In a new series for Writers & Artists, Emma Cox - children's author and winner of the New Children's Author Prize 2015 - is going to be sharing her experiences as a debut children's author, from discovering she was the winner of the prize through to the finished book hitting the shelves. In the first in the series, she tells us how it feels when you find out your book is actually going to be published.
On Monday night I won the New Children’s Author Prize 2015. If you have a copy of this year’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook you can see a drawing by Liz Pichon in the foreword which shows her lovely, spotty, ribbony shoes not touching the ground since Tom Gates was published in 2011. These floating, happy shoes are a visual metaphor for my week. Just like my protagonist, Malkin Moonlight (he’s a cat who executes splendid leaps that cut off his deal with gravity), I haven’t touched the ground since the award ceremony on Monday night. I am a few inches above the ground as I write this. It’s at once a wonderful and utterly surreal feeling.
I’ve been asked to write a blog for Writers & Artists. There’s something inside out about that. How can I be a part of it? I’m one of the people who hold it and wonder and pray. Now I’m going to be a small part of it. I am going to talk about becoming a children’s writer, about the process that is just, right now, beginning all around me. The steps, the stages, the things to do, and how it changes you. That may be the most important bit: how your definition of yourself alters. You’re reading this so you understand that. You’re a writer, or an artist, and, as I tell the children I teach, the two occupations hold hands: you look at a picture and get words inside your head, you read a book and get pictures. We’re the same: we have to create. What else can we do?
In ‘On Writing’ Stephen King says to write with the door closed and edit with the door open. You’ll know this book: it’s on the dietary plan of any writer. I took this advice literally. I wrote Malkin Moonlight with the blinds drawn, the door closed, my hoodie and jogging bottoms on and I showed no one, told no one, just did it. I am a door closed writer most definitely. On Monday night that door was blasted wide open with a fantastic and brilliant boom. People had read my book: important people. Rebecca McNally - Publishing Director at Bloomsbury - spoke about what the prize would mean. It sounded amazing. There were words like published and future and nurture and writer in it. I can’t remember more - my brain was blasted, too.
Then Jonathan Douglas - who is the Director of the National Literacy Trust, a natural raconteur - stood on the stage and read excerpts from my book. He brought my cats to life. He gave them accents and gestures. He made them real. I was wearing boots. They moved a few inches above the ground.
I won the prize: a publishing contract with Bloomsbury. My own book, a real book, with an ISBN number and a cover and a spine with my name on it, and perhaps - who knows at this stage - but perhaps beautiful endpapers (I love endpapers). I am going to be a writer; not a secret writer but a real one. I've had confirmation: yes, you can write, we’re not laughing, here is your new definition, hold it in both hands, it’s precious. The change in temperature, walking through to the other side of the door, was extreme.
On Tuesday I met my editor, Zoe Griffiths, Senior Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury. She has a tattoo on her wrist that says Love Wins. This is a theme in my book. This is meant to be (although on first glance I thought it said Love Wine, which was quite exciting, too). Zoe has a mind full of ideas, blood full of books, and a heart full of kindness. Yesterday when I got home from boarding duty at school I had a Bloomsbury envelope (that is exciting in itself - I will keep every one) and the manuscript of my book with all Zoe’s notes and a long, encouraging letter about the rewrite. As she said to me, “It’s really real.”
It is. I entered a competition because my best friend Katherine sent me an email from the National Literacy Trust. On Friday she sent me another one from the NLT - ‘Dear, you’re mentioned in this’, and there I was with a photo from Monday night. Now my foot is in the door. Next July I hope to hold my book in my hands. The children I teach have been so amazing. Putting an article on the whiteboard from the TES and asking my Year Five tutor group to sit on the carpet and read it while I watched their eyes change - that was pure magic. Tamby in Year Seven told me I was being authentically myself. My friends and family have been just wonderful. Who knew people could be so happy for me?
And you know all of this lies in wait for you. You know it. If you’re a bit too friendly with midnight. If you write or draw in the strangled time between the dictates of work and the dark, quiet time of solitary you: that bit of time that is perfectly yourself, when you are finally alone and can entertain the feeling (Oh, I can write now, or paint, or draw, or take photos or animate - whatever it is you do, that moment, that little humming light inside that is always there and is the truest part of you and cannot be extinguished because it is you); and then you are absorbed till you come out the other side. If you live in the shadowy world of self doubt till a publishing contract breaks the cycle and all that pretending, all of it, becomes a reality and you want to shake hands with the person who did all the work and kept going, kept thinking I'm deluding myself, but I’ll do it anyway, I won’t put my head through this computer screen. If that’s you, like it is me, then keep going. Smash open doors. Take what life can give you with both hands and hold on tight. Make your pictures real.
I was born in Clifton in Bristol. I studied English at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. I taught in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, then moved to Rome where I taught in an international school for three years. I now live in Exeter and am Head of English and Drama at Exeter Cathedral School - a job I love. I have been writing since I was four years old. I've always written for children and young adults. Malkin Moonlight will be my first published book - hopefully in July 2016 - I am very, very excited to have joined Bloomsbury's list of children's authors. I think the year ahead is going to be the most exciting of my life. I can't wait for all it will bring.