Shmae Claire! You're a keen gardener, so forgive me if my questions are littered with gardening analogies. I'd love to know more about your method of book growing. Where did the germ of an idea for Accidental Pirates come from?
Shmae Fran, welcome to the garden and don’t tread on the parsnips! I wrote the first draft of Pirates for NaNoWriMo, and in the grand tradition of the WriMoers, I threw in everything I could think of, from pirates to penguins and when I looked over it later I saw that I had a few seeds of ideas that might grow into a story. The pirates and penguins stayed. Sadly, the talking sea unicorn had to go.
How long did it take to nurture your first bookling into a fully fledged book?
Years! After NaNoWriMo, I rewrote the whole thing, found an agent, lost the agent, gave up for a while and then spotted Undiscovered Voices and thought the story deserved another chance. The writing wasn’t over with Undiscovered Voices, either. I had two more years of revisions, first with my new agent and then my editors to coax the book into its final shape.
You won Undiscovered Voices in 2014, how long was it before you signed with an agent and your career blossomed?
I signed with Gemma Cooper in March 2014, a couple of weeks after the Undiscovered Voices launch party. Pirates sailed off to editors at the start of July, and we went to auction at the end of July. So, just under five months from launch party to book deal. About the time it takes to grow an onion.
What has the promotional side of the fence been like, and which is more daunting, school visits or growing asparagus?
Being picked for Waterstones Book of the Month was an amazing experience, and a complete surprise. I was expecting a quiet launch towards the end of July, instead there was a scramble to bring publication forward and arrange publicity, and I had a brilliant time visiting stores for book signings and pirate activities. I haven’t done many school visits yet, but I enjoy them – they’re much easier than growing asparagus. Kids are fantastically creative. I did a heroes and villains workshop recently and the children were coming up with the most inventive ideas for supervillains.
What's your writing method: do you plant ideas carefully only after planning methodically (plotter) or do you scatter your story seeds willy nilly (pantser) and hope that something takes root?
I’m a pantser, though I’ve had to get more organised now that I have deadlines. I’ll generally start writing with only the vaguest notion of a setting and characters and I keep everything together in one unruly Word document, which suits my untidy mind. I’m always waiting for a certain feeling to kick in that the story is developing a life of its own. I’m not sure what goes into that moment – it’s a sudden sense of ‘aha!’ and I find myself writing faster because I want to know what happens next.
How do you feel about pruning? Do you enjoy the process of editing your work?
I love editing! I have learned so much about writing from working with my agent and editors. I think part of being a ‘pantser’ is that I have a constant urge to rearrange things (ask my poor fruit bushes – I’ve moved them so many times I should put them on wheels) so I’ll keep fiddling with sentences until told firmly to stop.
It’s a bit like clearing the allotment for winter. All the growing and pruning is done and there’s nothing more you can do. It’s scary, of course, and it also feels a bit empty for a while. But all that bare soil becomes the space for the next project - always exciting.
When can we read the next two books in the series and what's in the greenhouse right now?
Accidental Pirates 2, Journey to Dragon Island, will be released in May. I’m about to start revisions on my third book, which is a departure from the pirate series – it’s a Victorian fantasy with fairies and magic mirrors (my agent is calling it Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel meets Good Omens.) I’m hoping to finish the pirate series after that, and I have an idea for a gothic fantasy which is still at the seed-scattering stage.
Yes - getting out in the fresh air is excellent for inspiration. I find stories grow when unconnected ideas come together, and you need to allow time and space for that to happen. Gardening's an activity that allows the mind to wander. So's cooking. My husband likes my ‘ideas’ days - the house is always full of biscuits.
With the amazing success you've had so far, how do you keep grounded?
I still don’t feel like a proper author! Maybe after my second book comes out…
Claire Fayers used to work in Cardiff University science library before Undiscovered Voices turned her into a full-time writer. Her favourite things include books (of course), gardening, cats and sea monsters. Twitter: @clairefayers Website: www.clairefayers.com
Fran Price writes picture books and middle grade. Her novel, Whatever Happened to Elsie O'Riley?, was shortlisted in the January Slushpile Challenge 2015. She also paints and makes pots. Twitter: @FranGPrice.
Louisa Glancy is the Wednesday Features Editor for Words & Pictures. Contact: email@example.com Twitter: @Louisa Glancy