Today is a big day for me. A day I’ve been dreaming about for a very long time. Today my children’s novel, Gangster School, is published in the UK. It goes without saying that I’m chuffed to little bits about this, but I’m also feeling quite contemplative. It’s been a hard journey.
I’ve always wanted to write fiction, but for the longest time I was scared. What if I started and couldn’t finish? What if I thought I was good and I was actually useless? Worse than useless? What if I was EXECRABLE? So bad that I became a byword for uselessness? My route to quelling my fears was unorthodox. In my late 30s I went to university to study English and Creative Writing. I got a First. Still unconvinced, I took my Masters. Something about writing a 25,000 word dissertation on a subject I knew nothing about finally spurred me on to do what I’d actually wanted to do all along – write fiction, for kids.
I already had a scenario I wanted to explore. Born from years of experience of working in schools, I wanted to write a school story. I know – I can hear you say it – another school story. But this was a school with a difference: a school for trainee evil geniuses. (By the way, you can blame my son, Harry, for the idea. When he was little he used to answer questions about plans for his future by giving a strange little smirk and saying that he wanted to be an evil genius. It was very disconcerting. He’s actually teaching English in Taiwan as I write. But maybe he’s just biding his time…?)
Eventually I thought my story was ready. I know now that it wasn’t, not by a along chalk. But I thought it was and submitted it for a new writing competition: the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing. It didn’t win, but it did get shortlisted. I was encouraged and tried another one. Same outcome. And then a third. Once again I was shortlisted. I must be doing something right, but just not quite right enough.
I took on a mentor. She pointed out all the ways in which my story wasn’t ready. I edited and edited and submitted to agents. A lot said no. Some said maybe and then said no. And then – one said YES!
A month after signing with my agent, she took my MS to the Frankfurt Book Fair and got me a three-book deal with Piper Verlag. I couldn’t believe it! This was the start of my brilliant writing career.
Except – no. It wasn’t. Pretty well straight after Frankfurt, my agent left the agency and asked me to go with her. I wanted to, hugely, but I decided that it wasn’t the right time. So I stayed and was assigned to another agent. This agent didn’t love Gangster School and asked me to rewrite it. I did. Again. Completely. She submitted it to UK publishers. Some said no. A few said perhaps and then said no. I had an idea for another book. I submitted it to my agent. She didn’t like it. With no UK deal in place, we decided to go our separate ways.
I was gutted. I had taken the gamble – overcame my fear of failure and written a book – and I’d lost. Except – had I really lost? I had a book coming out in Germany, and it would be followed by two others in the series, guaranteed. I had a contract to prove it. Was I ready to give up? Not on your nelly! I’d forge on and see what happened.
Some time before this, I’d joined LinkedIn and then forgotten about it. It was just for business folk, wasn’t it? Now I went back to LinkedIn and starting building my contacts. Every contact opened doors to others and it wasn’t long before I found a new children’s publisher seeking submissions. Worth a go, right? I submitted. They came back to me within a day or two, asking for the full. A week later, I got the message I’d dreamt of for so long. Not only did they want to publish Gangster School, they also wanted the next three in the series! Cue an awful lot of fizz-quaffing and some very undignified dancing. I frightened the cats.
By this time I’d discovered that writing is a lonely business and I’d reached out to other writers through SCBWI and Facebook and Golden Egg. One of my new friends ran a review site – My Book Corner. I wrote a guest post for them about finding my UK publisher and guess what? An editor for a Dutch publisher, Uitgeverij Holland, read it. She was intrigued by what I wrote and tracked me down via LinkedIn. I sent her my MS and she loved it, too. So we made a deal and they will be releasing Gangster School this August.
And then! Another of my new friends is an agent. He’s a lovely bloke and he’d offered to advise me in the negotiations with the Dutch publisher and with my German Publisher, who’d expressed an interest in buying Gangster School 4. When he somehow found an hour in his horrifically busy schedule to read Gangster School, he offered to represent me. I had an agent again and not just any agent – one with whom I feel completely at home.
That’s my story so far. I’m glad that I pushed aside my fear of failure and wrote my book. I’m glad that I didn’t roll over and give up when things went wrong. And I’m more than glad – completely flaming delighted actually – that when they did go wrong, I stepped off the prescribed agent to publisher route and looked for other roads to publication.
Yes it’s been a bumpy journey, but maybe bumpy journeys make us all the more appreciative when the road flattens out.
(c) Kate Wiseman
Kate grew up in Oxford and lived in lots of interesting places before settling in Saffron Walden, Essex, with her husband and son. She has worked in schools and libraries and went to university quite late, either because she was too busy or because she was scared, depending on how honest she is feeling.
Her achievements include:
* Having a tarantula named after her.
* Winning a prize in a Halloween fancy dress competition when she was wearing normal clothes, and hadn’t entered, anyway.
* Fainting on an Oscar-winning film director in a theatre.
She loves cats and buying clothes in charity shops, which might account for the Halloween prize. Her pet hates are sultanas and raisins. She is an animal lover and a vegetarian and her ambitions are to carry on writing and never to grow up too much.
About Gangster School:
‘I bet no other school gives you the chance to chase super villains through hidden tunnels!’ A great read for fans of David Walliams, Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and Liz Pichon, Gangster School is fast- paced and action -packed with pranks, mishaps and adventure
Order your copy online here.