How I Got a Book Deal – Part Two

Last week I posted part one of How I Got a Book Deal, intending to give new writers an insight into how some of today’s fantastic authors got their novels published, and to hopefully encourage others not to give up. To show that the road will likely be long and full of rejection, but that it’s all part of the journey. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Many people contacted me to say how inspirational it was to read these accounts and how they will definitely keep at it.

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So this week another group of incredible writers share with us their path to publication – it’s a passionate and emotional read, folks. And it teaches us that it’s all about rewrites, self-belief, patience, time, a bit of luck, hard work, and never ever giving up. Thank you to Amanda Jennings, Jason Hewitt, Katie Marsh, Brian Lavery, Cassandra Parkin, Ruth Dugdall and Claire Douglas.

 

Amanda Jennings – Sworn Secret, The Judas Scar, In Her Wake

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I got my book deal in a fairly traditional way. I wrote a book and then trawled the Writers and Artists Yearbook for a list of suitable agents. Chapters and synopses were packaged up and sent out with fingers crossed. I signed with an agent and thought this was it, that I was there, that it wouldn’t be long before we were celebrating the imminent publication of my debut novel. How wrong I was! There was a lot of rejection and in the end I had to put that novel aside and write another. But I was determined to get published. So I went away and wrote another book. Two editors showed an interest in this one. The first asked me to makes some changes, so I rewrote it, which took three months. She rejected the book. Then a second editor did the same. And I did the same, I went back to the manuscript and made the changes she suggested. Once again it was rejected after all that work. I was devastated. But a few weeks later I answered a call from my agent, which began ‘are you sitting down?’ The second editor had been back in touch saying she couldn’t stop thinking about the book and she’d like to sign it. An amazing moment, filled with excitement, joy, gratitude and relief – one that I will never forget!

Buy In Her Wake here

Amanda’s Website

 

Jason Hewitt – The Dynamite Room, Devastation Road

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I did an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa and at the end of that volunteered to be the editor for the annual anthology produced for each year group. It was a huge amount of work and included not only producing the book from scratch but also sending copies out to prospective literary agents. Lots of my fellow students found agents as a result, but no one was interested in me. The following year though an agent at Janklow & Nesbit contacted me out of the blue to ask if I could send her the latest anthology. She’d received the one I’d sent out previously which had my details in the front as the editor. I politely replied and told her that I’d been one of the students and had now gone back to my ordinary life, and that I’d pass her details on, but also that I’d also finished the novel I’d been writing on the course. Could I send it to her? She said yes and ended up taking me on. That said, after four years of writing and editing (including a change of agent at J & N), we still didn’t manage to sell it. One editor at Little Brown told me that it showed all the tell-tale signs of having been written by a Creative Writing student and that, if I wrote another and found my voice, she felt quite sure that it would sell. In the meantime my new agent, Will, had said that the only thing to do was to pick myself up and write another. I was incredibly depressed about it but I knew that he was right. The Dynamite Room took another four years to write, but in the end it sold over night in a pre-emptive two-book deal. So my journey to publication was a long and tortuous one but I believe that everything happened for a reason. My lesson? Don’t give up.

Buy Devastation Road here

Jason’s Website

 

Katie Marsh – My Everything, A Life Without You

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If you ignore the nine years and two ‘near miss’ novels that went before it, my book deal happened very quickly. I submitted my third book to agents in spring 2014 and got signed by Hannah Ferguson of Hardman & Swainson within a couple of weeks. Then we worked together on a new edit, which involved cutting out 30,000 words, deleting a plotline and a major character, and completely changing the ending. In August she then submitted the manuscript to nine publishers while I bit my nails a lot and refreshed my email approximately every three seconds.  Luckily, the response was very quick, and we had offers from two publishers within ten days. The book was sold at auction to Hodder & Stoughton and ‘My Everything’ was published in August 2015. Seeing it on the shelves is every bit as wonderful as I imagined it, and my second book – ‘A Life Without You’ – is out in July this year.

