The debut children’s author on his book deal for Bath Children’s Novel Award winning The Sky Over Rebecca (Hodder 2022)
Huge congratulations on your Hodder book deal for The Sky Over Rebecca. How did it feel to be signed by such a prestigious publisher?
It’s everything; everything I’ve been working towards for most of my adult life. Publishing your first novel later in life is an unmitigated joy. I can’t see myself ever taking it for granted. What I feel most is gratitude: I’m here because the Junior Judges, and Lauren Gardner at Bell Lomax Moreton, and Anne McNeil at Hodder responded to what I’d written – and then helped me fix it. I’m very aware that I have to keep listening, keep writing, keep working.
How was the experience of being out on submission to publishers, and did you ask for the passes or just the good news?
It was exciting, actually – perhaps because it was my first time around. I’ve never been out on submission before. I was just happy that my little book was being read by editors at all these household-name publishing houses! And I think I always thought it would sell.
We went out on submission to seventeen publishers. There were a lot of passes, and lots of interest, too. Lauren protected me from the bad news, and I didn’t ask for the details. But then came the good news: Anne McNeil at Hodder made an offer for two stand-alone MG titles, of which The Sky Over Rebecca is the first, to be published straight into paperback in April 2022.
Anne responded to it emotionally, I think, commenting that it was the sort of book she’d loved to have read as a child. Which is all you want, as a children’s author. It doesn’t get any better than that!
How did you work editorially with Hodder?
I had the honour of working with legendary children’s book editor Anne McNeil while she was still at Hodder. She’s worked with everybody: Cressida Cowell, David Almond, Joan Aitken, Susan Cooper, Rosemary Sutcliffe – all the greats. Anyway, Anne had one very specific suggestion about the conflict towards the end of the story, and she was right; she saved the book. I cut three sequences, and revised the climax, and everything fell into place. The book is all the better for it.
Anne is freelance now, and available to consult on individual manuscripts. I cannot recommend her skills to children’s authors more highly. If I knew then what I know now, I’d have been banging on Anne’s door trying to get her to read what I’d written…
What can you say about the cover design?
We have a wonderful cover by acclaimed children’s artist Ben Mantle. It’s a big, bold pitch for a magical adventure story – which The Sky Over Rebecca is, in many ways.
It feels like a world away since Febrary 2020 when we were all crowded in Bath’s Museum of Architecture as Lauren Gardener announced The Sky Over Rebecca had won Bath Children’s Novel Award. How has life been back in Stockholm in the interim?
I was homesick! I didn’t get to see my mum for eighteen months, and she didn’t get to see her granddaughter. So it was tough for us, but at the same time we were luckier than many people; probably luckier than most. Other people lost their loved ones and their livelihoods; others still are struggling with long covid. I’m just grateful to be double vaccinated now, and able to travel to see family in the UK.
You signed with Lauren a week later and began editing together. How long did those edits take?
I signed with Lauren in February 2020. And we both felt there was a lot of work that needed to be done on the manuscript. So we went through two more drafts, working from Lauren’s notes and suggestions, and only then did we feel happy to send it out on submission, late in November of that year.
Your winning draft felt very polished in terms of line edit, what changes did you and Lauren make at that stage?
All I can see is the typos! The draft that won the Bath Children’s Novel Award was written very quickly, and there was a lot of tidying up to do. Lauren and I also spent a long time making sure the logic of the story worked, especially around the ending.
In your winner’s interview you mentioned the importance of pressing on with the next piece of writing while your manuscript is out in the world. Did you manage to write during the submission process?
I pressed on, and a year later, I’m three drafts deep into the next book. It’s by no means finished; I’ve still got a very long way to go on this one. It’s been quite a challenge – a slog compared to The Sky Over Rebecca, but I’m getting there.
The new one is a fantasy story for MG readers, set in London in the present day, based on themes and ideas from Greek Mythology. When I’m more comfortable with what I’ve got I’ll be happy to tell you more about it. It’s pencilled in to be published in April 2023, eighteen months away, so I have time to fix it.
Publication day is 14th April 2022.
All I know is I’m going to have a very big smile on my face…
Interview by Caroline Ambrose, November 2021
The BATH NOVEL AWARDS were established in 2013 to celebrate emerging novelists. Judged by literary agents, our prizes are open to unpublished and independently published authors worldwide.
The BATH NOVEL AWARD is a £3,000 prize for adult fiction, with submissions invited from December to May.
The BATH CHILDREN’S NOVEL AWARD is a £3,000 prize for children’s fiction, with submissions invited from June to November.