Today is the publication day for Michelle Harrison’s hotly anticipated and chilling new YA standalone thriller, UNREST. Michelle is the award-winning fantasy writer of the THIRTEEN trilogy. THE THIRTEEN TREASURES won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2009 and THE THIRTEEN SECRETS was shortlisted for the Independent Booksellers Award 2011.
Sophie Gordon, the Children’s Book Agent at the Darley Anderson Agency, interviewed Michelle about UNREST and her journey to publication.
In a tweet can you tell us what UNREST is about?
Since a near fatal accident, 17-year-old Elliott suffers sleep paralysis and out-of-body experiences in which he connects with the dead.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea came to me through my sister, who’s lived with sleep paralysis and out-of-body experiences since she was a teenager. I’ve always found her recollections both horrifying and fascinating, and one day I wondered what would happen if someone who was having an out-of-body experience returned to their body to find it had been possessed by another entity.
How and why did you first start writing?
I’ve always been an avid reader and got a lot of pleasure from other people’s books, so I wanted to try creating my own. I began writing short stories when I was about fourteen and attempted a novel that only progressed to a few chapters before I gave up. I also kept diaries for a few years although I eventually had the sense to destroy them – I’m sure my mum was reading them while I was at school. It was all good practise.
How did you go about getting published?
I’d seen The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook mentioned on a couple of authors’ websites so once I was about halfway through my first manuscript (The 13 Treasures) I bought a copy and started to read the sections on how to submit work to agents and publishers, then made a list of all the agents who dealt with children’s books. Over the next four years I worked my way through that list, collecting rejection slips and reworking my novel as I went along. Ironically, I avoided submitting to the Darley Anderson Agency for some time because I felt intimidated by its high-profile clients, but after a significant rewrite I had the confidence to submit. I couldn’t believe it when I was taken on.
What do you like doing when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing I’m usually thinking about it. But I also love reading – obviously, binge-watching a good DVD box set (although I rarely watch ordinary TV), visiting old or spooky places, watching live bands, bookbinding, drawing, and recently I’ve been getting mad urges to bake.
What are your favourite books?
There are so many but here are a few:
The Merrybegot by Julie Hearn
Leaving Poppy by Kate Cann
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth
Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee
The Witches by Roald Dahl
Wideacre by Philippa Gregory
Road to Nowhere by Christopher Pike
What is the maxim that you live by?
Every now and then I read Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata, although it’s probably too long to be considered a maxim. So, along the same lines, this is something I ‘liked’ on a friend’s Facebook page a few days ago:
Always be a first-rate version of yourself, and not a second-rate version of someone else.
And finally, what would be your top tips for aspiring authors hoping to get published?
Don’t rush it. My first mistake was sending work out before it was ready to be seen. Try to leave a few weeks between finishing something and editing it, the space makes mistakes and slow parts much easier to weed out.
Forget querying one agent/publisher at a time. If they take three months to respond that’s only four queries a year. Query half a dozen at a time with your sample chapters and synopsis. If an agent is interested and requests a full manuscript, that’s the time to offer it on an exclusive basis.
For a while I kept a file of other authors’ ‘how I got published’ stories. As well as being inspirational it helps to read about other writers’ struggles and to know you’re not alone.
Finally, don’t give up, however long it takes. Success is sweeter when you’ve worked hard for it, and you never know if it’s just around the corner.
From all of us at the Darley Anderson Agency – Happy Publication Day Michelle!
You can visit Michelle’s fantastic website here.