A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Rhian: How long had you been waiting for your book deal?
Sheena: All my life, I suppose — or at least since I was nine, which is when I started telling people I wanted to be a writer. I was 39, however, when I got the first deal with Little Island, for my novel Taking Flight. I never lost my ambition to write novels, but I spend a couple of decades gaffing about…
Rhian: I don’t know what gaffing is but it sounds like fun! Anyway, back to the interview.
Sheena: So when I was about 36, I realised that if I wasn’t going to regret what I hadn’t tried, I would need to change my attitude, and that’s when I started going to Arvon, doing a Masters in Creative Writing, etc. So at least I could say I had tried. And luckily, things went pretty well.
Rhian: So this was obviously a moment you’d dreamed about?
Sheena: Yes! But — see above — it was the realisation that I needed to do more than dream, if the dream was going to come true, that galvanised me into action.
Rhian: What was your initial reaction/response when you heard those magic words or opened that special email?
Sheena: Funnily enough I don’t remember signing the contract so much as getting the first email from my agent, Faith O’Grady, telling me that Little Island had made an offer. I had spent the whole week of half term having swine flu; I’d had to miss a holiday in Berlin, and was pretty fed up. It was pre-wifi, pre-smart phone (for me anyway), and so I hadn’t been online all week. I cranked up my old computer and there was the email from Faith saying Little Island — a new company at that time — liked Taking Flight and wanted to buy it. I was thrilled — it took my mind off the flu. I remember thinking, this is it; this is my career starting. Finally!
Rhian: Doesn’t every moment in publishing feel like a ‘FINALLY’ moment. So how did you mark this life changing news?
Sheena: Well, I was home alone, and convalescent, so I couldn’t actually go out and DO anything, but I remember phoning my old friend Elizabeth to tell her. In the old days we’d been literary rivals — I was gutted when her poems were given a special section in the school magazine in 1985 and mine weren’t — but she hasn’t continued down that path, and I remember her being really happy for me. My third novel, Too Many Ponies, is dedicated to her.
Rhian: That’s a lovely thing to be able to do, lucky Elizabeth. So I’m guessing the moment wasn’t an anti-climax?
Sheena: It was obviously thrilling that there was finally going to be an actual BOOK. But to be honest I got a big reality check when I saw the small advance, and realised that it was a one-book deal. Little Island have actually gone on to publish four more of my books, but always a deal at a time. Back then, in my naivety, I expected a three-book deal, and more money! I’m much more realistic about things now.
Rhian: Talking of subsequent book deal moments how do they compare to that first one?
Sheena: Because of only ever having one book contracted at a time, every deal has meant a lot. I worry constantly about getting contracts, especially as I gave up teaching to write full-time. I’ve had several commissions from Little Island, and in a way that’s less pressured because you know the book will be published. Because even since being published, I’ve written books which haven’t sold, and that’s pretty gutting. I think I enjoyed the first deal most because I was so naive.
Rhian: It is very different writing when you’re writing to contract isn’t it. Tell us about your most recent deal.
Sheena: The most unusual deal I’ve had was my latest — when Little Island commissioned a historical novel, about the 1916 Easter Rising — to be delivered in three months. That was a high challenge, but I’m thrilled with the book, which is out in September, and kind of pleased that the naive new writer who was so excited by her first deal developed into the kind of professional who could take on that kind of challenge — it was lovely to think my publishers had that kind of faith of me.
Rhian: That’s something to strive for, a publisher who has faith in you. Who could ask for anything* more?
*perhaps a bigger advance, more festival invites, prizes, boxes of chocolates and fresh flowers delivered just because your writing is so awesome, cover quotes to die for, signing queues around the block, film deals, Malorie Blackman asking to be your BFF, a bidding war over your next book….
Since the publication of the multi-award-winning Taking Flight in 2010, Sheena Wilkinson has been established as one of Ireland’s most acclaimed writers for young people. Grounded won the overall CBI Book of the Year award in 2013, and her new novel Still Falling has been described (Inis Magazine) as ‘heartbreaking and heartwarming…an instant classic’. Sheena lives in County Down.
Rhian Ivory was found on the slushpile at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. The slightly quirky title of her first novel ‘When Isla meets Luke meets Isla’ caught the eye of a commissioning editor and 4 book deals followed writing under her maiden name, Rhian Tracey.
Rhian’s new YA novel The Boy who drew the Future will be published by Firefly Press, September 2015.
The Boy who drew the Future is about witches, the workhouse and water.
Rhian has always wanted to be a writer but was told to get a proper job, so she trained as a teacher. Rhian currently lectures in Creative Writing and Children’s literature but spends as much time as possible on her non-proper job, writing.
Rhian is Patron for Reading at Akeley Wood School, Buckinghamshire.
Rhian is also Writer in Residence for The National Trust.
Rhian is represented by Kirsty McLachlan of David Godwin Associates.