Andy Stanton, award-winning writer of the Mr Gum series and all-round funny man, waxes lyrical about the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook in this archived extract from his Foreword to the eight edition of the Yearbook.
As Andy will be speaking at our children's fiction writing course Your Children's Book, we thought we would share his inspirational advice on the importance of finishing what you write, and just where an idea on paper can take you...
You are holding in your hands one of two things. You are either holding one of the most powerful little books on the planet, a book which has the potential to CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOR EVER; or you are holding a cool little lifestyle accessory, a book which you can keep on your shelf to announce to yourself and others: ‘Oh, I’m a writer-sort of person, I’m sure I’ll use this book one day. But in the meantime, doesn’t it look professional.’ For years before I got published I would frequently buy the latest copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, with the vague and magical idea that simply owning it was enough to effect an alchemical reaction in my life and turn me into a writer, with all the bunting, parades and adoring women that I imagined would naturally accompany such a position.
Well, the years wore on and I discovered something quite annoying: The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, and indeed the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, won’t actually turn you into a writer. Take another look at the book and know the dreadful truth. However much you stroke this book; however prominently you display it on your shelves; however much you pray to it at night – there is one component you have to bring along yourself. And (double-annoyingly, because I am very lazy and hate working) that extra component is this: You must write something. You must do some work. And only then will this book become something that could CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOR EVER. It certainly changed mine.
In 2002, I sat down and finally did the one thing I’d never done in all those years of wishing and longing. I wrote a story from start to finish. It was called The Story of Mr Gum and I wrote it partly to make my little cousins laugh, but mostly to see if I could actually finish a piece of work. Having written it, I promptly forgot about it for two years. When I rediscovered it, it was 2004 and I finally had a real and practical reason to buy the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. But I found that fate had other, better plans for me, in the shape of the brand spanking new, first ever edition of the Children’s Writers’& Artists’ Yearbook. Just like its big brother, but so much easier! Now I wouldn't have to trawl through endless agents’ listings, figuring out which ones accepted children’s writers – no, every page of this publication was just for me.
Within a month, the book had found me an agent. A month or so after I found my agent, I had a publishing deal. And in 2006, Egmont published my little story as You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum!. Well, folks, it’s been a pretty amazing ride since then. There are now nine Mr Gum titles, which have sold over a million copies in this country alone. Additionally, I’ve written two books for Barrington Stoke and published a truly revolting picture book with Puffin. And it all started here, in these pages.
It’s a shame it took me all that time to figure out how amazingly powerful this type of book can be. I hope it doesn't take you quite so long. See, it’s a hard equation but it’s fair. You get out what you put in. And if you put in something good, there’s no book better qualified to help you reap your rewards (though a word of warning – the adoring women thing never really materialised). Well, that’s enough from me. It’s your turn now. You have here all the tools you need to CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOR EVER. So go to it! And the very best of luck.
Andy Stanton's award winning Mr Gum books have sold more than 1.25 million copies in the UK alone and have been translated into 32 languages. They have won many awards including the Red House Children's Book Award, the Blue Peter Award for Most Fun Book with Pictures, the inaugural Roald Dahl Funny Prize and the Fantastic Book Award. Visit Andy's website here.