Dave Rudden is the author of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy, and is our partnering author for YA books in our #DACBaccess month. Here is why Dave is supporting the open month:
When I’m not writing, I run a live roleplay show in school for 10-year kids. It’s glorious and chaotic – the kids all play characters, I and the other performer tell them a story, and they provide suggestions at crucial moments. That’s all stories are really – a selection of crucial moments, and what people decide to do in them. We’ve had kids defeat the story’s villain by proposing to them, unlock magical cages by singing, and teachers are always so impressed that the kids not only accept the crucial moments we throw them, but are well fit to come up with a host of solutions that have sometimes surprised even us. We could just tell the kids a story, but we learn a lot more when we listen and they tell us theirs.
The thing is, kids are immersed in nick-of-time rescues and famous last stands from the moment they’re old enough to be read to. By the age of ten, kids are fluent in adventure. Proficient in peril. They soak up every rule and detail of the stories they hear because it’s at that age that you believe you may need them.
The only time I’ve ever seen a kid nonplussed is when we unveil the artwork for our characters. The leader of our party of heroes is Lady Jayna Falchion, who has armour, a sword that talks, and dark skin. When we clicked through to the slide with Jayna’s picture (drawn by the very talented Dearbháil Clarke) a little black girl at the back of the room exclaimed;
‘She looks like me!’
She didn’t say this with joy, or pride, or interest, but with a blank sort of shock. She simply had no frame of reference for seeing herself as a main character, let alone a leader of a band of heroes. When I hear white, straight people (usually men) complain that the world is being taken over by diversity, that every character now must be a person of colour, or LGBTQ or other than themselves, I don’t think about the numbers –
(though the numbers are damning. Bigotry is as irrational as it is systemic, but research shows that, no matter how loud certain protests are, no such takeover is taking place)
– I think about just how much children learn from story. Stories tell kids what is possible, and what is impossible, and all the odds in between. We are soaked in the visual language of narrative, and when you present heroes as all white and straight and able-bodied, you are lying to your audience.
You are letting them know where they stand, telling them that crucial moments and the options bound into them only belong to others, and not to them. It’s our responsibility as authors and creators – especially those who have directly or indirectly benefited from being on the inside looking out – to not right this wrong, but to make room for the voices that have not yet had a chance to speak, because you can only learn so much from telling your own story again and again and again. There are better stories out to hear.
At fifteen, Beth began uploading her debut novel THE KISSING BOOTH to story-sharing platform Wattpad, where it quickly accumulated over 19 million reads. She was picked up by Random House UK at the age of seventeen while she was still doing her A Levels.
Now studying Physics at Exeter University, Beth has already had THE KISSING BOOTH, ROLLING DICE, and OUT OF TUNE all published with Random House along with being shortlisted for multiple awards, receiving the Scout Birthday Honours Writing Badge and having been named one of Time magazine’s 16 Most Influential Teenagers in 2013 she has just been listed at No.6 on The Times’ Top 20 Under 25 list.
In celebration of Beth joining the agency, Emma Winter was able to grab a moment with Beth to discuss the realities of being a published author, where she gets her inspiration and what she’s reading this summer!
Emma Winter:When did you tell your parents that you were contributing to WattPad? Were they surprised by your success?
Beth Reekles: I told them about three months into posting my first story on Wattpad that I was posting a book I was writing online and it had maybe twenty thousand reads at that point. They didn’t really know what to say – and had nothing to compare the number of reads to, so didn’t think much of it.
When The Kissing Booth started getting 400,000, then 900,000, then two million, then five million, reads, they started to take more notice. They were certainly surprised when I revealed I’d been writing avidly since they gave me a laptop when I was twelve, and I hadn’t told them all that time!
EW:Has being a published author been anything like you expected?
BR: It’s been a complete whirlwind, and it’s all happened very quickly! I don’t really know what I was expecting from being a published author, but it’s certainly been very exciting – meeting other authors, being on TV to talk about my books… and I still go looking for my book every time I go into a Waterstones!
EW:Where did you, or where do you, get your inspiration from?
BR: I’ve always written the kind of books I like to read. When I was younger, I wrote more fantasy, but the last few years I’ve preferred teen romance. I look to teen movies, YA books, and movie and TV soundtracks when I need inspiration. And, I’ve always admired JK Rowling, and find her a huge source of inspiration.
