December is on the horizon and the husband is hunting for the camera, as we ready ourselves for the annual Christmas card photograph. The son is trying to coax Gary, his hamster, from out under the couch so I’ve retreated to my writing den to take a moment to look back on this year.
In June I entered the Greenhouse Funny Prize competition. I was shortlisted for the very same competition a couple of years ago. It was a scary thing to enter again. In the back of my head an annoying niggling thought kept resurfacing: if I didn’t make the shortlist this year would it mean I had regressed on my writing journey?
I put on my positive hat, shook off the feeling and wrote a story about a pigeon. It was terrible. It didn’t make me laugh and writing the first chapter felt like I was trudging through treacle. So I wrote a different story about a pigeon. I don’t know what the magic formula is for writing humour but if I make myself laugh that’s good enough for me.
And then the unimaginable happened. I won. I actually won the Greenhouse Funny Prize. Even now I am in total shock and amazement as I write this.
What happened next has been four months of utter whirlwindizziness. Yup, I know that’s not a word but I don’t care because I only blooming won the Greenhouse Funny Prize! Polly Nolan signed me as a result and not a week later she told me that she would be talking to Faber and Faber about my book.
Over the last few months I signed my first book deal and met my lovely editor Alice Swan at Faber Children’s. I even started work on another idea, which shall remain top secret for the moment, but this whole process has been every bit the dream I hoped it would be.
It has been a magical year for my writing and I really cannot wait to see what the next year holds. Here’s a cheesy note to end on: I’m not sure anyone could see this happening for me, least of all me. Writing has been such a long time hobby that turning it into a career seemed impossible. On my journey I have grown to understand that the children’s publishing world is competitive and tough to break. I thought about giving up several times over the last few years but writing makes me happy. And now I’m here, I glad I pushed on because I can truly say it is a real privilege to be able to wake up everyday and do what makes me happy.
This post is dedicated to my husband and my son, my lovely boys, who go along with all my madcap ideas without question.
I remember hitting thirteen-years-old, wanting to run away from home, grow a fringe, cut my hair short and move to Paris where I would paint and write and listen to Francois Hardy. However, I was outraged to discover that my frizzy South Indian inherited locks would not allow for a shiny straight fringe in those pre-hair straightener days. I certainly didn’t have the time to learn the skill of blow drying when there was so much teenage angst to spill into my journals.
In hindsight, I wonder if I’d dreamed up a white-faced future for myself, even though my hair didn’t fit. And was that because I’d spent my childhood reading books filled with white-faced protagonists? Not to say that such a future is only for people of a certain cultural background; it’s just that the choice of such futures was rather narrow.
In many ways we have come a long way since my childhood reading days. I can honestly recall only one author, Jamila Gavin, and her Kamla and Kate books that dared feature a brown-faced girl on its cover.
The conversation about the lack of diverse characters in children’s literature is hotting up. It’s a topic close to my heart. For me it’s a no-brainer, the diversity of characters in children’s literature is not representative of the diversity in society. Children’s books have, to some respect, the added responsibility of educating the reader about the world.
We need diverse books. Not just with characters of all ethnicities, but also characters that represent all sexualities, characters of all socioeconomic backgrounds, characters of all faiths, all cultures and characters of all abilities, both physical and mental.
My question is whose responsibility is it to write these stories?
I had an interesting conversation with a fellow author a couple of weeks back. We were talking about this very same subject and she raised the question of the ‘right to write’. It is something that has stayed with me since our conversation.
Does a Caucasian writer have the right to tell the stories of Indians? And vice versa? And is it the responsibility of writers from minority backgrounds to write diverse books?
There was a point before the summer where it was put to me that I should actively ‘support’ my ethnic background and write books which embraced diversity, because diversity was all the rage. As a writer, there is nothing more stifling to creativity than to be told what to write.
For me it’s simply about the character. The character comes first, and the story comes from the character.
Ultimately, we all have the right to ask questions about the world and it is the responsibility of the writer to stay true to what they discover. It is about being empathetic to the real situations that influence the fictional stories written and not about matching the face of the author to the characters of the book.
