Authors and Illustrators v Author-Illustrators

Monday 3 October

If someone asked you to name your favourite picture books, without referring to your bookshelves, I wonder which books you would choose?

And what would your choices reveal?

As a picture book obsessive, I have hundreds at home but believe the books which stand the test of time and go on to become the classics of tomorrow are those which spring to mind immediately, without sneaky peeks at our book piles.

Those books we remember instantly are the books which have registered in our subconscious.

It’s these books which have ignited an inextinguishable spark, just like the words to unforgettable songs when the lyrics mesh beautifully with the melodies.

Picture books are a wonderful marriage of narrative and image when they work properly. Both support and enhance each other.

Equally, there are picture books where narratives have been ruined by less-than-ideal illustrations and where wonderful illustrations have saved less-than-worthy texts.

When I decided to try and name my top ten favourite picture books, which rose to 12 instantly, I was surprised that all were in rhyme.

Rhyme Above Prose

While publishers can be reluctant to publish rhyming books, due to the difficulties of selling co-editions, they are often favoured by parents and children who enjoy the easy sing-song rhythm and flow of these books, when properly rhymed.

It took me no time at all to reel off this list, unlike my top 12 in prose which took longer to remember.

I can only guess the rhyming books were easier to recall because rhythm is deeply ingrained in our nature and hard-wired into being human. When young children hear music, most dance, nod their heads or sway their bodies in time with it.

The 12 I chose in prose took longer to think of but are nonetheless well-thumbed treasured possessions which have enriched our family life with humour, warmth and heart.

When comparing the ratio of author and illustrator books to author-illustrated books, I was pleased to see two thirds (66%) of my choices were collaborative efforts between storyteller and illustrator.

Yet within the publishing industry, amongst agents and publishers, there appears to be an increasing tendency to favour author-illustrators.

The rise of author-illustrators

I can only surmise this is due to economics and ease of working with one ‘creative’ rather than two.

But the fact that my own list is 66 per cent weighted in favour of individual authors and illustrators, demonstrates that people who are good at writing are fundamental to producing great stories.

People who are good at illustrating are the lynchpins of visual narrative interpretation. Illustrators bring little those little black squiggles of alphabet characters to life with glorious colour and imagination.

There are, of course, talented author-illustrators as my lists testify, but the industry creep towards actively seeking them over and above individual authors and illustrators does the picture book market a disservice, in my opinion.

Strong storylines and clever writing coupled with jaw-dropping illustrations will for me, at least, always win over beautifully-illustrated picture books with weak narratives – of which there are depressingly many.

I leave you with my own lists and wonder how others compare?

Do I buck the trend in favouring author and illustrator collaborations ahead of author-illustrator texts or do most people, like me, have a list which is predominantly author and illustrator led?

Feel free to comment and, as always, happy reading.

Top 12 in rhyme, in no particular order.

Zog                                                            Donaldson & Scheffler

Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book        Donaldson & Scheffler

Room on the Broom                             Donaldson & Scheffler

Giraffes Can’t Dance                            Andreae & Parker-Rees

Sir Scallywag and the Deadly Dragon Poo    Andreae & Paul

Slinky Malinki                                        Dodd

Fix-It Duck                                               Alborough

Where’s My Teddy?                                Alborough

I’m Sure I Saw a Dinosaur                    Willis & Reynolds

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: The Cat Burglar Corderoy & Lenton

Abracazebra                                              H. Docherty & T. Docherty

The Snatchabook                                    H. Docherty & T. Docherty

 

Top 12 in prose, in no particular order.

Winnie the Witch                                      Thomas & Paul

Happy Birthday Winnie                           Thomas & Paul

A House in the Woods                              Moore

Six Dinner Sid                                             Moore

Pigs Might Fly                                             Emmett & Cox

The Santa Trap                                            Emmett & Bernatene

Burglar Bill                                                   A. Ahlberg & J. Ahlberg

Mr Pusskins: A Love Story                      Lloyd

You Must Bring a Hat                               Philip & Hindley

Mr Wolf’s Pancakes                                  Fearnley

Five Minutes’ Peace                                  Murphy

The Snorgh and the Sailor                      Buckingham & Docherty

A Plea for Longer Picture Books

Making Stories Count: A Plea for Longer Picture Books

Sunday 1 May, 2016

I do not know if it is the UK in isolation or a global phenomenon, but there appears a reluctance by the publishing industry to produce picture books which go beyond 500 words.