Buy My Everything here

Read more about Katie Marsh

 

Brian Lavery – The Headscarf Revolutionaries

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It was somewhat circuitous route to a book deal for me. I have been writing since I was a kid. I had more than 25 years as a national and regional journalist in print and broadcast, here and abroad, before returning to higher education to the University of Hull, my adopted home town for the past three decades plus, where I completed an undergraduate degree in English Lit. & Creative Writing. My book, a creative nonfiction, The Headscarf Revolutionaries (Barbican Press, 2015) derived from a funded PhD thesis, supervised by the English and the Maritime History departments respectively of that university. It tells the story of the 1968 Hull Triple Trawler Disaster, in which three trawlers, the St Romanus, the Kingston Peridot and the Ross Cleveland sank in as many weeks with the loss of 58 men, and the subsequent fishwives’ uprising led by safety campaigner Mrs Lillian Bilocca. It also recounts the incredible survival of Harry Eddom, mate of the Ross Cleveland, the only man to survive the disaster. In the course of my research I wrote and presented a piece for BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought series in late 2013, based on the biography I had been commissioned to write that year by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography on the life of Mrs Bilocca. There were a few inquiries after that. So I was very lucky in as much as I did not have to send the manuscript to an agent or publishing house. Other than tons of journalism, my ‘other’ writing was mainly short fiction, poetry and some academic publications. I had a few options to check out after the Radio 4 broadcast but was in no real hurry as such. Had it been 20 years earlier, I’d have signed the first thing put under my nose! I even considered a self-publication route. I had great faith in the story. Then I was approached by Barbican Press (London and Hull), a director of which was that city’s University’s Professor of Creative Writing Martin Goodman, who had also been the principal supervisor of my doctoral thesis. I knew he loved the story, I respected his work and his own track record as both a nonfiction and fiction writer. But most importantly of all, I trusted the man to do the right thing with my work, and as Polonius said, ‘if you find an honest man bind him to your heart with hoops of steel.’ So I signed up with the small, feisty, indy house and became their best seller. Now a film and TV production company have optioned my book, and I am under way with a second nonfiction due out later this year, alongside a novel in its early stages. I am aware of how lucky I am. I am also aware that the harder I work, the luckier I become.

Buy The Headscarf Revolutionaries here

Brian’s Website

 

Cassandra Parkin – The Summer We All Ran Away, New World Fairy Tales, The Beach Hut

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My first book deal came via a competition that I only submitted to because everyone I knew told me I had to. In 2011, I wrote a collection of short stories as Christmas presents for a group of close friends. Then they all ganged up on me and told me I had to get them published, so I entered “New World Fairy Tales” for Salt Publishing’s 2011 Scott prize. I was so convinced I wouldn’t get anywhere that I wasn’t looking out for the winners announcement. I discovered I’d won when my lovely friend and fellow author Louise Beech messaged me on Facebook saying, “By the way, do you know you’ve won the Scott Prize?”

I’ve always loved Legend Press’s superbly-curated list of commercial literary fiction, and they’re also one of the very few publishers who take unsolicited and un-agented submissions. So after a lot more persistent nagging gentle encouragement, I submitted the first three chapters of my debut novel, “The Summer We All Ran Away” to Legend. I was expecting it to languish in the slush pile for months before receiving a polite form rejection, so it was a fantastic surprise when they called in the manuscript within two weeks, and signed it within another three. My second novel, “The Beach Hut”, was published by Legend Press in 2015, and my third novel “Lily’s House” will be published, also by Legend, in October 2016.

In hindsight, my biggest hurdle to publication was a lack of self-belief. I’m eternally, abjectly grateful to my lovely friends and family for making me send my work out into the world. My best advice is to skip the I’m-not-good-enough-let’s-not-bother phase – I’m speaking from painful experience when I tell you that it’s pointless and unnecessary. Just take a deep breath, and get submitting.

Buy The Beach Hut

Cassandra’s Website

 

Ruth Dugdall – The Sacrificial Man, The James Version, The Woman Before Me, Humber Boy B, Nowhere Girl

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Before I was published I thought it would go something like this: find agent. Agent finds publisher. All is well in the world. Then I discovered it was more like this: find agent. Book gets rejected. Ruth hides under duvet for a while then writes new book. Book gets rejected. The world is a cruel, harsh place. Things changed for me when I entered the Luke Bitmead Bursary. After four years of scenario two, winning that award (which included a publishing deal with Legend Press) was life-changing. And, strange though it may sound, I’m glad it happened the way it did because I take nothing (not one reader, not one review, not one invite to talk) for granted.

