Sunday, October 11, 2009

Guest Post with Hazel Allan, author of Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket

I wanted to be a writer from the first moment I held a pencil. It was the only thing I was good at and the one thing I could see myself spending my life doing. I won several awards throughout school for story writing but despite being complimented regularly for my colourful imagination (or scolded for my daydreaming!) on the whole my talent seemed to go unnoticed. Over the years I reluctantly accepted that writing would have to be a hobby and one that I could only pursue in between a real job. I worked for many years in the field of education before returning to University where I studied for a degree in Community Education. When I graduated in June 2003 I was already expecting my son. He was born in the November and I decided to dedicate myself to being a full time mum for a while. I forgot about writing although now and again I would think to myself “I really must start doing something with all these thoughts that churn around my head!”

I began working on my novel the day after the relationship with my son’s father ended. I had toyed with the basic concept of a children’s novel for some time and I could see clearly in my mind all the characters and their individual personalities. My personal crisis seemed to crack open something that had been buried deep inside and suddenly the idea of writing just felt like the right thing to do. It offered me a way of escaping an extremely difficult period in my life, a chance to release negative and destructive emotions, whilst offering me some much needed hope for a new beginning. Without wishing to sound over dramatic, writing “Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket” saved me. Looking back, it was such a positive thing to do under such desperate circumstances, almost as though I was not prepared to go down without a fight. Putting pen to paper was a last ditch attempt to stop me from unravelling completely. It seemed to organise the chaos in my life and helped to make me feel whole again. Suddenly I was grabbing every spare second I had to write. I can remember rushing downstairs when Laurie went for his afternoon nap hoping to scribble down a few paragraphs while the house was quiet. I took to carrying a notebook in the back of the buggy along with the spare clothes, wet wipes and the soggy, half eaten biscuit - for those flashes of inspiration that inevitably occurred in the oddest and most inconvenient places! My book started to feel like my second child.

I get asked lots why I wrote this particular book. To be honest I didn’t plan it this way. “Bree McCready” started out as a short story about bullying called “In Her Shoes”. Things spiralled from that point and before I knew it the characters had taken on their own personalities. I started writing like my characters lives depended on it. Soon the broken locket and the magic book were being thrown into the mix and suddenly I had this kind of fantasy/adventure book with emotion running through it. Someone once described “Bree McCready and the half heart Locket” as being like “Indiana Jones written by Jacqueline Wilson”

As a deep-thinking and misunderstood youngster I was always on the lookout for books that contained real characters, ones that I could identify with and who had a story that struck a chord in me. I remember falling in love with Holden Caulfield as I read “The Catcher in the Rye” when I was fourteen. Right from the beginning I really wanted Bree to have that affect on her readers. Despite being really clever and wise Bree feels a bit like a square peg in the circular hole of life. She feels like something is missing in her life and I think a lot of young people will relate to her because of this.

As a little girl I was keen to find characters who I could relate to but there weren’t very many heroines that I found all that appealing. All the interesting characters were boys. Most literature revolved around princesses and let’s face it, they are pretty boring - lying around all day brushing their hair and waiting for their handsome prince to rescue them! How deluded are they?! So I always knew I was going to have a gutsy, resourceful, intelligent and brave girl character in my book. I see it as a bonus that I ended up with two!

One thing soon became clear as I wrote “Bree McCready“. Every chapter was going to finish on a cliffhanger. Once I had this idea it became easier to write an adventure story. It got to the point where I couldn’t wait to get started the next day to find out what was going to happen! It also became clear quite early on that I wanted to write a story that would appeal to adults too - something that parents could read and enjoy with their children. As a result I feel there is something for everyone in this book - boy, girl, adult, child, teacher….I have had the most amazing feedback from grown ups saying how much they have taken Bree to their hearts.

Once I finished writing “Bree McCready” I had absolutely no idea where to start getting it published. I didn’t know anyone in publishing. I didn’t even know anyone who knew anyone. All I knew was that I had a good book that I felt certain children would like. My first stop was the internet. I got the names of some well known publishers and I sent a copy of my synopsis and the first three chapters of the book to them. After that I thought I had nothing better to do than to sit back and wait for the offers to come flooding in. What I hadn’t realised was that hundreds of other aspiring writers were doing the same! When I started getting rejection letters I tried not to let it bother me. Everyone knows that even J.K Rowling got rejection letters. One kind publisher advised me to invest in a copy of the ‘Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook’ which I did. This was very helpful not least because it advised me how best to structure my covering letter to publishers and how to lay things out so my manuscript wouldn’t get chucked in the bin before it had even been read. I did a lot of waiting and felt a lot of disappointment before my luck finally changed. A lovely lady called Alison read my manuscript and despite the abundance of mistakes she loved it. She saw something special, something promising and she really believed in me and my book. That was all it took, just one person to see the potential and then the ball started rolling.

In the run up to getting the book printed there was so much to think about! The first priority was to consider the size of the book. What I had written was almost three times the size of the finished book - which might have put some younger readers off. So my editor, Graham got to work deciding which bits of the story were staying in and what parts were not necessary. This was quite a long process which mostly took place via phone conversation but luckily Graham and I agreed on what was best for the finished article. Then we had to decide on the cover for the book. The expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” certainly does not apply when talking about books for children. It’s the first thing they do when they walk into a library or book store - scan the hundreds of books for something special, something that really grabs their attention. Everyone on the team knew that Bree’s cover had to reflect the story inside. It had to do justice to the dark and exciting elements of the book. There were a few attempts with a couple of different illustrators but nothing felt right. With less than six weeks to go until launch night we still didn’t have a cover design that we all agreed on. Graham kept reassuring me that everything would be fine but I was really beginning to panic that we were going to have a launch party without a book! At last a brilliant artist called Lawrence Mann came up with the cover that now graces the front of the book. I am still in awe of how perfect it is, right down to the tiny details such as Honey’s individually painted fingernails and Sandy’s handkerchief. I absolutely love everything about it.

It took me until I reached the age of 34 to even consider trying to write the novel that I knew was inside me from an early age. There were times when I thought I would never see my book in print. This has not been an easy journey - I have lots of rejection letters and a few gray hairs to prove that! There were times when I seriously doubted myself but even during those dark moments I never stopped believing in Bree. This has been a most important learning curve for me, pursuing the one thing that has always mattered most. It took me a while but with a lot of hard work, and a sprinkling of good fortune I got there in the end!

1 comment:

Related Posts with Thumbnails