Whilst publishers say picture books should not exceed 1,000 words many, in reality, plump for half this amount. The proof is seen on the shelves of stores like Waterstones and Foyles.

As a Mum of two boys, it is my opinion that some publishers are missing a trick.

From the ages of four upwards, children are able to concentrate for longer periods and their vocabularies have expanded enormously.

While they may be learning to read at this age, most parents still read them bedtime stories.

So, although two stories usually suffice at the age of three, it is not uncommon for parents to be reading three or, in my family’s case, four picture books a night when children turn four.

And this is the age where longer picture books come into their own.

Books like Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s “Burglar Bill” (Puffin, 1, 570 words), Jonathan Emmett and Steve Cox’s “Pigs Might Fly!” (Puffin, 1,114 words), Giles Andreae and Korky Paul’s “Sir Scallywag and the Battle of Stinky Bottom” (Puffin, 980 words), Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton’s “The Princess and the Giant” (Nosy Crow, 1, 299 words), Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb’s “It’s Snow Day” (Puffin, 1,087 words) and Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton’s “That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown” (Orchard, 924 words) enable families to read one picture book per night and sometimes a short 500 word book to round things off.

Harder to Find

Illustrated books pushing and exceeding 1,000 words, like those cited above, do exist but they are much harder to find in UK shops.

And if these books are not easily accessible, parents feel forced to move to the chapter book sections of stores, where books are text heavy with predominantly black and white illustrations.

I appreciate schools try to ease the transition with early readers in colour, but UK bookstores only appear to cater for full colour early readers in a limited capacity.

The few they sell are buried in the chapter book section of shops, not in the picture book section which is where I believe they belong.

In addition, they rarely hold the appeal of picture books in the truest sense because the language used in early readers has to be simplified to take account of the child reading the book on their own.

Is it any wonder that the enthusiasm for reading starts to wane when youngsters hit five and six?

While there are valid reasons why picture books are shorter – you do not need to describe what a character is wearing or their setting when images perform the task – to my mind some 500 words books are easily forgotten.

Story Integrity Compromised

The pictures may be bright, bold and colourful but the depth and integrity of a really good story can be lost when authors are forced to slash their words to accommodate fashion.

This isn’t an excuse for repetition or puffery but a plea to the publishing industry to recognise that four and five-year-olds are capable of sustained concentration.

Besides, when picture books are very short, the beautiful artwork of illustrators can be missed when adults turn the pages quickly due to the brevity of the story.

With a longer, more captivating story, youngsters have the opportunity to spend more time studying the illustrations.

Parents and children deserve longer picture books and 1,000 word illustrated books in 12 double page spreads cost no more to produce than picture books with only a few hundred words.

Longer Length Classics

When my children were reception class pupils (4-5 years), I read them the classic Ladybird picture book stories of “Jack and the Beanstalk” (1,778 words), “Rapunzel” (1,431 words), “Rumpelstiltskin” (1,261 words) and “The Elves and the Shoemaker” (1,260 words).

Never once did they bemoan the length of these stories. Quite the reverse, in fact.

They were engrossed in the narratives and the mind-bogglingly superb period illustrations.

So come on publishers…please re-think the narrow constraints of a 500 word picture book limitation.

One thousand words shouldn’t be out for the count, but up for the fight.

DING DING.

On Writing (Tue 16 Feb, 2016)

Wherefore Art Thou Inspiration?

To the pedants out there, please overlook the use of ‘wherefore’ in this context. I know the word really means ‘why’, rather than ‘where’, but I’m a great believer of, and proponent for, the evolutionary nature of language.

If the majority of people take wherefore to mean ‘where’, who am I to argue? Besides, I prefer this interpretation regardless of Shakespeare’s intent for Juliet’s balcony scene.

Old Will himself was never one to doff his cap and politely bow to the vocabulary norms and grammatical rules of his day. The bald-headed Bard was oft playing with language, teasing his audience and making up words.

So, if I choose to use ‘wherefore’ to mean ‘where’, I don’t think Shakespeare will be leaping out of his grave anytime soon to castigate me. (Castigate, by the way, is one his makey-uppies). Makey-uppies, incidentally, is one of mine!

Having recently read another aspiring author’s blog, I felt moved to write about the subject of inspiration.

