It’s been an exciting few months for Sophie Cameron. Within weeks of hearing her YA novel Out of the Blue had been shortlisted for The Bath Children’s Novel Award 2015, Sophie not only also reached The Caledonia Novel Award shortlist, but was also selected by SCWBI as one of the 12 unpublished and unagented writers to feature in their Undiscovered Voices 2016 anthology. Sophie has just signed with literary agent Hellie Ogden of Janklow and Nesbit.
Congratulations Sophie, how does it feel to have such a starburst of recognition?
Very exciting, and so surprising! I didn’t think I had much chance of being longlisted for any of them, but entering gave me an incentive to finish the manuscript before the deadline. Bath was particularly exciting as it was the first one I found out about – I must have refreshed the page 50 times, just to make sure it wasn’t a mistake!
Our panel loved the early hook of falling angels. Tell us how you came to write your book.
The idea actually came from Lynx Deodorant’s ‘Even Angels Will Fall’ advert a few years ago – not the most high-brow source of inspiration, I know! It’s a pretty daft advert but it got me thinking about what might happen if something similar were really to happen: the physical damage it would cause, and how people would react or try to profit from it.
I initally wrote it as a short story about a single mum who finds a fallen angel in Barcelona, where I was living at the time. I kind of forgot about it until last year, when I was working for the Scottish tourist board and writing an article about books set in Scotland. I thought it’d be fun to rewrite the story as a YA novel set in Edinburgh and to use some of my favourite spots around the city as settings.
Did you always know you wanted to write urban fantasy?
To be honest, I never really considered what genre Out of the Blue might fall under! I don’t read that much full-on fantasy but I do love stories with fantastical or supernatural elements – I read lots of Latin American magical realism when I was younger, and in YA I love books like The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Lorali by Laura Dockrill or Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block. I find them quite natural to write, but I would like to write more realistic fiction too.
Is Out of the Blue your first novel?
It’s the first one I’ve submitted to competitions or agents! I wrote a first draft of another novel, Magpies, in 2014, but I knew it wasn’t strong enough to send out. I don’t think it’ll ever see the light of day, but it was good practice!
How many drafts had you completed when you submitted your manuscript to us?
Probably 1.5?! I’d reworked the first half quite a few times but the second wasn’t as polished, though I’d had it planned out for ages. That said, there’s still a lot I want to change now that I’m editing it (including a new title, though I have no idea what yet!).
Our panel especially loved the freshness of your writing voice and authentic characters. Do these aspects of writing come easily to you?
Thank you! I don’t know if any of it comes easily as such, but for me those are definitely the more natural aspects; I find things like plotting and pacing much harder.
Tell us about the SCWBI party – what happens and how was it all for you?
The party was great, if quite overwhelming! (I should probably apologise to anyone I spoke to during the first half hour, as I was so nervous I was basically talking gibberish.) During the first part of the evening there were speeches from SCWBI British Isles co-ordinator Natasha Biebow, Chris Snowden from Working Partners (who sponsored the competition) and one of the past winners, Sarwat Chadda, plus a lot of photos taken.
After that, we were free to chat to agents and editors – though approaching them was obviously a daunting prospect! The organisers Sara Grant and Sara O’Connor did a great job of introducing us to people, though, which was really helpful. It was a bit of a whirlwind, and I actually wished I’d had more time to chat to the other writers, illustrators and organisers as I hadn’t met any of them before, but it was a great experience.
Tell us how you met Hellie…
Several agents had actually contacted me to request the full when the anthology was launched, so prior to the party I was able to set up meetings with those who were interested for when I was in London. After cramming lots of coffees into two days, and speaking to a few US agents on the phone, I was lucky enough to get several offers of representation. Choosing between them was really hard as everyone was so nice and enthusiastic, but I finally opted to go with Hellie Ogden at Janklow & Nesbit, who was lovely and had such a fantastic vision for the book. It’s been a very exciting few months!
Being shortlisted for the Bath Children’s and Caledonia Awards was a huge help, too. No one had read my manuscript before then, so knowing that the panels had thought it was good enough to shortlist was a massive confidence boost for me. I would have been terrified to submit it to agents otherwise!
Where and when do you write?
I mostly wrote Out of the Blue over the summer, so I would get up at 6am and write for an hour or so before work. When it’s cold and dark I write in the evenings, and usually in my bed – our flat is constantly freezing! I much prefer going to cafés or the library when I can, though.
Really good! I was mentored by the brilliant Julie Mayhew, who read a rough draft of Magpies and gave me some really helpful feedback, both in writing and over Skype. It was really invaluable, getting advice from a writer of that caliber, and something I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise as mentoring can be quite pricey. Their list of mentors is very impressive, so I’d highly recommend it to any unpublished female authors.
You work as a Marketing Officer for TRACS (Traditional Arts & Culture Scotland). What does this entail?
I help promote events and workshops relating to traditional arts at the Scottish Storytelling Centre and around the rest of the country, including the Scottish International Storytelling Festival in October. At the moment we’re busy preparing for TradFest Edinburgh, which I’m really looking forward to – it’s on from 27 April to 8 May and features about 80 great events including music, dance and storytelling .
What’s next for you as a writer?
Lots of editing! I’m hoping, with Hellie’s help, to get Out of the Blue into shape to submit to publishers later this year. After that, I’m keen to get back to work on my second novel, which I started after submitting Out of the Blue to the competitions.
Lastly, any advice for anyone thinking of entering this year’s Children’s Novel Award?
Pretty obvious point, but find someone to proofread your manuscript first; I’m still finding typos in mine and I cringe every time. Otherwise, go for it! As well as being a huge confidence boost, being shortlisted has put me in touch with lots of lovely and very supportive people. I’m really looking forward to finding out what the other shortlistees do next, and seeing their books in print one day.
Find out more about Sophie and her writing at sophie-cameron.com
Follow Sophie on Twitter @toomanysophies
Caroline Ambrose, March 2016
The Bath Children’s Novel Award is open to entries from novelists writing for children or young adults until 20 November 2016