Buy Nowhere Girl

Ruth’s Website

 

Claire Douglas – The Sisters

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I submitted my first novel to an agent when I was 24. It took me another fifteen years before I’d find an agent and publisher.

The Sisters was my fourth attempt at a novel. I started writing it with a view of sending it off to agents and publishers but then a good writer friend alerted me to a competition that Marie Claire Magazine were holding. The prize was a one-book publishing deal with HarperCollins and an introduction to an agent – Juliet Mushens of United Talent Agency, who was also a judge.

I emailed Marie Claire the first three chapters of the unfinished novel with just an hour to go before the deadline. I never expected to hear anything further about it. In the meantime, I carried on writing the rest and put the competition out of my mind. Three months later I received the phone call from Marie Claire to say I had won. It was the most surreal, amazing feeling. After so many years of submissions and rejections somebody actually wanted to publish my novel! It was the kind of thing I’d read about happening to other writers, I never thought it would happen to me.

I went up to Islington to meet Juliet and felt so lucky when she said she’d represent me. Because I only had a one book deal I was worried about what would happen after The Sisters was published but Juliet sent my second novel out to publishers and it went to auction. It was all so exciting. I spent a day in London meeting the four different publishers and I was thrilled when Michael Joseph, Penguin won the auction. My new novel Local Girl Missing will be out in August 2016.

Buy The Sisters here

Read more about Claire here

How I Got a Book Deal – Part One

Before I finally got my book deal – I did it, did you know? – it was the one thing I googled and researched and asked about the most while working on my novels. How did other writers manage to acquire that elusive, golden prize of actually having a publisher say yes. Yes, they love the book that’s been your life for the last so many months (years even). Yes, they think it’s actually fit for human consumption. Yes, you can write. Yes. Yes!

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My first book signing in Waterstones

So I decided to dedicate today’s blog to that very question; and not only to ask it of myself and share the answer here, but to ask it of others who also managed to achieve that dream. So many wonderful writers responded and agreed to share their experiences that this will definitely be a two-parter, and possibly even three. I hope their responses will inspire, drive, confirm, and give hope to other writers striving to get their work out there.

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So – how did I do it? Here we go, in one long sentence, in one tumble of excited words, my book deal journey…

A book deal took me fifteen years, two weekly newspaper columns, ten short stories, one novel, countless rejections, thousands of travel pieces, another ten-plus short stories, countless rejections, another novel, three-and-a-half plays, one agent, countless more rejections, a few more short stories (that win prizes!), another novel, one retired agent, a handful of ‘almosts,’ novel number four, countless more rejections, one shortlist for big novel award, countless more rejections… and finally, in 2015, one incredible, magnificent, life-saving publisher, Karen at Orenda Books, saying yes.

Now over to those incredible writers and their tales. Thank you so much to them for taking the time to do this. Today Claire Fuller, David Young, Jane Isaac, Nick Quantrill, Sarah Jasmon, Gill Paul and Rebecca Mascull join us. And a few other very exciting writers will join me in part two…

 

Claire Fuller – Our Endless Numbered Days

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I sent my submission out to twelve agents – selecting them on the basis of whether they had an open list, were interested in debut authors and literary fiction, and whether I thought they looked friendly. I was lucky enough to get a couple of requests for a full submission, and then asked to come to a meeting in London with Jane Finigan from Lutyens and Rubinstein. I signed with her a week or so later. Jane and I worked on editing Our Endless Numbered Days for about six weeks and then she selected twelve editors in publishing houses to send it to. Within a few days we had offers from three, and so the book went to auction. It was the most amazing thing. The auction went on for a couple of weeks, and then two days after I got married, when I was sitting in the back of a car surrounded by empty bottles and bin-liners from tidying up after the wedding, Jane phoned me and told me that Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin had won.