The prompt came from the revelation about the terror they felt when unable to write – the stress and churning pit of the stomach they experienced staring at a blank screen waiting for inspiration to strike.

As someone who has experienced periods of feeling unable to write, I can empathise.

Staring at blank screen is not the answer

It is hugely frustrating when the creative spark you seek can’t be found, but staring at a blank screen and worrying, in my opinion, is not the answer.

Dwelling on something which will not materialise is not likely to make it materialise any quicker – if anything it will impede its progress.

It is better, I believe, to walk away and give your head and life some breathing space if you are able. Why beat yourself up?

That’s not an excuse for laziness and there is something to be said for being disciplined about your craft, but inspiration is a fickle fairy and often strikes when you least expect it.

Towards the end of last year, I was having difficulty writing anything.

To compound my sense of failure, I was in the throes of signing with an agent.

On the one hand I felt monumentally excited. On the other, I felt like the world’s biggest fraud of a wannabe children’s author.

What if I could never write another story?

If truth be told I didn’t experience anything like the all-encompassing anxiety the author I have referred to, felt.

I just hoped I would climb back in the literary saddle at some point with fingers ready to gallop across my keyboard with unbridled abandon.

Three months later, my fingers did perform a little tap dance and it was this little tap dance that paved the way for a theatrical solo which blew my socks off when inspiration struck.

Too much going on

With hindsight, I was unable to write because there was simply too much going on in my life.

I was preparing for Christmas on my own, wrapping and delivering presents, buying food and putting up decorations and trees single-handedly while my husband was working abroad.

In addition, I was dealing with two sick children, both of whom had a ghastly diarrhoea and vomiting bug, plus trying to empty some of the contents of my Father’s flat prior to him moving into a nursing home due to his Parkinson’s Disease.

My stress levels were high and, if truth be told, writing was at the back of my list of jobs to be accomplished.

Once Christmas had passed, my Father was settled in his new accommodation and the children had returned to school, I suddenly felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders.

I was surfacing for air and thinking about writing again.

Writing is something I do for myself. It’s an outlet for pleasure and escapism. It’s where I want to go when I’m happy.

And that for me, is when inspiration tends to strike – when I’m content, have some ‘breathing space’ and when my mind is free to wander.

There’s a lot to be said for daydreaming, in my opinion.

The capacity to absorb thoughts and feelings, revel in frivolity and grab a shooting star to a new dimension or a new story, in my case, is wonderfully liberating.

So, however we find inspiration, through calm, through reading, walking the dog, overhearing conversations, meditating, exercising or singing loudly to the radio, I think all authors need a bit of ‘me’ time.

And when we can’t get our ‘me’ time and life throws a few bricks our way, it behoves us to soak up the hits and quit worrying about the writing.

Nothing bad ever happens to authors…it’s all experience for the next book!

On Writing (Fri 29 Jan, 2016)

More Amendments Needed

The day before yesterday, my agent sent through her suggested amendments for the funny rhyming story I had naturally assumed was perfect. (There’s no harm in having strong self-esteem when you’re attempting to write children’s books).

I made myself tea and toast before opening her attachment with multi-coloured marks all over it.

As a work of art it was very pretty – blacks, greens, reds, lines crossed through my text – yep, a veritable palette of revisionary colour.

Perhaps, if I didn’t feel so passionately about this story, I would have sighed and lost heart.

Instead, I set about reading her comments, which largely re-iterated the conversation she’d had with me about it, in the storm-hit Bournemouth beachfront café two days earlier.

So, yesterday was a fingers to the keyboard day as I attempted to absorb her comments and translate them into my style of rhyme writing.

I didn’t make all the amendments she had requested. I know mentioning tea is peculiarly British but I decided to leave the reference in.

Tea or Coffee?

My agent had said the mention of tea in my story might not be swallowed so well in The States where everyone drinks coffee.

Since I’d already used the word cookies instead of the British word ‘biscuits,’ I thought I’d already compromised some of my ‘British-ness.’

In true, ‘I’ll half listen to you’ fashion, I changed one of my lines from:

‘Perhaps you’d like a calming cup of fragrant Earl Grey Tea?’ to:

‘Perhaps you’d like a soothing cup of English Breakfast Tea?’

My thinking was: maybe the coffee-drinking Americans who haven’t heard of Earl Grey Tea will have heard of English Breakfast Tea which is, perhaps, more widely recognised?

