Well that wasn’t so hard to type.
For some reason though, I am completely averse to ever telling anyone that I actually sat down and wrote 50,000 and something words about people and events I made up in my head. It seems like a ludicrous thing to have gone and done; who do I even think I am?
I’m trying to get better at talking about it, IT being my YA manuscript Please Don’t Hug Me, because I’ve just signed with a literary agent (!!!)
So what better way to talk about it than to avoid talking at all and start a blog instead? Hello!
A mere four years ago (ha) I wrote what could barely be called a first draft about an angsty, anxious teen called Erin who was trying to navigate the last months of high school – exams, formal, graduation and Schoolies. It was 20,000 words of stream-of-consciousness melodrama very short on actual plot or secondary characters. I was working through some things.
I had no idea how to turn it into something that actually resembled the Australian YA books I love so dearly, so I sought out feedback and space to help me do it. That came in the form of a residency at Varuna, The Writers’ House and a consultation with an editor there. Jody Lee was exceptionally kind in her feedback, and I started again on an actual first draft. It was still
shit not great. I kept doing this – seeking out feedback and rewriting and rewriting the thing until it started to become the thing I wanted it to be. There are definitely quicker and easier ways of writing a book, but that’s how I did it.
I entered the manuscript into the CYA Conference YA category in 2016 and got some encouraging feedback from the judges, which spurred me on to do rewrite #4088 (probably more like 5 or 6). I didn’t attend the actual conference because I’d just had my daughter Agnes, but I found the feedback to be comprehensive for the reasonable entry fee.
This year as I found my feet more as a new(ish) mum, I vowed to actually do something with this thing I’d been working on since 2013. I gave myself a ‘now or never’ type ultimatum, because I’m an ex-journo and I need a deadline ok. I vaguely thought maybe the Text Prize was a good end goal so I decided to aim for that. I read about the Emerging Writers Festival and the YA Masterclass on Twitter (everything good that’s come my way as a writer has been from Twitter, so I’m there, even though I’m neither funny nor concise enough to be good at it). I also saw Danielle Banks (#loveOzYA champion and darling) tweeting about agent sessions she would be having at this year’s CYA Conference so I signed up for one on a whim. I figured I could pick her brain about YA and she could tell me what was wrong with my book.
The masterclass went for a full day and it was the longest I’d left Aggie since she was born. It was a huge investment in myself and I walked out of there feeling inspired and invigorated in a way I hadn’t for a long time. I had a notepad full of tips on how to fix my book. Soon after I got back from Melbourne I had my agent session. I’d emailed Tina at CYA frantically a couple of days prior, ‘I don’t actually have to have a pitch prepared to say to Danielle do I?’ because that’s how scared I was and am of having to talk about my book. She assured me, no, Danielle would do most of the talking and she would provide me with feedback of the extremely valuable variety.
Danielle started our session by telling me how excited she was about my book, and requesting a complete manuscript (she had read the first 20 pages). It blew me away. She was warm and lovely and seemed to really get the story and the characters without me having to (try to) explain it. I sent her the manuscript and checked my emails a billion times a day until she sent me an offer of representation with her at Jacinta di Mase Management. Honestly sometimes I still wonder if it really happened. I am pretty sure it did though.
Obviously I’m hopeful this won’t be the last stop on my path to publication, but you never can be sure how things are going to go. So in the meantime let me tell you a little something about the story, in a spoiler-free (ish) version of my synopsis.
In contemporary young adult fiction ‘Please Don’t Hug Me’, neuro-diverse and socially awkward Year 12 student ERIN uses a complex system of lists, nicknames and coping mechanisms to navigate the final months at a high school where sameness is celebrated, and not fitting in is about as bad as it gets. After impulsively quitting her part-time job, Erin is so desperate for work she takes a position at the tragically unfashionable mature age woman’s shop Robins, where she meets AGGIE, an artist who is free-spirited and completely comfortable in her own skin. Through her milestone-filled final semester, which includes a disastrous formal night and a family tragedy, the friendship gives Erin the confidence to change the way she sees herself. By letting go of who she wished she were, Erin is able to leave high school with a renewed outlook on her friendships and future. ‘Please Don’t Hug Me’ would sit comfortably on bookshelves alongside Ned Vizzini’s ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ and ‘Frankie’ by Shivaun Plozza.
I have a lot to say about neurodiverse characters and representation and why YA is so important but I’ll save that for another post. Watch this space!