EW:Do you ever find inspiration hard to come by? If so, what do you do when this happens?
BR: Sometimes if I get stuck on a book, I try watching movies or reading books in the same genre as I’m writing, but if that doesn’t work, I’ll put on some soundtracks to something like Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, or Pirates of the Caribbean – usually they’re exciting and motivational enough in themselves to get me writing, but they also make for great background music.
EW:What were your favourite bits to write in your novels?
BR: I love writing dramatic scenes – when everything seems to be going wrong for the protagonist, it’s always the most fun to write.
EW:What was the hardest bit?
BR: The hardest bit is almost always the start. I’ll come up with the ideas for the novel, and have an idea of where I want it to go, but I always find it hard to figure out the best way to start the book. I must’ve had a dozen different first chapters for The Kissing Booth before I found one I could work with.
EW:Where’s your writing space and what’s your writing process like?
BR: I usually write in my bedroom. When I was in school, I couldn’t write in the daytime, so I used to write later on in the evening and at night. And as for my writing process, I’ve never been able to plot stories – I always end up with a two totally different stories! I tend to come up with a blurb for the story and my characters first, and work from there.
EW:What would your top three YA romance films be?
BR:John Tucker Must Die, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Easy A.
EW:How did you feel when you were listed on Time’s ‘Most Influential Teen’ list of 2013?
BR: It was incredible! I had no idea about it beforehand, so when I saw it online I ran around my flat at uni waking people up to tell them. It was brilliant to be on the same list as people like Malia Obama, Malala, and Lorde.
EW:What are you reading this summer?
BR: I’ve read 23 books this summer already, and I’ve still got a huge pile left I’d like to get through! At the top of my to-be-read pile is Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder, Solitaire by Alice Oseman, and A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin.
EW:Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you
BR: I do a lot of knitting in my spare time. My grandmother taught me when I was little and I took it up again about two years ago. It’s really relaxing, and I’m working on a massive cable-stitch blanket.
EW:Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
BR: Write, write, write! They say practice makes perfect, and if you want to write, just write. Even if you never show it to anyone, it’ll be such a great feeling when you finish your first book. I’d also recommend posting some of your work up to a site like Wattpad. It’s really encouraging to see people reading and enjoying your work, and the communities are really supportive.
EW:And one last bonus question – Can you pitch each of your novels in a tweet?
BR: What would you do if you fell for your best friend’s brother? That’s what happens to Elle – but can her friendship with bestie Lee survive? (The Kissing Booth)
Starting a new school is the perfect time to reinvent yourself. But does Madison stay with the cool kids at school or stand by the nerd? (Rolling Dice)
Ashley’s life is perfect on paper, but new boy-next-door Todd is going to make her realise that none of her life is as it seems… (Out of Tune)
THE KISSING BOOTH, ROLLING DICE and OUT OF TUNE are available to buy now. Get your copies today and follow Beth on twitter for all the latest updates.
Kim Slater is the debut author of SMART, an uplifting young adult novel about an extraordinary boy’s struggle to be understood.
In celebration of SMART’s publication day Kim has stopped by the Darley Anderson Blog to talk to Vicki Le Feuvre about everything from finding her agent (that’s our own Clare Wallace) to SMART’s book launch (that’s tonight).
Vicki Le Feuvre:First of all, your debut novel SMART is out now and getting great reviews. How has your week of publication gone so far?
Kim Slater: It’s been so exciting! I’ve been overwhelmed by the reviews that have been coming in from both children and adult book reviewers. I’ve been busy doing interviews with local press, a blog tour and making preparations for my book launch party at Waterstones, Nottingham.
VLF:Knowing how prolific you are on Twitter, we wondered if you would be able to summarise the plot of Smart in the form of a tweet for us?
KS: When brilliant artist Kieran finds a dead body in the river, he vows to uncover the truth but reveals well-kept secrets much closer to home. 140 characters
VLF:Kieran is such a great character with an utterly compelling and unique voice, I know I fell in love with him the moment I picked up your submission. How did you create his character? Was there any sort of process to this or did you find his voice came naturally to you?
KS: Kieran’s voice literally jumped in my head and within a few days, his character felt almost fully formed. Within days I could tell you how he would react to certain things, what he would say in certain situations. It felt like a gift as a debut author!
