EXPERIENCES 20 Years in the Making


Welcome to our series in which our Deputy Editor, A. M. Dassu invites authors to tell us about their publishing-related experiences. This month author Louie Stowell tells us about writing a book over twenty years.


Publishing is slow. Every writer knows this. We’re all familiar with the feeling of waiting, waiting and waiting some more. Writer life is the embodiment of that “it’s been 84 years” gif. But, although this isn’t a competition, I’d like to argue that I have most of you beat when it comes to a long wait from writing a book to publishing it.


Flash back to 2001. I was living in the obligatory 20-something flatshare, working in tech PR by day. I remember writing press releases about the LG internet fridge which is STILL trying to make itself a thing I believe? But in the evenings, I sat down to write my novel. I’d had the idea for it at the end of university, after a lecture by a woman called Diane Purkiss, and reading her book on fairies (Troublesome Things, if you’re interested in all that). I’d always been interested in the darker side of fairies, elves, goblins and other “Others”, thanks largely to Maurice Sendak, Labyrinth, Neil Gaiman and that one bit in Lord of the Rings where Galadriel nearly goes dark.


The book I was writing back then was called The Vampairy, about a creature that’s half vampire, half fairy, who gives you a wish in return for blood. The original plot was a time travel story to ancient Rome, with two boys. It went through MANY versions, eventually becoming a story set in fairyland, with a changeling, and the vampairy as the daughter of the villainous Fairy Queen. It changed name and shape, becoming Gloriana Stole my Sister. It went on submission around 2008 and got close with one publisher, but no cigar. Everyone seemed to think vampires were done and (sorry) dusted by then, post Twilight.


So I started work on a new book. A YA about zombies. That went on sub and got roundly rejected (turns out, a YA with no romance and gross-out zombies isn’t a thing) but one publisher – Nosy Crow – liked the style and asked what else I had. I came back to them with a selection, including Gloriana Stole my Sister. They said yes to that, and to a series of books about dragons and wizards, which became The Dragon in the Library, the Monster in the Lake and The Wizard in the Wood.


In rewriting Gloriana for Nosy Crow, it became Otherland, and the vampairy disappeared, and instead a fully-fairy adult character called Mab arrived, and the two boy characters were replaced with a new boy-girl pairing. An odd couple, a bickering couple of not-exactly-friends, which it turns out I LOVE writing.


Otherland will be published 20 years after I started writing it. Almost everything about it has changed, apart from the fact that it has fairies in it. I’ve changed a lot too, as has the world.


I started out saying that I’d been waiting for this book to be published, but that’s not quite right. I’ve been living, and growing as a writer. So, while Past Me was upset it wasn’t published in the early 2000s, I’m now glad, because it’s better for the waiting – and the changing and the growing. Oddly it ties into my understanding of fiction – I see stories as something that evolve and persist and change, just like myths. There’s no one version of a story, there’s always a million ways you could approach it. But even though no detail of Otherland is the same as The Vampairy, the soul is there somehow. Children on adventures. Misfit magical creatures seeking acceptance. And lots and lots of bickering.


Part of me wonders if this story was just waiting for its time. Or maybe it was waiting for me to be ready to tell it.


All of this is to say, if you’re on the path to publication, and it’s proving slow and frustrating ... I hear you! But I’ve been there, and I can promise: you WILL get there, even if it takes 20 years, or 50. The right story, the right time, the right version of you to tell it – it’ll all come together and your story will fly!


Louie Stowell is a children's author based in London. She spent 15 years in the publishing industry, most recently as Publisher at Ladybird, part of Penguin Random House, before becoming a full time author. She's written dozens of non-fiction books for children and is the author of The Dragon in the Library trilogy, published by Nosy Crow. They're funny books about wizards, dragons, libraries and friendship. Her latest book is a darkly funny Middle Grade portal fantasy called Otherland, about two children who have to rescue a stolen baby from the Fairy Queen in a realm where nothing is as it seems. She also has a three book deal with Walker for a funny diary series about the Norse god Loki being punished by living on earth as a mortal child and - worse - going to school. Louie lives with her wife, Karen, her dog, Buffy, and a creepy puppet that is probably cursed.


Twitter: @louie stowell


Instagram: @louie stowell


Website: www.louiestowell.com

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