Once upon a time, everything from toenail clippings to shrivelled up crisp bags were glued haphazardly into my inches-thick journals. They were accompanied by pages of words: poetry, rants, snapshots of life and teenager angst! I LOVED writing, but not for one second did it occur to me that I could actually be a writer. Instead, while I honed my skills as an artist, I made a career out of career-hopping. Funny, when I look back at all my jobs, the one thing they all had in common was my ability to write not only for me, but for everyone else – the boss’s boring presentations, difficult letters no-one else wanted to write, advertising copy for everything from soup to financial stock markets – but again, never did I think that I could or should be a writer. Not until I met a fortune teller who shrieked at me to Write! Write! Write!
I went home that day and started to write my first children’s book. BAM! It hit me! A stereotypical lightbulb-eureka moment! I was no more than one page into it when I realised THIS is what I should be doing with my life. Clueless doesn’t even come close when I recall my first attempts, but a serendipitous meeting with Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin of Writing.ie at an unrelated work seminar put me on the right track. She suggested I enter the Date with An Agent competition run by Writing.ie and the International Literature Festival Dublin. A few weeks later, I won my first date and I set about preparing for the big day, itching to meet so many writers at the associated Getting Published Conference. This was my BIG chance! Oh, the nerves!
So, I didn’t get an offer of representation that day, but I did learn everything I needed to know about the publishing industry. I also discovered that agents were actually lovely humans, I realised that I needed to become a member of Children’s Books Ireland and that it was time to find my tribe. Two weeks later, I found them sitting around Claire Hennessy’s table at The Big Smoke Writing Factory in Dublin.
Having workshopped a couple of manuscripts to the bone and been-there-and-done-that with agent rejections, I was ready to write something new. I could feel the tickle of a story – that pull you cannot ignore. It was time for Elsetime – a middle-grade story for 9-12 year olds – and it took just three main ingredients for the tale to be born:
First, came treasure hunting. I am a big fan of beachcombing and mudlarking by rivers, searching the pebbles for elusive hagstones, pretty sea-glass and shards of pottery. I would hold the muddy treasure in my hands and imagine the story of how the bent button or rusty washer spent its life. An 1800s mudlarker suddenly sprung to mind – a twelve-year-old boy, searching the foreshore for things to sell. He would hold his new-found treasure in the palm of his hand and read its history. I named him Needle Luckett – after all, he could, with a little bit of luck, find a needle in a haystack!
The second ingredient for Elsetime was the delivery of small shards of pottery, glass and metal that our visiting crows would leave at our garden feeders in return for nuts and seeds. More extravagant gifts arrived – amber glass, a tiny spiderman head and even a small potato! At first, I thought I was imagining it, but soon became aware that this was not a unique situation – though it is rare, crows are known to deliver gifts in return for food. Needle’s pet crow was born.
And the final ingredient: I imagined a jeweller’s apprentice who would take those bits of found treasure and transform them into treasures to behold – sparkling necklaces and headpieces, dazzling earrings and brooches just like those worn to the wild flapper parties of the 1920s. Twelve-year-old Glory had arrived into my story-world, along with her hardnosed taskmaster, Mrs Quick.
Then came a special find: I stumbled across a newspaper clipping that listed souls lost in The Great Flood of London in 1928.
One name – Mrs Quick – shocked me, as that was the name I had already chosen for Glory’s mistress. A bit of googling later, and I was staring back at the warm eyes of the real Mrs Quick in an old black and white photograph. She looked strangely familiar and it felt like a message from the past – this was a story I had to write.
An early draft of Elsetime, with its story of a shy mudlark, an impetuous jeweller’s apprentice and a great flood, went on to win the Wells Festival of Literature Book for Children Award (read my Writing.ie interview here). Go, me! It was a much-needed boost and, several weeks later, when Elsetime long-listed in the Bath Children’s Novel Award, I had all I needed to elevate Elsetime closer to the top of agents’ slush-piles.
Requests for the full manuscript landed in my inbox and soon I had a meeting with Josephine Hayes of The Blair Partnership where representation was offered. I did try to hold it together, best I could! Of course, I said yes. A good bit of editing later, I finally met Mikka Haugaard of Everything With Words – my publisher. That’s when I realised everything I had been through to get me to that point was no more than back-story, and my publishing journey could finally begin with a very happy Once upon a time…
(c) Eve McDonnell
Elsetime cover art and internal illustrations (c) Holly Ovenden
Newspaper Photo credit: Daily Mirror 1928
About Elsetime by Eve McDonnell:
A haunting story of friendship, courage, time-travel and a very special crow.
It is January 6th 1928, the day before the Great Flood. Glory a twelve year-old orphan works at The Frippery and Fandangle Emporium creating jewellery with her secret assistance the crow Fusspot. The river is about to burst its banks, a snow storm has engulfed the town when she meets Needle, who has done a spot of time travelling to reach Inthington. Can two children and a crow save the fourteen lives endangered by the the flood? Can they change the future?
Inspired by the Great Flood of London, ELSETIME is an epic story of courage, determination and time-travel from debut Irish author, Eve McDonnell.
Order your copy online here.