VLF:A lot of the reviews have already compared Smart to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and have commented favourably on how you never force Kieran into any particular category or label the specific learning difficulties which require him to have a personal teaching assistant at school. Was this a conscious choice for you? Did you not want to pigeonhole Kieran’s character by giving him a label?
KS: I’m very flattered by comparisons to Curious Incident but I never set out to label Kieran in any way. I just knew that he thought in a different way to most boys his age and that he was on the Spectrum – as I personally think many of us are!
I didn’t want to define him in terms of that, the only thing I felt quite strongly was that he was high-functioning and that his particular way of thinking was going to be an advantage in investigating the mystery and also holding a mirror up to the reader in terms of human behaviour through Kieran’s eyes.
VLF:I have heard this rumour going round the agency for a while now and I wanted to ask – is it true that you wrote the first draft of Smart in eleven days?
KS: Yes, this IS true. Initially, I sent Smart out to three agencies who all asked for the full manuscript. The trouble was, I had only written about eight-thousand words of it . . . I know, I know, agents HATE it when writers submit like that!
Thankfully it was half-term and I was off work so I just buckled down and wrote the remainder of the manuscript, averaging 4-5k words a day. I would not recommend this, it was very stressful! But because of Kieran’s character being so well-rounded in my head, the book really did almost write itself.
VLF:Do you have any particular writing habits or requirements? Do you write in any one particular place, for example? On computer or by hand?
KS: I do nearly all my writing sat on the bed and I’m very fortunate to have a lovely view of the River Trent, where Kieran found a dead body.
I can touch-type so using a laptop is definitely the most efficient way for me to get words down.
I am self-employed and work full-time in schools managing budgets, so I set the alarm each morning and write between 6-8 am. On weekends I write Saturday and Sunday mornings until lunchtime.
As you might have guessed, I have discovered that mornings are my best creative time!
VLF:Smart is an excellently challenging read for young adults which engages with a lot of real-world issues. It’s definitely a book that I would have devoured at Kieran’s age. I wondered what sort of books you read at that age and whether these had any influence on you when it came to writing Smart?
KS: I have always been a prolific reader even as a child and I read far and wide from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and C S Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia to Roald Dahl and his Tales of the Unexpected. I think I was definitely influenced by these amazing authors because it taught me the value of great characters and a strong storyline.
VLF:Saying that, I did actually devour Smart as an adult, I think that Kieran’s story works brilliantly as a crossover novel. Was this something that you had in mind while you were writing? Did you have any particular reader in mind?
KS:Smart began life as a short story for my Creative Writing assignment. One of my specialist modules was Writing for Children & Young Adults, so I did intend it to be read by a YA audience. But as the book grew, I sensed adults would also enjoy reading it, too because Kieran’s observations about the world seem to ring true to people of all ages.
VLF:For the budding authors who frequent our blog I wondered if you could give us your top three pieces of advice for new writers?
Spend some time getting to know yourself as a writer.
Identify your best time for working and carve out some time around it. Do you work best writing from a rough plan or without one? Are you more productive writing in one particular place? These things are important because when you get them right – and everybody is different – you’re giving yourself the best chance to get down to writing without distraction.
Learn what you write best.
If you’re not sure, experiment. Try writing lots of different pieces with different points of views and in different genres. I’m still using ideas I developed for MA assignments – writing courses of all descriptions are great for building a base of ideas/short pieces. Your first instincts are often a good indication to what comes naturally – nine times out of ten my character voices come to me in first person.
Make good beginnings.
Agents, publishers, readers all like an exciting, grabbing beginning to any story. Below, I talk about how I redrafted Smart a new beginning following independent edit advice. There’s no need to get hung up about this during the first draft, you can always come back to it any time, in fact sometimes it’s easier to have a better overview of what it needs once you’ve reached the end of your novel.
VLF:And how did you go about getting an agent yourself?
KS: The three agencies I mentioned earlier all passed on Smart when I sent in the full manuscript. Of course, I was very disappointed but still, I really believed I had something with this book. I had sent submissions out before embarking on my degree and MA and never moved from the slush pile, so to get three requests for the full manuscript was a big step.
I’d finished my MA module by then so I decided to pay for an independent edit. Sometimes, when you’ve worked really closely and intensely with a manuscript, it’s difficult to stand back and evaluate what you need to do in order to improve it.
