Sunday, 6 May 2012

Tying loose ends

What a crazy week! I've barely been keeping up with my work. Yesterday was the StART Festival, a day-long celebration of St Anne's College talent to kick off Arts Week, which I've been planning for a few months. I was a bit nervous at first, but it all ran smoothly. We raised about £30 for English PEN, a charity that supports the freedom to read and write.  

I woke up this morning after a very busy day at college and went out to grab a coffee
and a copy of The Sunday Times. The only time I've ever been in a paper that I recall was in the local Gazette when I was about six years old. It was for a daffodil-planting initiative, and a group of us were standing by a big cardboard trowel. I remember one of the boys had to dress up as a giant bulb. Needless to say he wasn't happy. But I'm thrilled and very overwhelmed today to be in a national paper. Seeing the names of my characters in print was amazing, and it's incredibly exciting to see so much early interest in The Bone Season.  

I'd just like to clarify one or two things: first of all, my advance from Bloomsbury was not seven figures. It's a six-figure sum for three books, starting with The Bone Season, but the team are committed to doing all seven. Very few debut novels receive seven-figure advances! 

There has also been some misunderstanding about my mum, Amanda. This has stemmed from my interview with the Sunday Times, in which I said that Mum restricted my writing hours because she was concerned about my health. Several news sites have since said that she tried to crush my dreams, that she was relieved by my rejections, and that if she'd had her way, The Bone Season would never have been written. On the other hand, it's also been suggested that Mum's anti-novel sentiment was a bit of a publicity stunt, and that no mother would ever complain about her daughter writing or studying. 

Me with Mum.
At the time I was writing Aurora, I was doing my GCSEs and later my A-Levels. Mum was naturally very concerned that I was spending all my time writing and no time studying. My writing hours, as I mentioned in my previous blog, were also impacting my health: I was exhausted, grumpy and generally unwell most of the time, probably from lack of Vitamin D! Mum wanted me to have a solid Plan B if my writing didn't work out, so she encouraged me to concentrate on my studies and write after I'd finished my exams. She also encouraged a healthy balance getting some fresh air. At the time I resented her rules I was obsessed with my dream and it felt as if she didn't understand. Now I look back on it, however, I understand completely how worried she must have been. I quietly took her advice on board when I was writing The Bone Season, making sure I took regular breaks when I was writing, and I think the book is a lot better for it. Mum is incredibly proud of me and is always there for me when I need her. I couldn't ask for a more supportive parent. 

Another slight misunderstanding – I came across one comment saying that it looked like I must have 'known someone' to get a publishing deal. I want to make it clear that this was absolutely not the case. I know how tough it is to get an agent and how much it must hurt aspiring writers to read something like that, but it's just not true. As I said in my April blog post, I was given my agent's email address by a friend my stepfather had bumped into. He passed it on with the intention that the agent should give me some critique on my first novel, Aurora. But here's the thing: David didn't want the manuscript. He was very kind and encouraged me to keep trying, but Aurora just wasn't a great book. He would never take on a client because someone knew someone else. The only real advantage I had, knowing someone who knew David, was that he read it faster than he would if it had been at the bottom of the slush pile. Agents don't work through nepotism. They have to be fully committed to a book before they will represent it. David represented The Bone Season, my second attempt, because he believed in it. Perhaps some deals have been struck based on friendship, but no good agent is going to represent a book they don't want to represent.  

Finally, I'm stunned to see that I've been dubbed "the new J. K. Rowling". I've been seeing articles all day that have been throwing that phrase all over the place. The question "Is she the new J. K. Rowling?" has been popping up on Twitter feed, along with some concerned comments about how much pressure I must be under. To be honest, I'm terrified. Like most people of my age, I'm a huge fan of Ms Rowling I grew up with Harry Potter and I think she's a wonderful writer. I used to try and read the HP books in one day when they came out (I managed with all but The Order of the Phoenix). It's scary to have been cast in her image when nobody outside the publishing industry has actually read The Bone Season. I know many authors have been called "the next J. K. Rowling" it seems inevitable nowadays but it's really nerve-racking to be viewed in such close quarters with her. Just to clarify, [a] this comparison came from The Sunday Times, not from Bloomsbury; and [b] the comparison refers to the similarity between my deal and JK Rowling's (seven books with Bloomsbury), not to the content of the book. Nobody at the Times had seen the book, so there's no way they could have made that kind of claim.

A few people have pointed out that seven books is rather a lot to write, and that I'm at the risk of the narrative of becoming bloated, or too long. I'd like to reassure you that Bloomsbury put me under no pressure to write seven books. The story is partly based at Seven Dials, and there were always seven stories in my head. With time and careful planning, I believe I can make the series work. But no pressure or anything...

Before I head to bed, I'd like to say sincerely, particularly to Harry Potter fans, that I am a different kind of author to Ms Rowling and The Bone Season is a different kind of book to Harry Potter. I hope very much that you will read and enjoy The Bone Season in its own right when it comes out next year.    

