How Portia The Pear Found Her Publisher

A friend I met at a writing workshop, asked me recently, how I became published after writing my book. This is a question I’m asked frequently and if this interests you, put the kettle on, get comfortable and I’ll tell you the story of… Portia The Pear. I have to tell you the whole story, because there is an element of luck, fate, or maybe serendipity to this, or perhaps I was ready and willing when the opportunity arose? I’ll let you decide.

I had rediscovered my passion for writing, and fell in love with the craft all over again. I’d also discovered a new level of proactivity, which I’ll discuss in a future blog. With this new energy, I sought out and found a local writing group, Stockport Writers who meet at The Hatworks once a month. I also joined a local poetry group, Write Out Loud, who meet at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery once a month. With the support and encouragement I found discussing writing with like-minded people, my confidence grew and so did my level of passion for the subject.

With this confidence, and heightened awareness of all things literary, I spotted a postcard on a noticeboard at Bredbury Library. It advertised a writing group which met in Marple, every Thursday night called The Storytellers Place. I went along. I was cramming in as much writing, reading and group work as I could, enjoying every minute.

As any woman knows, you share everything with your hairdresser; it’s the law. At each appointment I was babbling on about the writing groups and how fascinating it was and how I wanted to write bedtime stories for children. It was at this point where the magic started to manifest. At one of my appointments my hairdresser gave me a leaflet from Tatton Park advertising their 100 years celebration of the work of Roald Dahl, saying “I saw this and thought of you”. As part of the events taking place, there was a creative writing workshop to be held, called “How To Write Like Roald Dahl”, run by a lady called Joy Winkler. It went on to describe how Joy was Cheshire’s Poet Laureate in 2015. A poet discussing children’s books, it sounded perfect for my master plan of writing a bedtime story. When I looked into the event in more detail I found it was affordable but would mean I needed to book a day’s holiday from work. Up until this time I had always booked days to be off with my children, covering school holidays. However, I was so intrigued, I book the day off and booked myself onto the course whilst feeling like a naughty school girl playing truant!

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On the day, I drove over to Tatton Park in glorious sunshine, arriving for a 10.30 am start. I then spent the morning with the inspirational Joy Winkler as she taught the techniques for writing for children and exploring how Dahl created his fabulous characters. At lunch time we were sent into the kitchen gardens with the instruction of spending two hours developing characters and writing a story that unfolds in the gardens themselves.

 

The first sight to greet me, as I walked outside was a beautiful row of pear trees trained into perfect lines with the most sumptuous fruit hanging neatly from the branches. I had a closer look and saw each tree had a different “name” and most names were female. A very knobbly pear then caught my eye. It was all scrunched up and had dark freckly skin unlike the rest of the fruit. The shape and twists made it look like a sad face, and I knew immediately that this was my character. I sat quietly and wrote and two hours later read out my story to the group. It was well received and Joy suggested I submit it to a publisher because it had a strong voice. I hope you are paying attention because this is the part that truly is magic.

The very next day, an email popped up telling me that a Children’s Publisher was coming to The Storytellers Place to talk about Independent Book Publishing in the following week. I quickly “Googled” the publisher and found their submission guidelines. I checked that my story was in the format they wanted, a word document. I checked and re-checked it for spelling mistakes and grammar, then drafted a cover email, attached Portia and pressed send. All I had in mind at that point was to ask for some feedback and pointers on what could be improved.

Two gentlemen from Tiny Tree Children’s Book Publishers delivered a presentation to my writing group and nervously I hung behind to speak to them after everyone had left. I then told them I had cheekily submitted my book and asked if they could tell me what they thought. The reply was that they hadn’t read it yet, they had been very busy. “That’s a ‘no’ then” I thought. I went home dejectedly and had a sulky early night.

The very next day, an email popped up this time from the publishers, telling me they loved the book and asking if I could call to the office to discuss it with them. After bouncing around my office like Tigger, I replied and agreed to the meeting.