Claire Fuller’s Website

Buy Our Endless Numbered Days

 

David Young – Stasi Child

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To get any deal – certainly to get a decent deal – you usually need a literary agent. I came close to landing one when I first tried writing a novel some fourteen years ago. After several rejections, my second manuscript got called in by a leading crime agent who compared the sample chapters to bestseller Robert Goddard. But in the end she didn’t like the book enough. Ten years on, I decided to have another go, but was determined to do it properly. That rejected manuscript was useful because it earned me a place on the inaugural Crime Thriller MA at City University, tutored by leading crime writers. Stasi Child was conceived in the first term, initially as an exercise in setting. I was then one of the prizewinners when I entered the opening chapters in the Yeovil Literary Prize in 2014 which gave me the first indication that perhaps, this time, I might have more success. In the end, I didn’t have to endure another round of rejections. At the shortlisting stage for the City University course prize, sponsored by literary agents PFD, an agent there – Adam Gauntlett – snapped me up before I’d submitted anywhere else. Even then, a deal wasn’t instant. The first round of submissions resulted in a French deal and an option for TV rights, but it wasn’t until a second round some months later that Adam secured a three-book deal for World English rights with Bonnier publishing’s new UK fiction arm. PFD have since sold foreign rights to Poland and Israel, with others in the offing. Stasi Child entered the official UK Top 20 fiction chart soon after paperback publication in February 2016, and was made Crime Book of the Month by The Times, and Pick of the Week by the Daily Telegraph.

David Young’s Website

Buy Stasi Child

 

Jane Isaac – Before It’s Too Late, The Truth Will Out, An Unfamiliar Murder

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Like many writers, I’ve had rather a roller coaster ride to publication. When I finished my first book I was still studying creative writing with the Writers Bureau, and my tutor read the sample chapters and recommended that I send it to a small publisher called Crème De La Crime who accepted submissions from unpublished writers. They responded within a week to say that they couldn’t accept new submissions, having just been taken over by a large publisher, but they enjoyed the piece and suggested I send it to a couple of agents who were interested in new crime writers. I really didn’t expect to hear anything, you get so many rejections in this industry, so I was stunned when they both wanted to sign it! To cut a long story short, after a lovely day at their Kensington offices I signed up with one of the agents and they submitted the novel to the big publishing houses. The result was disappointing: We had lovely feedback, they all seemed to like the work, but nobody offered to sign the novel. My agent suggested I submit to the independent publishers and I signed with US based Rainstorm Press within a month. Rainstorm were only able to distribute books online in the UK, so when I finished my second book, The Truth Will Out, I decided to throw myself back into the slush pile and try for a British publisher. Luckily I signed with Legend Press who released my third book, Before It’s Too Late, last year and will be publishing my new title, Beneath The Ashes, on 1st November 2016.

Jane Isaac’s Website

Buy An Unfamiliar Murder

 

Nick Quantrill – Broken Dreams, The Late Greats, The Crooked Beat

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When I completed my first novel (second, really), I had no idea how to find a publishing deal. I didn’t know anyone in the business and I certainly didn’t know anything about how it worked. My gut instinct, though, told me a crime novel featuring a Private Investigator in Hull would sit better with a small press, preferably a specialist in the genre. I set about researching online, networking and talking to people. Rather than sending out submissions blindly, there was some logic in the process and I was fortunate to quickly find Caffeine Nights.

Nick Quantrill’s Website

Buy The Crooked Beat

 

Sarah Jasmon – The Summer of Secrets

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Back in 2013, I’d finished my first novel as part of my MA and had it rejected by the only agent I’d sent it to. I knew it needed editing, but didn’t have the time and space just then to deal with it. On a writing retreat, the subject of elevator pitches and approach letters had come up, so I’d done a bit of work of them. My boyfriend was on the shortlist for the Terry Pratchett First Novel Award that year, and I went along to the award ceremony. An evening in a room full of publishing professionals was an absolute gift, though I was actually more focussed on making contacts to get books to review on my blog than in selling my own novel. But one thing led to another, and I ended up with two editors reading the manuscript. One sent it on to Carrie Plitt at Conville & Walsh, who is now my agent, and the other ended up commissioning it for Transworld. Lucky timing, yes, but I also had a completed manuscript and a pitch ready to go when I was asked what my book was about. Lesson: be prepared, and make the most of any opportunity that comes up. You just never know…

