in my agent and her choice of clients (Gemma, you pick well!), but that I'm lucky in my genre.

Yes, you could argue that there's a vast difference between board books and YA, and also that a realistic middlegrade novel and a middlegrade novel about fairies in the underworld, despite sitting on the shelf next to each other, are really poles apart. But all of these vastly different kinds of books get gathered up together in one big glorious mush of 'children's fiction', and I'm actually incredibly glad about that. Because what it provides is the most incredible opportunity for creativity from the people who write it.

I went into the retreat weekend thinking of myself as an (upper) middlegrade writer, with maybe some leanings towards YA, and came out of it reminded (by Gemma's excellent picture book and non-fiction workshop, among many other things) that because I'm a children's writer I've actually got license to try my hand at anything I want to. I could write a picture book about dragons who bake doughnuts, or a 7+ about werewolves in space, or a non-fiction book in which historical characters fight for supremacy in a giant pit of jelly. Not that I am planning to do any of those things. But I could.

THIS is what a writers' retreat is. Team Cooper salute you. Photo credit Benjamin Scott.

As a teenager, when I was first reading Big Grown-Up Books (Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse springs to mind especially), I kept coming across descriptions of the Pain of Authorial Creation, and getting really worried. I'd always thought of writing as a basically fun, if occasionally annoying, activity, but here were all these adults wailing and groaning and straining their brain-muscles about the sheer HORROR of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). For a while I wondered if I was doing something wrong in not being so tormented. Did I need to stop writing about talking werewolf cats in space, and start an epic of the human condition?

The problem was that I didn't really want to write an epic of the human condition. I wanted to write about horrible murders and zombies and vampires and exploding universes. It took me quite a while to realise that it was totally OK to write children's books, and to love doing it.

I don't know, obviously, but I do wonder whether most children's writers have gone through a similar process of discovery, and whether it's made them more chilled than adult writers about the things they create as a result. Certainly, the rest of Team Cooper are incredibly practical and non-precious about the projects they're working on, and (like a lot of other kids' authors I've come across) they're also pretty amazing to hang out with.

All of Team Cooper have experienced those infuriating moments when you can't get words out, or when the words you do get out just look wrong. But the retreat weekend reminded me that despite the difficult times, most of the time writing should be, and is, fun for us. We write because we love to do it, because we couldn't wake up in the morning and not want to make up a story.

We may be a bit mad, but I think that we're also very lucky.