For what happened next you can read my blog “Feedback and re-writes” dated March 6th 2017 followed by “Validation and Illustration” dated March 13th 2017.

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So what do you think? My hairdresser told me of a writing workshop, where I wrote a story and was encouraged to submit it. A writers group introduced me to a publisher, who said “yes”. Was it luck, serendipity or fate? Or was it the amount of work learning the techniques in the months before, that meant I was ready with an almost finished piece of writing when an opportunity arose? I am unsure. I worked hard and put in long hours, but surely the email arriving the day after writing my story announcing a publisher was coming to me, suggests more powerful forces were in play, doesn’t it?

Fate or luck, one thing is certain, to be published you must have first written. As Joy Winkler emphasises “you must sit and write” and who knows where it will lead you, if you do? A great quote from Stephen King sums this up “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

If anyone has any questions on creative writing, the process of being published or simply what to expect at writing groups, please ask. This is my passion and if I can help in anyway, I’d be glad to do so.

Good luck and happy writing.

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From new girl to “writer”

A creative breakthrough at my local writing group; promotion from “new girl” status to “meeting chair” albeit for one session only (for now, but I can dream!)

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Is this validation that my writing and knowledge has reached a point worthy of sharing with other writers? If so, couldn’t be more thrilled!

Last year, I joined a writing group; Stockport Writers, based at the very beautiful Stockport Hatworks Museum. We meet once a month to write with various prompts to help stir the creative juices. 

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One of the charms of this writing group is it’s ever-changing attendee list. Some group members have been attending since the group first formed, others have joined over the past year; some new members are just beginning their writing journey.

Each writer has their own unique skill set, genre, preferred writing style. From the impact of short stories, to the challenge of a novel, everyone has their own path. Whether editor or poet, college student or student of life, who writes purely for the pleasure in doing so, all are welcome. It’s a magical mix.

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Each month, a writer leads the group through the session; from free-writing warm up, to a reading of last month’s homework (or any other piece) through to the use of prompts, followed by more readings, and finally the closing prompt or exercise to close.

When I was asked to step up to the role at next month’s meeting, I was honoured to do so. It’s an absolute privilege.

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Now all I need to do is come up with a plan of what topics we can cover. Errrrmmmmm…

Any ideas from fellow writers? 

The Ham Sandwich Incident

I’m human. I confess. Not only did I miss yesterday’s Napowrimo challenge, but as my response will show, when trying to please everyone, I usually get it all wrong!

Please note, unusually for me, there are religious references, but please don’t misinterpret my jest as an intention to offend anyone… if I do, add it to my list of imperfections and please accept my deepest apologies. I merely make light of today’s struggles to keep the faith (particularly mine).

Please could I also ask anyone reading this who knows me personally, please don’t tell my Mother-In-Law I posted this across the entire world wide web, I’m in trouble enough!

Napowrimo Day 20 

The Prompt:

Write a poem that incorporates the vocabulary and imagery of a specific sport or game.

My Response: (with a very loose reference to a card game)

The Ham Sandwich Incident

It was Jack’s 5th birthday

I had everything;

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Bouncy castle, candles,  

balloons, ribbons and bows. 

Birthday cake and presents,  

a great big gazebo.

I had buns for hotdogs,  

pizzas and lots of treats,  

when I was reminded;

no-one will eat meat!

“Today is Good Friday,

everyone eats fish!”

“Your buffet looks lovely

but was fish on your list?”

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Fish finger sandwiches!

Yes, they will surely do.

I pre-heated the oven

and hurriedly set to.

I saw her pick the ham

off the pizza that I served.

Ate fish fingers, hungrily.

Was that a tiny burp?

The party in full swing.

The buffet went down well.

Hotdogs and ham sandwiches

devoured without hard sell.

Mum in law picked her food.

No meat touched her hands.

Eyes darted to the buns,

filled with freshly carved ham.

Yet she was adamant;

It was a day of fish!

