02 Aug 2016 / Totleigh Barton
When I attended the 2014 Writing for Children and Young Adults week in Totleigh Barton (Melvin Burgess, Malorie Blackman and Meg Rosoff) I was in a weird and fragile space. I had an agent and a book on submission (The Book of Learning), and I was working on polishing another (Caramel Hearts) – but the rejections were coming thick and fast. I was confident I wanted to keep writing, but I wasn’t sure I was good enough.
I’d spent at least a year editing, rather than writing new stuff, so the thought of writing exercises was terrifying – what if I’d forgotten how to write? Another niggling concern was that I’d spent huge periods of time writing completely alone, so the social aspect was slightly unnerving – did I even know how to hold a conversation any more?
Thankfully, the tutors and other attendees were really welcoming. The group consisted of people of all ages and from all kinds of backgrounds, each at different stages in their career, ranging from new writers to published authors. But there were two things everyone had in common: a love of children’s/YA fiction and a professionalattitude.
The one to one tutorials were invaluable – I learned that the recipes that structure Caramel Hearts were a strong point but still needed to feature more prominently; that I hadn’t made my character, Jack, three dimensional enough, and that another character needed to be nicer for the reader to have more sympathy with her situation.
The writing exercises were brilliant too. I have to write in silence as I find any form of noise too distracting, but I discovered the power of playing music to enhance feelings or emotions when writing, to add tension to a scene. I also found that there was enough personal time to provide a good balance between socialising, working with others and being alone.
The week was tiring yet invigorating – for me, Arvon came at precisely the right time and delivered exactly what I needed. It helped me focus on my writing when I was beginning to flag, and it distracted me from the submission process. It breathed life into the manuscript I was working on and reminded me why I was writing: for the love of it. Time at Arvon is an investment: it says I’m committing to this, I’m serious about my writing, this is what I want.
Weeks later, I signed a three-book deal with Mercier Press and The Book of Learning – Nine Lives Trilogy 1 was published in September 2015. It was chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Citywide Read for Children – a huge honour and privilege. I also completed Caramel Hearts, using advice given during the course, and just six months after signing my first book deal, it was signed by Alma Books – two book deals signed within a six-month period! Caramel Hearts was published in May 2016, and The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 is out September 2016 – that’s three books on the shelves within 12 months.
If truth be told, I’m still pinching myself – but my time at Arvon was instrumental in giving my flagging confidence a boost, breathing new life into my WIP, and also a bit of love to my self esteem. I haven’t looked back since. Thank you Arvon!
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