Sarah Jasmon’s Website

Buy The Summer of Secrets

 

Gill Paul – Women and Children First, No Place for a Lady, The Affair, Titanic Love Stories

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My first book deal came about the old-fashioned way: I wrote a novel, sent it to half a dozen agents, and one of them agreed to represent me. She then sent it to half a dozen publishers and one agreed to publish me. There was no high-stakes auction, no six-figure advance, but after getting the call I curled up in foetal position on the rug, heart hammering so hard it was half an hour before I could calm down enough to call my mum. I don’t think it would have been so easy today. When brainstorming ideas for new novels now, I try to think about how they could be marketed: centenaries, film releases to tie in with, topics on which I could pitch articles to the press. A sales director once told me you need to be able to condense your idea into a compelling soundbite that can be delivered in less than 30 seconds – the average time they have to pitch it to book chains – but I’m utterly, pathetically useless at that.

Gill Paul’s new novel The Secret Wife, about the fate of the Russian royal family in 1918, will be published in September 2016

Gill Paul’s Website

Buy No Place For a Lady

 

Rebecca Mascull – Song of the Sea Maid, The Visitors

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I spent twelve years trying to get published before I finally made it! I wrote three novels before THE VISITORS, each of which got an agent but nothing further. Then I wrote THE VISITORS in a state of complete what-the-hell, devil-may-care, I’ve got nothing to lose, kind of thing. I sent my agent the manuscript on May 21st 2012. On June 21st, we heard from Hodder and Stoughton that THE VISITORS had secured a deal. One month to the day since the novel was finished and sent off, seven years give or take a month or so since I left full-time teaching to become a novelist, and twelve years since I’d decided to try and get published. Some people do it quicker, for some it takes longer, and some give up or never achieve whatever their writing dreams happen to be. For me, I wanted a novel of mine to be published by a publishing house, not by myself, and that is what happened for me, after years and years of trying. After that, I wrote my next novel in more or less complete isolation; I had a one-book deal for THE VISITORS and no kind of guarantee that my publisher would like my next book. I didn’t know what they were going to think when I sent it off. It was bloody terrifying! But luckily, Hodder made a two-book offer for that novel – SONG OF THE SEA MAID – and a further book (of which I’ve just finished the first draft). And only then did I begin to feel a little bit more like a real writer.

Rebecca Mascull’s Website

Buy Song of the Sea Maid

Bedtime stories, any time.

The last time most of us heard a story read aloud – reverently and slowly – it’s very likely we were children, and that it was bedtime, and that the storyteller was a parent. I’ve always found it curious that as children we’re read stories before bed. They always woke me, lifted me, rather than sending me into sleepyland. Why not stories at breakfast or with tea?

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That special shared reading time – whatever the time – is something we remember fondly; it was a place we were safe, a little sleepy (except me!) and the person we loved most in the world was taking us somewhere magical. Is it any wonder that we long to return to that place now adult life means we barely have enough time to read, let alone get lost in another world?

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My daughter as a tot at storytime, lost in the words.

With audiobook sales on the rise, it would appear that many of us are craving that surrender to words read aloud and embracing again the spoken tale. When writing How to be Brave I read aloud the parts that Natalie reads to young Rose to see if it worked when lifted off the page, the way parents do with Cinderella and Harry Potter. Even the clumsiest reader – and I’m no expert, I often get nervous and babble – only needs heart and a belief in the words to make them work.

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The velvet-voiced Finty Williams

But when someone with both of those things and a gorgeous, lilting voice brings your novel to life, it doesn’t get any better. I was on our family holiday in New York when publisher Karen Sullivan told me that Finty Williams, daughter of Judi Dench, would be reading the How To Be Brave audiobook. Because of the time difference my family were still sleeping near me – so I had to keep my squeals to myself. I had to lie in the dark and smile, keeping my story very quiet. There are strong themes of shared storytelling in How To Be Brave – not only as an escape but quite literally as a lifesaver, too – so it felt natural that the novel would become an audiobook. And yet it was still an amazing surprise.