Whether this will be accepted or not, only time will tell. It may come winging back to my in-box with even more cheerful red colour.

If this is the case, I will probably have to change the reference and the next few verses too because there are only a certain number of words which rhyme with ‘me’ in the preceding line.

And there’s the rub with writing in rhyme. It’s great when it works. When it doesn’t, it can be much harder to fix than prose.

To Blog or Not to Blog?

If you are reading this on my blog, I will have plucked up the courage, today, to try and download the material I have written so far.

I am currently looking at WordPress.com with the fear and anxiety that four and five-year-olds must experience when starting school.

To the tech-savvy out there, I urge patience and understanding.

I was brought up in an age before the internet, computers, I-pads, I-phones, kindles, tablets and even video recorders.

When I was a child, TVs had a mere three channels, which didn’t broadcast 24/7. Remote controls didn’t exist so if you wanted to change a channel, you had to stand up, walk to the TV and press a button.

I even remember my parents taking delivery of our first colour TV. Black and white was quite standard ‘in the old days.’

With the march of technology, life has transformed almost beyond recognition.

I would like to think I’m not a dinosaur and am trying to embrace change, but change is often scary.

Despite this, I use the internet daily for research. I have an I-phone, bank on-line, shop on-line, use Twitter and Facebook.

If you are reading this blog, I will have taken another monumental leap forward to embrace the technological and digital age.

It might not be a big deal for the fresh-faced youngsters out there who juggle technology like I juggle school runs, but I will be delighted that I am marching into the 21st century boldly (timidly, if truth be told).

Looking positively, I’m on the move.

On Writing (Wed 27 Jan, 2016)

I Finally Meet My Agent

 The bad news upon waking was that it was blowing a gale and rain was falling from the sky by the bucket load.

The good news was that, having decided to randomly empty my handbag, for no other reason than to pretend I am an organised person, I discovered £50 in an envelope at the bottom.

The cash had come from my Mother who had reimbursed me for my youngest son’s Christmas present.

Being the ‘organised’ type that I am, I had completely forgotten about her payment the month before.

But, hey, what a stroke of luck to have £50 land in my lap when I least expected it. An auspicious sign, perhaps?

Wrong Venue

I met my agent later than planned because, being the ‘organised’ individual I am, I went to the WRONG beachside café.

Luckily she was late!

However, in walking the 400 steps from the café/restaurant I’d initially thought I should meet in, to the one I was ACTUALLY supposed to attend, I became soaked.

I’d had the foresight to take an umbrella but, for all its goodwill and dedication to duty, it couldn’t compete with the gale that was blowing up from the beach.

It blew inside out at least five times and I arrived at the beachfront venue drenched, with my shoes and tights covered in wet sand.

Call me fussy but, after the flattering haircut I’d paid for the day before, drowned rat was not the look I’d been aiming for!

With my dress hitched up under the hand dryer in the ladies’ loo, desperately trying to dry myself out, who should walk in, but…

…MY AGENT!

Of all the first impressions I have given in my life, this is probably the most bizarre.

It was certainly an ice-breaker as I fell about laughing. Since my agent was similarly drowned, she could see the funny side.

She laughed wildly, we hugged and I trotted off to order two pots of tea while she attempted to dry herself under the hand dryer too.

Loo Meeting

So, I finally met my agent in a ladies loo, looking wet and dishevelled.

It wasn’t the first encounter I had imagined or hoped for, but it WAS an episode I shan’t forget.

The lunch itself went smoothly as we got to know a little more about one another. The good news was that the story she had asked me to amend to a counting story had gone down well with her.

She informed me she would be meeting publishers in London the following week and would pitch it to them.

I politely forgot to mention she’d said she would virtually guarantee to sell it, if I made the changes she had suggested.

A wise move, I considered, as it’s a mere four weeks’ notice on either side should she wish to discontinue our working relationship!

More Amendments

The bad news was that another rhyming story I had thought was virtually perfect, still required work.

Her explanations were cogent, well meaning and supportive. Her fresh eyes helped me see areas where I could improve the story flow over page turns and increase the humour still further.

I didn’t get a sinking feeling, but rather a desire to re-work and address the issues, spurred on by her obvious enthusiasm for this story.

“I’m really excited by this story,” she had told me during lunch.

