Justin's Debut-Dance Ball: Lorraine Gregory
Thank you, Lorraine, for accepting my invitation. Perhaps you would like a canapé? What’s your favourite?
Ooh thank you Justin! I’m rather partial to a vol au vent…
Lorraine, this is your party and you get to choose the music. Do you have a favourite tune to dance to, or one that gets you into the mood for writing?
I have a thing for country music and old sixties tunes as a result of my dad playing his records incessantly when I was growing up! I don’t often write to music though unless I’m trying to block out noisy neighbours or other distractions.
Many congratulations on your debut novel Mold and the Poison Plot. What was it like to hold your first book in your hands?
Thank you! It was wonderful to finally have something that only existed in my head and on my laptop materialise into a real, ACTUAL book! Especially one with a fantastic cover by Tom Mead, not to mention a map AND a glossary. I admit to stroking it, hugging it and sniffing it.
How did you celebrate the news that you were to be a published writer?
There was definitely dancing around the house on the day I heard the news. Rather a lot of phone calls and DM’s with writer friends who were almost as happy as I was!
As you know, Words & Pictures readers are an inquisitive bunch and they want to know how long it took for you to write your book. When did you start writing it? How many drafts did you go through?
I started writing it in the summer of 2013, the first draft took me about three months. I redrafted it later in the year and submitted it to the Golden Egg Academy in early 2014. My mentor Maurice Lyon gave me notes and I redrafted again with a clear idea of what I needed to do. Then Imogen Cooper read it and sent me more notes and I spent a few more months editing it before submitting it to agents that Autumn. Luckily the amazing Kate Shaw loved it and signed me up. She thought it needed more work before subbing to publishers, so I redrafted again with her input. In Jan 2015 it went out to Publishers and OUP offered me a book deal in May. I then began another round of edits with my editor Clare Whitston which were finally finished in December 2015. Then in 2016 I was busy with copy edits and proof edits and all the final little preparations that you aren’t even aware of before you get a deal! I think that’s about six full drafts and many more partial edits over four years!
We’re looking forward to meeting Mold. Where did you get the idea for the character?
Ah well, that’s easy! I was nagging my son about the mess he’d made and threatening to throw all his toys in the bin (jokingly!), then I threatened to throw him in the bin (again I stress, jokingly) and then I said “but the binmen wouldn’t want you either” and like a blinding flash I suddenly had an image in my head of a baby left in a bin and my eyes glazed over and I started drooling (metaphorically of course) as Mold burst into my brain, voice and all and demanded to be written. I was writing something else at the time but this story just wouldn’t go away so I gave in and started writing. I just had to know why he’d been left in the bin and what would happen to him!
How might your writing process change for your future projects? Anything you might do differently?
I suppose I’m lucky enough now to have an agent and editor to run ideas by which will hopefully send me off in the right direction to start with in terms of what might work! I’ve also found it helpful to write a blurb or mini synopses early on to give me a very rough framework for what I’m trying to do. After that it’s all just about words on the page, I try to follow a rough 1000 words a day and just keep going till I reach the end!
As you mentioned, you’re an alumni of The Golden Egg Academy. Can you explain for our readers a bit about that process? How did it help you reach your publication goal?
By the time I went to GEA I’d been writing for a few years already, had submitted a project or two and felt that I knew enough to know my current project was good but not good enough. I didn’t know how to push it that extra step however so I decided to try GEA. It was amazing to talk to proper industry editors like Imogen and Maurice who are both hugely intuitive and inspiring. Their feedback helped me get to the next level, to understand all aspects of my story, to look at the big picture and spot weaknesses. Finally, I understood the theory of structure and how to apply it to my own work; it was like taking a giant leap forward in my writing and I’m hugely grateful for their help and support.
Are you planning on taking Mold into schools? How might you prepare for the experience?
Yes. I can’t wait to meet children and share some of the ideas and thoughts behind my book. To prepare I joined the Society of Authors, who have helpful resources on the logistics of school visits, including rates of pay. Also, OUP ran an author day where we received advice and training on what type of things to consider, and about a month ago I went to watch my friend James Nicol (author of The Apprentice Witch) run a workshop and author talk at a local school which was very enlightening!
You’re active on twitter, hosting #ukmgchat. Are there any recurring issues or themes that middle grade writers want to talk about?
I love twitter and running #ukmgchat with Miriam Craig is a real treat because there’s a wonderful crowd of smart and funny book lovers and writers who are happy to talk books (and snacks!) for hours. We have great guests too - authors, editors, agents and illustrators - who answer a plethora of questions in one short hour! Mainly we all want to talk about books we love, why we love them, and how we can make books for children even better!
The music’s loud enough, so let’s talk dirty. I mean, of course, the ‘R’ word. But first of all, perhaps you’d like to add your own stats to Justin’s Rejection-O-Meter: How many times were you rejected before you found an agent or publisher?
e) Lost count. (but it’s definitely over 75!)
f) Rather not say.
g) I’ve never experienced the crushing pain, sorrow and heartbreak of rejection.
Assuming you haven’t answered ‘g’, do you have any tips to share on dealing with rejection?
The thing that worked best for me was not taking it personally. The best agent or publisher for you is going to be the one who LOVES it, so it’s worth waiting for, and accepting that no’s are the norm! It’s never easy but rejection is a huge part of being a writer, the no’s continue even after you have a book deal and throughout your career, so a thick skin and endless determination are hugely important, as is a network of friends to keep you going!
And now, as the music fades, there’s just time for you to tell us what’s up next for Lorraine Gregory, the published author. Are you working on a new project? Or perhaps trying your hand at a new genre?
I’m working on about three different projects! It’s quite fun and a little worrying but hopefully something beautiful will emerge at some point like a butterfly from a chrysalis!
Thank you, Lorraine for joining me at the Debut-Dance Ball. Please take some canapés for the journey home.
Thanks so much for the dancing and the vol au vents! It’s been fun!
Mold and the Poison Plot is out on the 4th May, published by OUP Children’s.
Follow Lorraine here:
Justin Nevil Davies leads two distinct lives. In one, he flies around the world as cabin crew. In the other, he writes middle grade novels with the aim to make kids laugh. Sometimes, his lives converge. Then it can get messy. Justin lives with his husband in the shadows of the Forth Bridges. One day, they will have a dog. It shall be named Rufus. Justin is part of SCBWI South East Scotland.
Follow Justin here:
Louisa Glancy is a features editor for Words & Pictures.
Twitter: @Louisa Glancy