I’m absolutely over the moon to announce I now have a book deal. Faber Children’s has acquired ‘Dave Pigeon’. Thank you Faber! Thank you also to Polly Nolan who clearly has making-dreams-come-true superpowers – powers that belong only to two others: Santa and shooting stars.
This has been a double achievement. For those of you who thought I was a total blabbermouth, I’ve been sitting on this most mind-blowing information since the end of August without blabbing so HA! (And to those who I already blabbed to and made swear on their pets lives to keep it secret, thank you for not blabbing.)
I met with the amazing Alice Swan, my editor at Faber Children’s, last week for some cake and strawberries and a natter with the rest of the team. I’m so excited to work with Alice as we head toward Dave being published in 2016.
You can catch updates on Twitter by following @SwapnaHaddow.
It seems not so long ago that I started this blog. In those first days of being on the blogosphere, the son was eighteen months old and I was getting very lost in this world of publishing. In what I can only conclude was some sort of time-travel I wasn’t aware of, we are here today with a school-ready four-year-old and I’ve managed to land myself an agent!
In the last three years there have been a few short listings. If you’ve heard the phrase ‘always the bridesmaid never the bride’, then always the shortlist, never the prize seems apt. That was until this August. By some fortuitous aligning of the writing planets, I managed to win the Greenhouse Funny Prize and now have the wonderful Polly Nolan of Greenhouse Literary Agency championing my work.
I had my ‘first day’ a couple of weeks ago when I visited Greenhouse HQ. The day involved much overthinking about outfits, a very dry mouth and a box of pigeon-shaped biscuits. Polly was absolutely lovely and I now feel very protected as a newbie author in the publishing world.
And how was the son’s first day? Apart for a minor incident on the school playground’s mock roads where he was allowing his friend to pass on a scooter and an impatient classmate called him a ‘barbarian’… absolutely swimmingly. I have reassured the son that he is not an ‘uncultured or brutish person’ but rather that the use of the word was probably more about said classmate’s parent’s road rage issues. Thankfully no permanent scars here.
Happy first days!
So very proud to be joining the Greenhouse family all thanks to a pigeon called Dave.
Gary the hamster produces the most colossal hamster turd known to hamsterkind (and by some inexplicable sorcery it has landed OUTSIDE of his cage)
It takes almost an hour to drop the son at Drama Club and then I realise I’ve forgotten his lunch
Not wanting to face the judgement of the Yummy Mummy coven by sending the son in with a McDonald’s sack of food, I decide to venture home for his lunch bag
Two hours later son is reunited with his lunch but has already exploited the situation to acquire a half-eaten jam sandwich from his best friend and strip of chewing gum from the surly work experience teen
We come home to find Gary has repeated his dirty protest (note to self: if son asks for a pet and promises to clean up after said pet until the end of eternity, do not believe him for one second)
Remember for the two thousandth time today that the announcement of The Greenhouse Funny Prize is at 5pm and I commend myself for the self-control in waiting to check my emails until the afternoon but there are no new emails from The Greenhouse Funny Prize judges
Half an hour later:
Recheck emails and despair that I’m neither funny nor talented because there is no email from The Greenhouse Funny Prize
Check the Greenhouse Literary Agency’s site to see which super talented authors have been shortlisted:
Over the moon, pinch me I’m dreaming, couldn’t-care-less-that-the-husband-is-giving-me-the-‘told-you-so’-look-after-my-4:30pm-melt-down, unbelievably delighted to see I’ve made the shortlist!
What a brilliant start to August (and it doesn’t matter at all that I’ve had hamster poo stuck to the bottom of my left flip-flop all day)
Thank you Greenhouse Funny Prize judges!!
So chuffed to find out this morning that Princess Sausage Roll has been not only been shortlisted but also received the KBR highly commended stamp of honour.
The perfect antidote to the post-holiday blues? Well, that would be coming home to glorious sunshine and falling out of one’s chair on the news of being shortlisted for the KBR Picture Book Manuscript Award 2014