I would say the two most important developments that came from this redraft was that, on the editor’s advice, I cut the first three chapters so Smart began in a more exciting place and I lightened up a little on some of the difficult scenes and issues so the book was not too bleak for its intended YA audience.
The editor believed in Smart so much she recommended it to several agencies she worked with. Amazingly, I got five offers of agency representation – of which the Darley Anderson Literary Agency was one!
VLF:Kieran is an avid fan of L S Lowry’s paintings which is mirrored beautifully in the fantastic cover art by Helen Crawford-White. What was it about Lowry that made you choose his work in particular as the object of Kieran’s adoration?
KS: I agree, the illustrator Helen Crawford-White and the Pan Macmillan art department have done such a fantastic job with the cover, I still can hardly believe how apt and beautiful it is when I hold the book in my hands.
I had just started to develop Smart the short story into Smart the YA novel when my fiancé Mac and I went to a Lowry exhibition one weekend, at the Lakeside Art Centre in Nottingham where we live. Mac already really liked Lowry’s art and although I wasn’t massively fussed, I was happy to go along as I’d seen his matchstick people and dogs and thought it all looked quite pleasant.
The exhibition was organised into time periods of Lowry’s life and I was knocked off my feet when we got to the paintings he’d done after the death of his mother. All the people and animals were gone, the paintings were bleak and lonesome and they touched me deeply. The fact it was so unexpected made it even more poignant for me.
That influence translated directly into the Smart manuscript when I got home. Suddenly, Kieran was given a lifeline in his troubles; Lowry’s art inspired and helped him cope.
My great hope is that some of Smart’s young readers might seek out one or two of the paintings online that I’ve named in the book and see how they feel about them.
The thing that I feel compelled to start off by moaning about today isn’t directly linked to covering letters but it is very close to them, too often it is pressed right up against them. I’m talking about my personal nemesis. These are the bane of my working life. A scourge on a literary agent’s very existence known as:
The plastic folder.
You know those thin envelopes of translucent plastic? Most of the time they have a strip attached with holes in it so that they can fit into ring binders but not always. Having looked them up on Wikipedia I found out that they are also known as plastic wallets and plastic pockets. Even deciding what to call them is an irritating process.
They seem entirely harmless, helpful even. I know that anyone who has ever included them in their submission has only done so in the interest of making the reading process as painless as possible for us. What bad could possibly come from a little strip of thin plastic, right? But don’t get taken in by the plastic folder propaganda, my friend.
It is when they are introduced to the carefully balanced ecosystem of a submission pile that they turn nasty.
Plastic folders ruin the integrity of any submission pile. They play tricks on them, slipping out from underneath, slowly sliding to the right so that the tower of stories leans nearer and nearer to oblivion, even lying in wait within a small pile to skid out from between the fingers of an unsuspecting agency editor.
They are clever. They are organised. They must be stopped.
And so we seamlessly segue into the final piece of advice I have to impart about how to write your covering letter. If you take nothing else away from these top ten tips (although I hope you do take a few other titbits with you) let it be this:
As much as you can, be as helpful as you can, in any way that you can.
Make the basic information about your submission immediately available to anyone even glancing at your covering letter. Have your name and the title, genre and target audience of your novel right up there at the top either in your very first paragraph or right underneath your elevator pitch (if you have decided to take my advice on that front).
Something like this would be great:
My name is Hugh Jass and I am submitting a fantasy novel aimed at the young adult market entitled THE UNFORTUNATE NAMES PARENTS GIVE THEIR CHILDREN.
For one thing, an agent could pick that covering letter up and immediately recognise that it is a submission. This may sound like a very simple distinction but when you are dealing with hundreds of submissions at a time a large portion of your week can end up being spent just on working out whether a letter or an email is a submission or not.
Another deceptively simple piece of advice that I can offer to make your covering letters as helpful as possible would be to make it easy to read.
Handwritten letters do bring a certain personal touch, granted, but the other thing they often bring to the table is being at best a challenge to decipher, at worst completely illegible.
Similarly, using a tiny and/or confusing font won’t help your would-be agent. Neither will overly bright coloured paper/backgrounds, using a font colour that is difficult to see or any formatting in an email that might go wrong (such as pictures that jump in front of the text or gif logos that have a tendency to stop the email from opening successfully).
