Saturday 21 January 2012


This week I was lucky enough to have a one to one with an agent that I had won via a raffle at the Society of Children Book Writers' Conference. It was with Madeleine Buston of Darley Anderson Literary Agency and I have to say it was an absolute delight talking to her. Not just because she happened to like my book but because her advice was well thought out and considered. Madeleine was able to advise me on various aspects including suggesting I think of a new more explicit title to the book we were considering - currently still retaining its PhD title: Ham and Jam - and thinking of a one line pitch. Her support and encouragement was invaluable and way more than I expected from what is basically a 'free' consultation. But Madeleine didn't stop there, she very kindly arranged for me to talk to Vicki Le Feuvre, an editor at the agency, who had also read my sample chapters and had enjoyed them too. Vicki went through her notes with me on the phone and then even emailed them to me. A particular thrill for me was when she spoke about one of my characters, whose voice I had been worrying about, but who she found to be fresh and honest with a really readable voice. Vicki had some truly brilliant ideas which are really going to add to the story and that had me thinking: why didn't I see that, it's so obvious. I came away from the session absolutely buzzing and full of ideas.

My point with this post is not just to say thank you to Madeleine and Vicki for their insightful advice, and to the excellent organisers of the SCBWI conference who arranged the raffle, but to also remind everyone how important it is to get your work critiqued. Getting other people to look at your work brings fresh eyes to it and may help to spot parts that are just not working. Family is not always a great bet - they might feel honour bound to tell you it is wonderful when actually it needs quite a bit of work, but it does need to be somebody you trust. As I said in numerous earlier posts writing is all about the rewriting and listening to others can be part of this process. I always warn my students that when I am marking their creative pieces I can pick out those who have not bothered to partake in class workshops. The pieces will lack polish. It is something I miss having finished my PhD as then I always had someone there to give me feedback. If you are not already in one I would suggest that it is well worth considering setting up a critiquing group (online or face to face) where you can get this sort of support. The SCBWI is excellent at pointing you in the direction of such groups if you are interested in writing for children.

I have to say the one to one was a highlight of the week along with a hilarious evening spent with my children and some good Australian friends. However, the rest of the week was not quite so successful. Let me ask you this, do you ever have one of those weeks when your head is so full of stuff to do that it explodes and you end up not thinking things through and find yourself irritating or hurting people? The rest of the week was like that for me. I just didn't think and it  is the potential of hurting or irritating someone that caused me so much pain and stress this week. Probably stupidly but I really worry about things like that. The body is rebelling and the brain is struggling to cope with everything but it is a new day and maybe next week I will do better. What I do know is I will be working on Ham and Jam full of inspiration and drive.


  1. Absolutely agree with you 100% about getting feedback. But also, you need to be in the right frame of mind to hear the feedback as something useful, and be prepared to do the polishing. Personally, I now love the polishing process, but it took me quite a while to appreciate the beauty of it!
    Hope you have a better week next week.

  2. I agree Wendy and that is something I should have added though this is part of ensuring you critique with people you trust. There is also a fine art to giving feedback so maybe that is something I will blog about soon.
    And thank you, I hope it is a better week too!

  3. I'm glad that you had such a positive experience with Madeleine Buston, I know what you mean about the generosity of agents and editors as I have benefitted myself.
    I look forward to hearing more about Ham and Jam.

  4. Thank you Amanda. I was totally blown over by their generosity and their enthusiasm.
    I am hoping you will hear more about Ham and Ham soon too ;-)

  5. sounds like you had a wonderful session with madeleine buston - how kind of her to put you in touch with their editor as well. I'm sorry to hear the rest of the week was not so wonderful - but you must give yourself permission to be preoccupied and not quite there enough to focus on everything around you. unfortunately not quite paying attention to the rest of your life is part and parcel of writing novels ... hugs are a good way of making up for this most writerly of failings. as for the bit about the book ... well done and good luck!

  6. re getting critique you trust ... i'd advice people looking for a crit group not to join just any one available but to try to meet like minded people via SCBWI or other social groups. Trust is so important.

  7. Candy is spot on. It is vital that you trust your critiquing partners as sometimes in can be a really painful experience if things are not going well. You need people who understand.