Nothing would persuade her

to pass meat across her lips.

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At 5pm I walked in,

her mouth full of ham barm!

She hung her head in shame,

asked; would it do her harm?

“It was only one” she said

“I’m sure you’ll be forgiv’n”

I reassured her more,

that God will surely listen.

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The card game that evening;

she couldn’t win a hand.

She was sure of the cause

“Eating that damned ham!”

She was being punished

for lack of discipline.

Bad juju on her game.

She’d never win again.

As I was the tempter,

I suggested we atone.

Back into the kitchen,

Produced the hot x buns.

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This will surely fix it,

cancel wrong with a right?

She agreed and ate it

with one almighty bite.

I’m glad God in Heaven

was pleased with her once more,

but it was a reminder;

He’s always keeping score.

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The Uncomfortable Middle

Again today has been a busy day. More birthday parties and social gatherings. I actually wrote this poem whilst sat beside a bouncy castle and a fully grown Imperial Stormtrooper! It may not be my finest work, but I’m still completing the Napowrimo challenge.

Day 15 of Napowrimo 

The Prompt:

Write a poem that reflects on the nature of being in the middle of something. The poem could be about being on a journey and stopping for a break, or the gap between something half-done and all-done. Half a loaf is supposedly better than none, but what’s the difference between half of a very large loaf and all of a very small one? Let your mind wander into the middle distance, betwixt the beginning of things and the end. Hopefully, you will find some poetry there!

My response:

The Uncomfortable Middle

Too far from the shore to swim back.

Destination still out of reach.                     

The initial energy that pumped

through your veins has faded away.

b;og7Success and glory is yet unknown.

The middle is where we stretch and grow.

Dig deep and persevere.

Cultivate a belief in your abilities,

your unlimited potential.

Aching limbs, heavy muscles, heavy hearts.

Tired, we must pull ourselves up.

Clarity has left us.

Confused, muddled, blurred.

Search your mind. Search your heart.

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Seek out that elusive vision.

In stillness, listen for the quiet,

muffled voice amongst the turmoil

struggling to be heard. A whisper,

buried deep within, pleads “Try again.”

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Find the glowing ember and fan

the flames with courage. Let desire burn.

Allow hope to shine through. Stand tall.

Be heard.

Try, try, try.

Validation and Illustration

In reply to my resubmitted manuscript, the publisher sent a brief email back, saying “Well done… we’ll go forward with that.”

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It may be the best email I have ever received. I printed it out and shared it with anyone I could find. If I was athletic and if I wasn’t sat in a very busy corporate office at the time, I would have done a lap of honour. As it was, I paced around a lot with a ridiculous grin across my face, pumped with adrenaline. Success!

It’s a strange experience when you receive an acknowledgement that what you have produced is good enough to print.

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It’s a validation that your work is viewed by at least one person as acceptable. The strangeness comes from the unfamiliarity with that approval. When it happens, it doesn’t quite seem real. It’s almost an out of body experience. I’d love to hear from other writers if this is how they felt, or if I’m alone in this!

So back to practicalities: The next step was to secure an illustrator.

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I submitted some samples a good friend of mine had created, and the publisher had requested samples from illustrators they had worked with previously.

After comparing all samples, a choice was made.

I opened an email one day, simply saying “What do you think of this?”  

When I opened the file, I saw my main character staring back at me on screen. Only this was the illustrator’s interpretation of my character, not the image I had been carrying around in my head for months.

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It was like meeting a friend for the very first time, combined with the surprise of opening a Christmas present.

I was thrilled. The colours were bright, the characters friendly and the overall feel fit perfectly with what you would expect from a children’s picture book.

I wanted to show the world, but knew I had to keep it to myself. The publisher had been very clear that they manage the release of information about the book, to maximise the impact of the marketing. So I kept the concept illustration close to me and just peeped at it every hour on the hour for a number of days. I smiled to myself each time. This was really happening.  

The next communication from the Publisher was “We need to talk contracts.”