How fabulous she could see the same potential and comic humour that I could.

Humour is SO subjective that if someone ‘gets’ your work and loves it, that’s a massive lift for any would-be children’s author.

Our meeting lasted nearly four hours, with lots of humour and anecdotes, and, by the time we came to leave, the gale had subsided a little.

I strolled back to my car with a better-behaved umbrella in hand and spring in my step.

Even the Bournemouth traffic warden who had slapped a £50 penalty notice on my windscreen for over-running my parking stay by 40 minutes, didn’t irritate me.

After all, I had fortuitously discovered an unexpected £50 note earlier that morning.

Despite the abysmal weather, I left the seaside feeling the meeting was auspicious.

On Writing (Tue 26 Jan, 2016)

The Day Before ‘The Agent Meeting’

 A fortnight before Christmas 2015, I finally signed a contract with my agent.

Whilst I was inwardly celebrating, my day-to-day activities brought me back to reality with a bump.

My husband had left for his usual stint of six weeks working abroad, both my children fell ill with sickness and diarrhoea and my ailing Father (Parkinson’s Disease) needed a great deal of attention having moved permanently out of his home into care home accommodation.

My agent took a week off at Christmas and returned to work at the start of the year.

To give her time to catch up on back-logged e-mails and manuscripts, I called her a week into the new year and arranged to meet.

THAT MEETING IS TOMORROW.

I’ve had my nails manicured and my hair cut for the meeting but, in reality, I think she will be less interested in the French polish and flattering ‘feathering’ around my face, than she will be in my work.

But it’s best to go feeling confident, I think.

Am I nervous?

NO.

In a previous incarnation, I used to be a journalist so am accustomed to meeting and talking to different people.

This skill has set me in good stead for chatting to different politicians, varying Home Secretaries, the odd actor, pop star and sports personality, plus lots of ‘ordinary’ people who have, more often than not, extraordinary stories to tell.

Do I hope we get on?

OF COURSE.

I like the sound of her one the phone and she’s been immensely helpful giving feedback on my material.

But I hope we ‘hit it off’ on a one-to-one basis because we’ll undoubtedly be working closely together at times and it’s much easier to have a successful working relationship with someone you like and respect, rather than fear, distrust or dislike (and I’ve worked with a few of those in my time).

Despite meeting for the first time, tomorrow, I have already tweaked some of my material upon her advice.

Earlier this month, she suggested I consider re-working one of my stories to include counting.

As someone who is not backwards in coming forwards, I stated I hadn’t written it as a counting story – more of an energetic romp.

But, with my listening ears on and brain engaged, she told me this was what my story was missing to make it sell.

Since she is the publishing industry professional with years in the game, as an editor and agent, I thought it wise to take note.

I duly amended my story, with her assistance, and I am hoping that, when we meet tomorrow, she will like the changes I have made.

After all, she told me on the phone: “If you make the changes I suggest, I can virtually guarantee to sell this story for you.”

That’s a big claim, but she’ll want to be confident selling my story to publishers because, if she can’t shift it, she earns no commission.

She gets paid when I start earning so it’s in her interests to make my stories saleable.

And that is why I’m delighted to have finally secured an agent. She’ll be the trainer in my boxing ring, fighting my corner and wanting me to win.

DING, DING. BRING IT ON!

On Writing (Sat 14 Nov, 2015)

 

Outside it’s pouring with rain but indoors it’s warm and cozy. The Christmas trees and most of the Christmas decorations are up since my husband leaves for work abroad, mid December, and won’t be home until January. We want him to feel festive before he’s off and enjoy a Christmas, however early.

Today, with my would-be writer hat on, I’m on an ‘up’. The house looks gorgeous and three days ago an agent offered to represent me!

A draft contract has been e-mailed for me to examine and, following advice from fellow SCBWI members (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), I have paid £95 to join the Society of Authors whom I am reliably informed will analyse the contract for me line by line to ensure my interests are protected.

I know there will be huge amounts of hard work to come in the future but, for now, I’m enjoying that special feeling of knowing my work will be easier to field to prospective publishers.

I think it IS possible for writers to get their manuscripts in front of publishers when they are un-represented, but it takes bloody-minded persistence, the use of contacts, good writing and luck.

When I first embarked on writing picture books, over 18 months ago, I thought the process would be easy.

The Wonder of Hindisght

How wonderful hindsight is!