Samantha 

14 comments:

  1. Hi Samantha!I am a fan already I can not wait for your books am pretty sure it will be amazing.Reading your post feels like home because I also have a 10 yr old who is a voracious reader and spends most of her time writing and obviously stays indoors most of the time.Her name is TASHA and she wanted to be just like JK ROWLING.She has set her heart on studying Literature just like you.Just like your Mom,I am overwhelm with worries exactly how you wrote about your mom on this post. .but when I learned about you and the passion you have for writing and reading I was inspired more to keep going and encouraging my daughter to do what she truly loves..thank you so much!I hope and pray that she will be as successful as you..have a lovely day ahead dear SAM!sending you warm hugs from Melbourne AUSTRALIA

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  2. Samantha - you sound pretty level headed to me but sad that you have had to learn straight away that the press always slant a story to make it sound more interesting. My daughter (who also has a book with Bloomsbury next year but not so stellar!) used to study so hard when she was taking her A levels etc that I used to do the same as your mum and prise her out of her room. She did come down for meals and I made sure she ate properly but in the end left her to it as my constant nagging was probably more exhausting than anything else. Good luck with it all and look forward to reading your first. I am a book blogger and Bloomers send me a lot of books so looking forward to getting my mitts on yours!

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  3. Hi Samantha

    Let me offer congratulations on your sudden elevation!

    But also... I have a confession. I'm one of those people on Twitter who retweeted the 'news' about you, 'The New JK Rowling'. So as atonement, I have a surprising story for you.

    I've had my own share of bestseller success: The same time JKR went into Bloomsbury Publishing, so did I. We both pitched the same editor, Liz Calder. Only one of us was accepted. Jo Rowling was given a £1570 advance.

    Refusing to be defeated, I went next to Harper Collins, and they bought my book with a £100,000 advance. But it appears that JKR has had the last laugh :)

    The problem I then ran into was what happens when expectations of an author are raised so high. I froze up. My protective intellect overode the creative, and all my writing became as dull as ditch water.

    But the simple solution I found was to apply the rule 'write to express, not to impress.' By this I mean I went back to writing for myself above all else. I returned to that secret garden in the mind where I could play, goof off, and write what I liked.

    John Cleese made a brilliant video about this 'creativity' issue. I enjoyed it, and I thought you might enjoy it too.

    @JohnCleese on being Creative http://bit.ly/-Cleese

    Best wishes

    Jonathan Gunson

    PS. My son William is at Teddy Hall. I shall tell him of you and your story.

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  4. Congratulations on your publishing deal Samantha! As a fellow writer, your dedication and talents are exciting to read about. I look forward to following your story on your blog and reading The Bone Season (and the other six books that will follow in the years to come). I even took to Wordpress to blog about your exciting publishing deal at www.emilyeklund.com. Best of luck with everything!

    Emily Eklund, AUSTRALIA.

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  5. Don't worry... I wrote my first novel when I was doing A levels (4 of them) It was published in my first year at King's College, London. I`ve been a professional writer ever since and even lurid headlines in the Daily Express ' Teenage Sue writes sex novel'(it wasn't.) didn't hurt in the long run. You'll get your degree and write your books. I did. Good luck !

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  6. Shannon - I used to be the new JK Rowling. It's not so bad, and it passes. Here's what I wrote about it at the time

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2003/aug/05/harrypotter.jkjoannekathleenrowling

    Good luck with everything -

    Louisa

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    1. Thanks Louisa, my sentiments exactly!

      Samantha

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  7. Congratulations on this wonderful pay off for all your hard work! You are amazing. Such fire for writing makes me super keen to read your story! As the mother of another firecracker Oxford student, and a writer myself, I can imagine what this journey has been like for you and hope you are also finding moments here and there to sit back with a cup of tea and a big fat Crunchie and enjoy all this.

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  8. I searched for your blog/website thinking you'd have a bazillion comments already. How strange that your news has gone global (I'm in Australia) and yet not many have thought to comment on your posts!

    Anyway, what I wanted to say -- or do rather -- was say congratulations and I'll be supporting you. I was so shocked, probably like so many others, about your success.

    To have a completed manuscript accepted by a publisher at your age is crazy. I mean, so many authors first publish in their thirties, or forties!

    I have a blog, Novel Girl, where I chat about books, writing, and host author interviews. I'd loveee it if you wanted to come over for an interview or even to chat about your book/writing life closer to the release date. :D

    Good job and good luck!

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    1. most of them, probably, wait for the book to show up, read it and then talk about it...


      good luck SS!


      ionut/bcn

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  9. Always proud of my bestie for finally having her dream come true; and yes, unfortunately while I do not have the pleasure of dealing with press - totally not a celebrity - they can and WILL curve your words to try and make you sound more appealing. I don't like it, but they like to hide behind the "Freedom of Speech" amendment so not much anyone can do except tell them the truth and hope they don't mess with it.

    As for your busy-ness, trust me, I know... you tell me you are! xD

    Keep your pretty face smiling at the press, and flipping them off when they aren't looking for slanting what you tell them, and always proud of you <3

    I hope as a bro I get a signed copy!!! ... after I buy several first. Still crazy to know it's really happening but glad it is <3


    Lala x

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  10. Best of luck, Shannon - you truly are an inspiration, and I look forward to getting my hands on a copy of your debut novel as soon as it hits the shelves (even if it is a bit of a wait!).

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  11. Congratulations again, excited to read your books when they finally come out!
    Would love to hear if you do run anymore writing courses as I already tweeted, btw!

    All the best,

    B

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  12. Hi, I just wanted to say congratulation, even if the things in the press weren't quite the truth.

    You give us hope that one doesn't have to be "old" to get a book into print.

    I will look for your book when it comes out.

    Cheers from Surrey. :)

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