Earlier this week, Barry Cunningham of Chicken House books announced the acquisition of Van Smit’s 2015 Bath-winning YA thriller Hurts So Good from for publication in 2018. On the eve of the announcement of the winner of our second Children’s Novel Award, inaugural winner Lucy Van Smit tells us about her book deal joy.
Congratulations again, Lucy, on your brilliant book deal news…
Thank you! I’m in a daze after Barry Cunningham’s announcement on Friday at the swanky London Savile Club. It was quite a moment. Full of the lovely Golden Egg Academy folk, great writers, and lots of fizz. Chicken House novelist James Nicol immediately welcomed me into the coop. I couldn’t believe my luck, I never expected Chicken House to love my book. I can’t wait to work with them.
You already know how much and why we loved Hurts So Good, but what did Chicken House say were the reasons they were so determined to acquire your manuscript?
My ears are still blushing. They kept saying Hurts So Good was extraordinary. And how much they loved the voice, my writing, and the layering to the book. Barry commented on the humour. I was stunned. I think editor Rachel Leyshon could hear my disbelief and gently assured me I was a hugely talented writer. It was heady stuff.
The first round of edits was done by February 2016. Then Sallyanne came back about six weeks later, and I think we had our first face-to-face editorial meeting in early May. That was for a major structure edit, and I worked on the final changes until mid July.
Were any of the editorial changes tough to make?
Yes, some. But publication is a collaboration, so I listened. Mostly! Then just before it was sent out, Sallyanne thought we didn’t need the opening chapter, as the voice was strong enough. I experimented, and could see how it could work, but it felt like going to a party with no make up. And no clothes. Very scary.
“With an incredibly strong voice and sustained suspense, HURTS SO GOOD is a YA thriller that had me at the edge of my seat from its arresting opening to the epic finale. Norwegian fjords, an abandoned wolf reservation, and dealing sensitively and powerfully with the darker side to religion and relationships – what’s not to love?” ∼ SALLYANNE SWEENEY, literary agent & Bath Children’s Novel Award 2015 judge
The reports from the Bath judges was really useful too. I could see common threads, and took out one plot twist, which Sallyanne thought was overcomplicated.
It’s been brilliant, and tough. Writing is one thing; the road to publication is more complex. Painful. Confusing. So much is out of your control. I found I started to worry about getting published, which I hadn’t before. It sounds mad, but I always felt confident that would happen, and my job was to be a good enough writer when it did. I’ve learned to trust my judgment, and not seek approval. In between edits, I researched another book, learned how to write a film script.
When did Hurts So Good go out on submission?
Sallyanne sent it out to a select group of editors, shortly after the Frankfurt Book Festival. A few publishers expressed strong interest, but I knew as soon as we spoke to Chicken House it was a fit, spookily like love at first sight!!
Can you share the pitch Sallyanne used for your book?
Yes. … “A contemporary Wuthering Heights, HURTS SO GOOD is a young adult psychological thriller about twisted love, obsession and sacrifice, set against the stunning backdrop of remote Norwegian fjords and an abandoned wolf reservation.”
Chicken House obviously have a great name in the industry, but what made you sure they were the right publishers for you?
No one can sell a book like the legendary Barry Cunningham. Just ask JK Rowling. To have not one, but two editors, the calibre of Barry and Rachel Leyshon to work on my book? I’ll learn tons from them. And I love their warmth.
On a sales note, Scholastic USA owns CH, and accesses the largest English speaking markets, yet CH retains complete editorial control. Chicken House won three Waterstones Books of the month with their 2016 debuts. Did I mention their blockbusters, like James Dashner’s Maze Runner? And Cathryn Constable’s Wolf Princess sold over a 100,000 copies worldwide. That is fantastic, by any standard. Sallyanne says other houses look to Chicken House to see what they are buying as they have great judgement.
You mentioned the Golden Egg Academy, how did they help you?
Mentoring. After my MA anthology launch, twelve agents came after my unfinished manuscript, I sent it out to a few, and got feedback that they didn’t like the bad boy, Lukas. I rewrote, and made Lukas and Ellie’s character more compelling, but not nicer. And I wanted to run my manuscript past an editor before sending it out to the remaining agents. I rang Imogen at Golden Egg and she calmed me down and gave me a mentor. Maurice Lyon then read Hurts So Good and said it was in the vein of a Girl On A Train/Gone Girl noir thriller. Then I sent it into the Bath Children’s Novel Award to test it out.
Barry Cunningham of Chicken House with Imogen Cooper of the Golden Egg Academy
What’s next? Have you started on edits with Chicken House?
They asked to see the edited out scenes, and asked me NOT to rewrite anything until we spoke in person. Barry said Hurts So Good needs a delicate, precise edit, and doesn’t want to lose any of the brilliant bonkers bits!
Have you started on your next book?
One story that came out of my research on Norway might not be suitable for YA, but it keeps circling in my head. I told Andrew Wille, a former Little Brown editor, and he said to me if I didn’t write it, he would. Then I was at the London Screenwriter’s festival, and chatted to the actor Assad Raja, who was cast as a terrorist in Homeland 5, and how frustrated he feels always portrayed as the bad guy. We talked about my first book, Invisible by Day, which inverts the tendency to cast Muslims as terrorists. It’s more of a fast-paced teen thriller, so might not be a natural follow on to a YA Noir romance, but we’ve not discussed book two yet with Chicken House.
We’re about to announce this year’s winner of the Children’s Novel Award. How does it feel to know another writer is about to take your ‘crown’?
It feels wonderful. Timely. I’ll be rooting for whomever Julia Churchill picks, and hope they get as lucky as me. I can’t thank you and the judges enough. And anyway, I’ll always be the Bath Children’s Novel Award inaugural winner!
The winner of 2nd The Bath Children’s Novel Award will be announced at noon on Thursday, 26th January 2017.
Interview by Caroline Ambrose
Lucy Van Smit lives in London with her husband and teenage son. As a TV producer, she has made documentaries about writers including Ian McEwan and Martin Amis, but always had the feeling she was a writer too. Lucy began Hurts So Good during her MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and used our 2015 closing date as her motivation to finish. Hurts So Good will be published by Chicken House in 2018
The Bath Novel Award 2017 is now open, with entries invited from novelists writing for adults or young adults. This year’s judge is Laura Williams of PFD literary agents with a first prize of £2,000, £500 shortlist award and literary agent introductions. Closing date: 24th April 2017, full entry details