Over the next eight weeks I will be reviewing and interviewing the eight authors who are responsible for the Edge blog. This is the first interview and I am pleased to welcome Miriam Halahmy to my blog to talk about her publishing deal for her debut book Hidden.For those of you who have not checked out the fabulous blog run by the Edge authors, then please click here.
Firstly, can I thank you for joining me today on my blog.
Hi Vivienne and many thanks for inviting me today.I hope you enjoy my answers to all these great questions.
Please tell us a little about your debut novel before we start?
My novel, HIDDEN, came out in March this year. It is about two teenagers who pull an illegal immigrant from the sea and hide him to save him from being deported. HIDDEN is my debut Y.A .novel but you can find out more about me and my other publications on my website, www.miriamhalahmy.com
What did you do for a living before writing became your chosen career?
I was a Special Needs Teacher for many years and ran departments in secondary schools. I was writing and publishing for part of my teaching career. But now I can fully concentrate on my writing.
How long did it take you to write your debut novel ‘Hidden’?
The first draft took about 6 months. But I felt my main character, Alix, was too passive and so after much heart searching, I started again. The arc of the story remained pretty much the same, but Alix’ voice and actions really took off. New characters appeared as a result and everything sharpened up in the novel. Once the novel was accepted I worked hard with my editor over a couple of months to really hone the text and enrich all the themes and characters. Fortunately I really enjoy the redrafting process.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
In HIDDEN two teenagers rescue an illegal immigrant from the sea and hide him to save him from being deported. I have worked with literally hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees as a teacher in London, from Vietnamese Boat People to children from Somalia and Eritrea. Now I mentor people who want to record their stories and their long and difficult journeys to England. I have also written an education resource on asylum seeking children in our schools. Therefore the themes for this book were very much in my mind when the initial idea came to me. Once I started the story took off and wrote itself.
What made you set the series in Hayling Island?
My parents moved to Hayling in the 1970s and lived there for 25 years. I have been visiting the Island for over 40 years and my husband and I love going down there. We often visit for the day or a weekend and we take a flat on the beach for a week every summer. I had thought for a long time that it would be great to set a story on the Island and after my I started to write HIDDEN, more ideas grew out of the characters and I ended up writing three books.
Was ‘Hidden’ your first finished manuscript, or are there others lurking in the dark?
I published a novel for adults in 1999, Secret Territory and I have also published short stories, two poetry collections and many articles and book reviews. So, no, there aren’t any hidden manuscripts in my life. I have published them all!
How long did it take you to find an agent?
Quite quickly, the first time round. As soon as I finished HIDDEN I found an agent. Unfortunately due to personal circumstances she had to drop out of the work after a year. I was devastated and I thought I would never get another chance. But I started to pitch again to agents after a few weeks and within six months I was taken on by Eve White and I feel as if I have come home. Eve is a very experienced, established agent and she got me my fantastic three book deal with Meadowside.
How many rejection letters did you get before it was accepted?
Three or four I think. It takes quite a while for an agent to consider you. Then you get a rejection and you have to pick yourself up and get going again. So although it took six months to find Eve, I only had time to pitch to a few people.
How many times did you have to edit your book before the agent was happy to send it off to publishers?
Eve is very strong on coincidences, so she helped me to iron those out. She also wanted some extra work on the final chapter. Oh and she’s very hot on the use of commas! But there wasn’t a huge amount of work and within a couple of months the novel was out there landing on publishers’ desks!
What was your first reaction when you found out that your book was to be published?
It was a huge mixture of complete delight and then biting my fingernails while the publishers considered the other two books. I had written the second book in the cycle and provided a detailed outline of the third book. I would have been very disappointed if they did not want the whole cycle because each one of the three books means so much to me. So the really huge, wonderful day was the day they made a three book offer. That was 18 months ago and honestly, I still can’t believe it sometimes.
How long did it take for your book to reach publication after the initial agreement?
About 15 months which is longer than some but an awful lot quicker than many people I know. So I was very happy about the publication date.
What was happening to your manuscript during this time?
I worked on the edits with my editor, Lucy Cuthew. This was actually broken up over two different periods over last year because of Lucy’s workload. However as the year wore on there were lots more exciting things coming up, such as working on the cover and the blurb on the back. I’m lucky that my editor is happy for me to be involved in all those things.
How did you keep yourself occupied as you waited for publication day?
I was writing the third novel in the cycle last year, so there was plenty to do. In fact it was quite difficult at times to work on the new book as there was so much to do with HIDDEN. It was a real juggling act at times.
How did you celebrate on publication day?
I kept posting on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else, “It’s my book birthday today!” So my computer was on fire with congratulations. My husband and I went out to dinner in the evening and celebrated quietly together which was perfect.
Can you tell us a little about the next book in the series ‘Illegal’?
In my Hayling cycle, a minor character in the previous book becomes the major character in the next. Otherwise they are stand-alone stories. ILLEGAL is Lindy’s story, the bad girl in HIDDEN. Lindy is being pushed by her older cousin into becoming his drugs courier. Her family are quite useless and she cannot turn to them for help and she is unpopular at school. She feels totally alone and terrified of being sent to prison. Then Karl, the strange boy at school who doesn’t speak, enters her life and together they try to extricate Lindy from her terrible situation. ILLEGAL is a novel about finding your own identity as you grow up, despite huge difficulties in your background.
Do you write full time now?
Pretty well. I run workshops and mentor writers for English PEN who are developing programmes for refugees and asylum seekers. I find it keeps me fresh to go out for a couple of hours a week and work with other people. Getting out into the world, away from my desk, keeps the creative juices running.
Tell us what a typical writing day would be like?
I used to love working half the night. But my clock has completely changed in recent years. I like to start around 8.00am and work through until midday. Then I take a break for a few hours. I have never been able to write in the afternoons. But once four o’clock comes round I’m ready to start again. I might do some redrafting of the work from the morning, or work on something for my editor. Or I might be producing something for a blog like this one. All these things take time but it is good to do different things. I also write poetry, articles and book reviews and contribute to two regular blogs a month. So there is a lot of writing to get done each day.
What advice would you give to aspiring and unpublished authors?
I do think that creative writing classes are good to get you started and writing regularly as well as teaching the craft and techniques of writing. This can help you to move forward more quickly.
Make sure you read a great deal, not just the genre or age group you want to write for, but absolutely everything you can. I learnt how to write a novel from reading novels. There weren’t any creative writing classes when I started out as a child and teenager.
You need to write regularly, to write at great length and to be patient. It can take up to ten years to serve an apprenticeship to become a published writer. But if it is what you really want and you believe in your writing, then you will get there.
Happy Reading! Happy Writing!
Miriam Halahmy www.miriamhalahmy.com
Thank you so much Miriam for such an interesting and inspirational post. As mentioned above, to find out more about Miriam, check out her website - www.miriamhalahmy.com.