Friday 26 August 2011

The Big Break with Paula Rawsthorne

The second author to join us from The Edge blog is Paula Rawsthorne who debuted this month with her first book - The Truth About Celia Frost which I reviewed yesterday. If you would like to know more about The Edge blog, then please click here.  This interview was conducted before publication day which occurred in the last couple of weeks. 

Firstly, can I thank you for joining me today on my blog.
Hi Vivienne, Thanks so much for inviting me, it’s great to be here.

What did you do for a living before writing became your chosen career?
I was a hospital social worker. I’ve also worked in a children’s home for kids with disabilities and I worked in the Sudan for a year. I gave up my social work job after my second child was born as I really wanted to be at home looking after my children when they were preschool.

I understand that you won The BBC ‘Get Writing’ Competition a few years back? How did that feel?
It was an incredible, wonderful surprise! I’d seen the competition advertised on BBC1 television. The remit was to write a modern retelling of a Canterbury Tale. I immediately felt excited at the prospect of giving it a go and I sat down and started working on making the tragic Pardoner’s Tale into a comedy about a group of Liverpool priests using their parishioners’ money to put a bet on a doped horse at The Grand National!
Then, weeks later, the phone rang and I couldn’t initially hear the caller as I had my three preschoolers grabbing at me legs so I hid from the kids and then heard this BBC Executive informing me that my story was a winner! I ended up in the London Radio Studios with the actor Bill Nighy, recording my story. He’s such a great bloke that we then all went out and had a brilliant evening. My story, The Sermon On the Mount, was broadcast on Radio 4 and chosen for Pick of the Week. I just kept pinching myself!

How long did it take you to write your debut novel ‘The Truth About Celia Frost’?
It took me a school year to write the first draft. I didn’t embark on it until my three kids were all at school (I’d been writing short stories for adults and doing community plays whilst they were still at home all day).

Where did you get the idea for the book?
At first I just had a very strong idea of what kind of book I wanted to write. I knew that I wanted my first novel to be for Young Adults and I knew that I wanted my story to be gripping, entertaining and hopefully thought provoking. However before any plot emerged, the characters of Celia and Janice Frost came to me very vividly, fully formed. Once I had them I knew that there was something about Celia that her mother wasn’t telling her and my plot started to develop and evolve.

Was ‘The Truth About Celia Frost’ your first finished manuscript, or are there others lurking in the dark?
I’ve been incredibly lucky! Celia Frost is my first attempt at writing a novel.

How long did it take you to find an agent?
Again, I was extremely lucky. I entered the first two chapters of Celia Frost into the Society of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s (SCBWI) British Isles, Undiscovered Voices 2010 Competition. It was another absolutely gobsmacking moment in my life when they phoned me and said I was a winner. The judging panel was composed of agents and publishers. Jo Unwin is a fantastic agent who was on the panel. She read the full ms, phoned me straight away and said that we should meet. I went to see her in London, we had a great meeting and she offered to take me on.

How many rejection letters did you get before it was accepted?
After I’d written the first draft I was completely cowardly about sending it out anywhere as I was obviously terrified of rejection (not a good thing to be in this business). So I only got my act together to send three chapters and a synopsis to two agents who both rejected it. Then I found the wonderful SCBWI on the internet, entered the Undiscovered Voices Competition and got on with other work.

How many times did you have to edit your book before the agent was happy to send it off to publishers?
It was fantastic to be able to examine my novel with my agent. I actually quite enjoyed the process of editing although it was hard work and took several months. However, I was happy that the vast majority of it stayed intact and the parts that I added or changed only made it better.

What was your first reaction when you found out that your book was to be published?
Even before Jo and I had finished the meeting with Usborne I knew that they were the publishers for me. Their enthusiasm and commitment to The Truth About Celia Frost was overwhelming. However, it didn’t really sink in that I’d got a publishing deal until a delivery man arrived at my house with an oblong box. I read the lovely message from Usborne then opened the box. When I pulled out a bottle of champagne I just burst into hysterical, unstoppable laughter. I just couldn’t believe that this was happening to me! I was hugging the bottle, tears of joy streaming down my face. Luckily, I was on my own otherwise I would have been carted away for my own safety.

