My book – St Cuthbert’s Wild School for Boys – has just been shortlisted in the Children’s Fiction category for the 2015 International Rubery Book Award, for books published by independent publishers or self published.
I’m so pleased, especially given its journey.
It began with frustration at how restricted my son was within school and play, compared to when I was little, and with a love of stories. I started to tell him about this wild school, where you could do anything… And those words wild school made his eyes light up!
I began to write it down. Practically speaking, I’d started to rent a shared desk at Spike Island, to make a change from working at home, and I saw my chance to carve out a tiny bit of quiet time each week for writing something important to me. And it seemed to bring together so much of what I am involved in at work and elsewhere:
- the importance of freedom and creativity for children in learning and play;
- the joy and learning for children in just being outside and in nature (on however small a scrap of land) and doing real things;
- wanting to help change the limited ‘offer’ to children in these areas, and the belief that this is possible (both of which are present in the good work of Playing Out and Room 13);
- and knowing that stories can speak to a different part of us than factual writing, and can sometimes have the power to change the way we think or feel.
What if I could write a story for children that also reminded adults of what it’s like to be a child, and of what is important?
What if…? I wanted to try.
A lot of work later (…this really skips a lot!) I finished my book. But after 3 rejections from literary agents I was not feeling so motivated, and I shoved it in a drawer and got on with other things.
And then, I read something about how even if there is only an audience of 3 people for what you’ve written, write it for them! A positive 3…
And I learnt that it’s possible to publish a book on Amazon, as long as it’s well written, edited and has a good cover. It doesn’t cost anything really, if you can do those bits: just work, time and a bit of bravery. If someone buys it, it’s printed and sent off, and if they don’t, it isn’t.
From what I read, it seemed a good way to get things ‘out there’, quickly, under your own steam, if you believe in them and want them read, rather than waiting for someone to do it for you. Like recording your songs and putting them on-line. The rest is about how good the work is, and how well you publicise it.
And so I did it. And thanks to friend and designer Ruth Bateson at Spike, my book was professionally type-set and had a wonderful cover. And thanks to Piers of Atomic Smash, another friend through Spike, I set up this website. And then my book was out there! Scary… But it felt good.
Well I’ve sold 400 copies and mostly to people I don’t know (I get 80p from each one, but I have more than covered my small costs). I’ve had some very positive reviews on Amazon and some comments on this site, and some good chances for publicity that just came along, like the Radio 4 interview.
But what I haven’t yet done is to properly publicise or market my book more widely to people – children, parents, teachers and those working around childhood – who might be interested, and I so want to do that. This short-listing – against books that have been more professionally published by independent publishers, as well as all the self published ones, from lots of different countries – has given me the boost to do it.
So if anyone reading this has any ideas, advice, suggestions, help for how I can get it out there more, or what networks I can send it to, please do get in touch here or by email. I’d appreciate your help and ideas very much!
And at a personal level, I’m glad I followed that spark of interest and desire to keep going. Especially (and meaningfully, given what my story is about) because – from the youngest age I can remember – stories and writing have been ‘my thing’.
Thank you to anyone who has bought my book or supported it in any way, and thank you – so much – to everyone who helped me do it.
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