If you are considering writing picture books or have just embarked upon this pursuit, my advice is ‘be realistic’. It’s NOT EASY and you have to be in it for the long haul.

In addition, it will serve you well to grow a thick skin, then another, and another on top of that.

You WILL be rejected many times and, if you’re not, then CONGRATULATIONS. Your work must be stratospherically good.

I was naïve at first. I popped out a rhyming ‘book’ every day or every other day for the first month or two and thought ‘how easy is this?’

It was only when I attended Winchester Writers’ Festival, in Hampshire, and didn’t win the children’s picture book competition, that I began to realise my writing might not be as good as I thought it was.

On top of this, I wasn’t even placed as a runner up!

I had tough feedback from my one-to-ones with agents who said my ideas were original but my rhyme wasn’t executed perfectly.

Holding Back the Tears

It wouldn’t be a lie to say I came home from that afternoon barely holding back the tears.

What I had anticipated would be a fun day, was actually a day for a mountainous learning curve I felt like hurling myself off.

On the other hand, I felt in good company as I shared a sense of solidarity with a hall packed-full of writers on the same road as I.

To cut a long story short, I didn’t give up. I kept writing in rhyme, honing my craft and, when I attended this year’s Winchester Writers’ Festival, I could see how much I had improved in 12 months.

I didn’t enter any further competitions as I wished to spare my feelings.

But, despite being sensitive, I must be a tough old bird. At the Festival, I began chatting to a man who had self-published his book.

“I was rejected once or twice. That was enough for me,” he said.

He proudly showed me the book he had self-published and I decided this wasn’t the way I wished to go. In my mind, he had given up too easily.

It’s great people are now empowered to create and publish their own books but I have chosen, for the time being at least, to plough the traditional field in the hope that something will thrive and blossom.

Initial Rejections

I approached three or four agents when I initially started writing and wished I had heeded the lesson to not send out work too soon.

Rejections came hurtling back at a million miles per hour with no feedback whatsoever.

To this day, I would still love literary agents to agree an industry-standard A4 tick box form to leave aspiring picture book authors feedback.

Boxes might read:

Too long

Too short

Insufficient narrative

Too much like a poem

Speech not attributed

Rhyme timing needs revision

Characters require emotional growth

Grammar needs work

Spelling mistakes

Weak beginning

Unsatisfactory conclusion

Well executed but not for us

Almost there

Anthropomorphic characters please

It is from feedback that writers grow. Agents will say they don’t have time but, as someone who has been on the end of rejections with no feedback, I don’t think clicking a few boxes would slice hours from their day.

I eventually paid for editorial feedback from a former commissioning editor and learnt much in the process. Other authors join critique groups which can be invaluable for honing skills.

Full Circle

A little over eighteen months after I first began writing and with manuscripts on the desks of three major publishers, who had each expressed an interest in my material, I plucked up the courage to send some of my stories to the first literary agency I had ever approached.

I didn’t play by the rules and naughtily tried to guess the individual e-mail address of the agent I was most interested in.

My tactic worked and, upon return from holiday, I found a promising e-mail in my inbox.

The agent in question said: “We are normally very strict about following submission guidelines simply because we receive so many approaches and, as a small agency, we can get a little swamped. However, your approach has paid off and I couldn’t resist reading your stories!”

The agent asked me to supply more details about myself and offered to ring the following week.

Since the agent represents one of my all-time favourite children’s authors and master rhyme writers, I was on cloud nine!

But I wasn’t handed a contract on a plate.

A Test

We chatted for over an hour-and-a-half on the telephone before the agent set me a test.

I was asked to edit one of the stories I had sent in. At 610 words, I felt it was tight enough, but was tasked with shaving a further 100 words.

I duly complied and pinged it back the next day.

The following week, the agent offered to represent me.

YAY! Mexican wave around the stadium.

I barely drink but, that evening, I opened a bottle of wine and enjoyed two glasses with my husband in celebration.

I know the route to publication will still be tough but am grateful I will have someone fighting my corner and enabling me to get on with what I enjoy doing the most – writing.

To everyone else who is awaiting a break, please don’t give up. Try not to take rejections personally (although that is much easier said than done) and keep learning.

I’ll do the same and maybe one day we’ll see our work in Waterstones, Foyles and all the other bookstores you can think of.

Dream BIG fellow writers. I am!