Good morning! I hope you are enjoying this series as much as I am. I love hearing about everyone's debuts and how they really felt. Today I am really pleased to welcome another Middle Grade author - Abi Elphinstone.
Abi published her magical debut novel, The Dreamsnatcher with Simon and Schuster in February 2015.
The second novel in the series, The Shadow Keeper is published in February 2016.
What was the best piece of advice you were given about publishing?
Something YA author, Non Pratt, said on Twitter really stuck. I can’t remember her exact words but the sentiment was: the dream is to be given the privilege to be told you can keep on writing - treat everything above and beyond that as a bonus. It’s so easy to lose sight of your original dream – to see your name on a book – when publication happens. You start panicking if you get anything less than a 5* review on Goodreads, you start wishing you’d been nominated for prestigious awards even though you never even knew they existed before you started writing and you start glancing around on Twitter and feeling inadequate because you weren’t called up for a literary festival. NONE OF THAT MATTERS. What matters is that you have been brave enough to write a story, determined enough to see it through to publication and lucky enough to have found a publisher. You wrote that story for children – and they aren’t on Goodreads, they’re not responsible for compiling award lists and they don’t select authors to speak at festivals. Write for your audience – for kids – for the ones that give you thunderous applause when you take the stage in their schools, for the ones who rush up to you after an event saying you’ve changed the way they see the world and for the ones who write you letters so wonderful you want to cry. That’s why you wrote your story. That’s what really matters.
What are your hopes for 2016?
On 25th February 2016 my sequel, The Shadow Keeper, comes out. I feel I learnt a huge amount writing my first book, The Dreamsnatcher, and so I’m really, really hoping that my next book is better. I tried to make the writing stronger, the world bigger and the adventure bolder and I hope that all the fabulous children I’ve met this year grow to love the story I had so much fun writing. I’d absolutely love to co-write a children’s book at some stage (maybe next year is a bit ambitious as I have quite a few projects on the go - annoyingly I can’t reveal what they are at the moment!), I’d love to do an event with Jonathan Stroud to support his Freedom To Think campaign, I’d love to climb something complicated with Katherine Rundell. And I’d love to visit the Arctic for my next series.
Did you have to visit schools and were the visits what you were expecting?
Since March this year, I’ve spoken at 97 schools. And I set up every single visit. Before publication, I imagined that publishers would set up a few school events around the launch but when I realised this wasn’t the case, I set about it all myself. I found the email addresses of the librarians or the literary co-ordinators at the schools I wanted to speak at then I got in touch with a very clearly presented ‘information pack’ which included details of my book, my event and my fees. Excitingly, I now no longer have to ‘pitch’ for school events and every week teachers and librarians email asking me to come and speak to their pupils. But I cannot stress enough the importance of initiating these visits to get the ball rolling. The visits themselves were as I’d expected but perhaps that’s because I spent five years as a teacher so I know the dynamics of classrooms and assemblies. The important thing is to ‘do what you do best’ – don’t panic because brilliant authors like Guy Bass, Andy Stanton and Eoin Colfer are so funny they make the kids cry with laughter. You don’t need to be a stand up comedian to do a good school talk. Find your niche and build an engaging talk around that: use props and exciting powerpoint images, break your talk into bite-size chunks so it’s easier to plan and never try to ram your book down kids’ throats. I don’t even read from my book in school visits (though that’s partly because I’m dyslexic and the words jump around on the page so I stutter when I read aloud!). Offer children something more than your book – the possibility that they could be writers and explorers, too. They get so much more out of your event that way (and, for what it’s worth, you sell far more books).
How did it feel to sign your first book?
It was in Aberystwyth in Wales and after I had spoken to 250 children for the Hay Festival Scribblers Tour, the kids formed a long queue in front of me. I thought they were going to ask me for directions to the toilets. I had no idea they actually wanted to buy my book and I was so overwhelmed that I spelt my name wrong in the first book I signed.
Has being published opened opportunities for you that you wouldn’t have had before? If yes, what are they?
Absolutely. Perhaps the most exciting thing has been meeting authors whose books I adore. A few months ago I found myself having lunch with David Almond and a drink with Katherine Rundell and recently I ended up presenting on Down The Rabbit Hole radio show with the brilliant Jonathan Stroud. It’s incredible having the opportunity to meet people you admire, including hugely passionate booksellers and bloggers. And it’s a privilege to speak at festivals as wonderful as Hay and Edinburgh (being in the Green Rooms is nothing short of magical). But perhaps the biggest opportunity that has opened before me has been the chance to speak to so many fantastic children, to be in with a shot of rewilding a generation of kids, of making them understand that they are braver than they think and more creative than they had realised. And that’s something very special indeed.
Thank you Abi for sharing your debut experiences. You really are an inspiration!
Come back tomorrow for another 2015 debut.