How long did it take for your book to reach publication after the initial agreement?
From the date on my publishing contract to the date of publication will be exactly 11 months.

What was happening to your manuscript during this time?
Usborne’s Fiction Editorial Director Rebecca Hill and Senior Editor Sarah Stewart expertly went through the manuscript and suggested minor, but insightful edits. I really enjoyed working with them and having editorial discussions. They were so in tune with the book, it was a real pleasure.

How are you keeping yourself occupied as you wait for publication day?
I’m busy writing another stand alone thriller for Usborne. I’m also busy talking about Celia Frost and meeting lots of interesting people who are in the bookselling business or simply love books. It’s great meeting people who are passionate about books. I’m also a member of The Edge- a group of novelists who all write fiction to get teenagers reading and talking! (

How will you celebrate on publication day in August?
Well, it’s going to be surreal as I’ll be at a riverside campsite in France with my family. We booked our summer holiday before I knew the publication date! I’m thinking that I’ll have to invest in a Blackberry or something so I’ll be able to have some idea of what the heck is going on and be able to get overexcited with everyone here! I’d like to say that I’d celebrate by doing one of my favourite things, swimming in rivers, but realistically I’ll have had had too many glasses of celebratory French wine to do that.

Can you tell us a little about the next writing project?
It’s a thriller brimming with suspense, tension, twists and really meaty characters. I’m really enjoying writing it.

Do you write full time now?
Yes. I write when my kids are at school. However, things grind to a halt at 3p.m when they descend on me.

Tell us what a typical writing day would be like?
I walk my youngest to school, the other two cycle. Then I head straight to my local deli to get a takeaway coffee and cake (a very healthy writer’s diet) and back to my front room. Once in the house I do my best to ignore the fact that it looks like a bomb has hit it and I get down to work. At first I get horribly distracted by emails and the internet. I try to work until it’s time to pick up my youngest. I don’t always succeed as life sometimes gets in the way.
Then when the kids are all in bed (which is getting later and later) I’ll often do more work. During school holidays it’s a real struggle to get a decent amount of writing done but I’m not complaining, as I know people who start their writing day at 10p.m and work through the night. I’d end up going insane if I did that- I love my sleep!

What advice would you give to aspiring and unpublished authors?
Firstly, if you are writing or have written a children’s novel then definitely enter SCBWI Undiscovered Voices Competition- it could change your life!
I think that entering any reputable writing competition can be a great motivator as you are then working to a deadline and know your work will be read.
Find out how you work best; If you thrive on feedback then maybe joining a decent critique group is for you. If you never let anyone see your work in progress then set goals and deadlines for yourself.
“It’s a marathon not a sprint”- is so true. Have stamina, determination and try to keep hold of the love and excitement you feel for your story.

Thank you Paula for sharing your publication journey with us. Anyone wishing to know more about SCBWI Undiscovered Voices Competition, please click here. 
The Truth About Celia Frost was published by Usborne 1st August. To find out more about Paula, click here.


  1. That BBC contest sounded fun and Bill Nighy none the less, cool :D

    Congrats on your new book

  2. What a great interview. So many words of encouragement to aspiring writers. Dreams do come true x

  3. Great interview Paula. Honestly - I don't know how you fit it all in with three little ones. You're a star! I really recommend Celia to all your readers out there.

  4. An excellent interview with a writer who's not only talented and hard-working, but is also funny, down-to-earth, and a great inspiration to other writers.

  5. Superb interview! Now I need to find out more about Paula's novel. Oh, and celebrating with the release with some French vine sounds like a great idea :)

  6. Nice interview! The Truth About Celia Frost sounds great.
    I enjoyed your review as well Viv.

  7. Vivienne, this is a terrific big break interview! The author had me laughing at least a couple of time. This line is great: "However, things grind to a halt at 3p.m when they descend on me."


Hiya, thanks for stopping by, it is always nice to hear what you have to say, so do leave a comment if you have time.