While we’re on the subject of formatting, consider how the layout of your covering letter can help the whole reading process run smoothly. Simply using the traditional structure of a letter (whether you are sending your submission by post or email) is a world of helpful.
Name, address, phone number and email address up in the right-hand corner, everything else neatly spaced along the left-hand side of the page beneath a ‘Dear So-and-so’ and above a nice sign off ending with your name written out in full once more for posterity. Beautiful.
Including that inverted section in the right-hand corner with your contact details is particularly helpful too. Your contact details are the thing you want your chosen agent to be looking for in a heady haze of excitement – make sure they can find them immediately.
Ideally, you want to make it as easy as possible for an agent to get in touch with you, giving them as many options of how they can contact you as possible. Just in case.
Of course, in the body of the letter you can put your paragraphs in any order you think is best. Still, try as much as possible to make each point naturally move into the next, if only to show off your writing skills. Particularly avoid jumping about thematically between personal information and talking about your book only because this can be confusing and does not present the best impression of your writing abilities.
Last of all, keep it compact. If you do have to go over to the second page it is not the end of the world but a covering letter that stays under one page always looks better (especially in postal submissions) and is generally about the right length in most situations. Besides this, it is helpful too if your covering letter gets to the point quickly and doesn’t bury important information. Not to mention that keeping your covering letter compact and focused (all together now) shows off your writing skills.
And showing off your talent as a writer is what your whole submission is really all about.
Well, there we have it then.
In the interest of being helpful, here’s a summary of Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter –
1. Don’t self-deprecate – be positive and endlessly enthusiastic about your work
2. Include one or two concise paragraphs about yourself, leading with any writing-specific information and letting them know how fantastic you are in general
3. Open with an elevator pitch of your story to grab the agent’s attention. Make your work the focus of your covering letter
4. Address your covering letter to your hand-picked agent personally
5. Avoid email addresses and formatting choices that make it look like you aren’t really taking this all that seriously
6. Avoid covering letter clichés like the plague
7. Proofread until the letters start jumping around the page taking turns to dance with each other
8. Save discussing your pseudonym ideas and marketing vision for another day
9. Only include reader feedback if it is positive and comes from a source that the agent can assign weight to
10. Do everything you can to make reading your covering letter a smooth ride for your chosen agent
Do all this and your covering letter should act as the perfect virtual handshake to your future agent.
Oh and just for me, please don’t send your covering letter inside a plastic folder if you can possibly avoid it. The plastic folders are not on your side. But we are.
Have you ever spoken to someone in publishing or browsed the submission portion of an agency’s website and wondered what on earth we’re all talking about?
Well, wonder no more. Here in Dictionary Corner we will strive to shed some light on the technical jargon and industry lingos that often confuse new writers.
It’s the readership category that has taken the publishing world by storm recently.
Which is odd, because the term has been around for at least three years. The earliest use of the term that we can find was in 2009 when St Martin’s Press launched a competition looking for fiction that was ‘kind of an older YA or “new adult.”’
And that basically sums up what ‘new adult’ is: fiction for older young adults. Specifically it’s fiction aimed at 14-35 year olds (quite a wide spectrum you might think).
It will have storylines that will be enjoyed by older teenagers, twenty-somethings and the people newly into their thirties alike but which might include themes that would not be appropriate for the tweenagers and younger.
They will largely be coming-of-age stories and will cover the difficult in-between years that have yet to really find their place in the market.
Often the protagonist will begin as a teenager and will grow up over the course of the plot, encountering events that will be of interest to all people across this age bracket but which might be less riveting to your average reader fast approaching or fondly remembering their 40th birthday. Accordingly, books set during the university years appear to be at the epicentre of this new genre.
It seems to be generally agreed that novels which can be called ‘new adult’ will include scenes of a sexual nature. They may also have themes of violence and the characters are allowed to swear as much as they want.
There has been much debate on the issue already. You should check out the articles and discussions online for more information because it is quite interesting how this is dividing opinions.
As far as we can tell ‘new adult’ fiction is basically akin to a movie rated 15 rather than PG-12. When publishers call something ‘new adult’ they will basically be saying: people in their late teens will love it, young professionals will love it, but maybe keep it away from the under 14s until they’re a little older.
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!