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Some weeks later I got to listen to Finty raise my novel to another level. She came with me on the bus, in the bath, in the car. Her rich and velvety voice followed me around the house with a duster and into the garden with laundry. She was with me at lunchtime, teatime and bedtime – yes, even bedtime. Somehow the words I’d written were new ones. This was a tale in which I couldn’t quite be sure what might happen; such was the way she made it hers.

Listen to a sample of How to be Brave here

And I was thrilled, because only while sharing storytime with Finty did I become the child I’d not been for years, and my novel took on some kind of magical power I’d not even created.

On Books. And Storytellers. And Trains.

So here I am on my new website. Aren’t I clever? Isn’t this wonderful? Didn’t I swear lots creating it? I can’t quite believe I’m here. And by here I don’t just mean here in this little area of cyberspace I’ve allocated myself to do a bit of storytelling, but here. Here as in today. Now. World Book Day actually, which is profound, because I’m thinking a lot about books. And storytellers. And trains.

20160225_113234-1 (1)On the train from Hull to Leeds.

The last few months have been utterly bookish. I feel I’ve travelled the world, both in cyberspace and physically. Cyberspace is perhaps easier to tour but far less rewarding than the in-the-flesh meeting of others. Plus you don’t get to go via train, as I have to Leeds, London and Durham this month. I love trains. So much people-watching to do. We see how folks really are on a train – how they eat, how they sleep, and most of all what they read. If you’re going anywhere on one in the near future look out for a little something I left on the 11.49 from Hull to Leeds…

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I went to Durham with English PEN to do a Life Writing workshop at a prison with inmates. These prison writers – and they are writers, because they write – were passionate, honest and direct. They shared with me incredible pieces of poetry, proudly showed me detailed and gorgeous sketches, and let me read short stories brimming with profound imagery and gorgeous metaphors. I’ll never forget my day there.  I also went to Leeds for the northern TBC (The Book Club) meeting, where I mingled with other authors, bloggers, and readers, many of whom had read How to be Brave. There are too too many wonderful people to mention, but I must thank Helen Boyce for hosting it, and being a delight. Books were shared, discussed, won, signed and gripped. As was wine. (Perhaps not the signed part.)

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Last week I took the train yet again to London for the launch of Amanda Jennings’ beautiful novel In Her Wake. Free wine is enough to draw anyone to an event, but it could have been in a cold field without a bottle in sight and we (readers, writers, bloggers, reviewers) would have gone to celebrate Amanda’s incredible third book. I was a complete fangirl (my 15-year-old daughter will chastise me for using teenspeak) when I met authors whose books are on my shelf and Kindle – Jane Isaac, Gill Paul and Katie Marsh.

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On a non-physical trip – via my dear Uncle Lapwim – I visited Australia, where a Tasmanian book group had been reading How to be Brave and were overjoyed when he took in a signed copy of the book.

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I haven’t been to Ireland since I was thirteen, but long to go again – properly, physically. My maternal grandmother’s family originally hail from that land of story. Alongside folktales and legends, stories have been told around Irish firesides at night, forming the backbone of entertainment and imagination there forever. Lovely Irish friend Fiona Mills – radio superstar on the airwaves of Hull – says that you can’t go into an Irish home without sharing a story or two. She predicted years ago that I’d eventually get a book deal and the logo would be a tree. Take a closer look at the Orenda Books logo.

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And so I end my World Book Day blog in Ireland – spiritually not physically. Because my proudest cyber travel has been via the Irish Times. Assistant Literary Editor Martin Doyle has been a huge supporter of How to be Brave, publishing my article How to be Somewhere Else and then calling it his favourite piece that week. Irish friend Fiona said that the Irish Times was ‘really something’ when she was growing up, and that were her beloved mother still alive she’d have got out the best china for me for being featured within its hallowed (cyber) pages.

 DSCN7493Me and my lovely friend Fiona

Happy World Book Day. As Rose says in How to be Brave – “But don’t you know? It was never the diary or the newspaper bits or what anyone else told you. It was always you. Just you. You’re the storyteller and I love you.” Big love to all the storytellers. You rock our world.