Today I’m so pleased to welcome debut author Laura Wood to the blog to talk about her huge win and the publication of her book Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse. It’s a really great story for all aspiring authors out there, so read on to find out Laura’s unconventional road to publication!
On winning The Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
By Laura Wood
The only thing I had ever won in my life before this competition was two tickets to see the Power Rangers Live. My name was pulled out of the spinning tombola on Live and Kicking and I had entered the competition, in a fit of selflessness, on behalf of my little brother. So when I entered the Montegrappa Scholastic a prize for New Children’s Writing I did not expect to win.
I first saw the prize mentioned by someone on Twitter. To enter the competition you needed to submit the first 5000 words of a book for children aged 8-12 and a one page synopsis outlining the rest. First prize was a publishing deal with Scholastic, agency representation with LBA books, and a beautiful fountain pen from Montegrappa. I had had the idea for my book, Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse in my head for a few years, ever since working as a children’s bookseller for Waterstones, but I had been too nervous to write it down. I think a blank word document might be the scariest thing in the world. When I saw the information about the competition I decided that writing 5000 words didn’t sound so scary, that I could do that and then put those words in a drawer and come back to them when I had time. I very nearly didn’t submit my entry, and I think about that quite a lot these days, how taking that chance and having a go changed my life.
When Lena, my lovely agent at Scholastic, got in touch and said that they were considering putting me on the shortlist and did I have a full manuscript I said ‘of course!’ and then I spent three furious, painful weeks writing the rest of it. I was in a lecture at the university where I work when Lena rang me to say that I had won. I could see her number flashing on my phone but I couldn’t answer. Afterwards, outside the lecture theatre I listened to the message she left asking if I could ring her back and my hands were shaking so much that I could hardly hold the phone. I can’t tell you a lot about our conversation. I know I cried. I think I swore a bit. I asked her if she was joking (several times). I sat outside the lecture theatre for an hour before I stopped shaking enough to drive home.
I still feel so emotional thinking about it now! Since winning the competition so many exciting things have happened. Not only has my childhood dream of seeing my book in a bookshop come true, but Scholastic have asked me to write another book about Poppy’s adventures, and I have just finished the first draft of that. Poppy is also being translated into lots of different languages so children all over the world will be holding my book in their hands. These things are facts but I still find them utterly unbelievable.
The finished version of Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse was released this month and thanks to my designer Sam Perrett and illustrator Beatrice Bencivenni, it is a thing of extreme beauty. Thanks to my editor Lena, and my agent Louise the words inside are pretty good too. They helped me so much, and although the narrative has actually changed very little from my original draft it is a much richer and more thoughtful book because of their hard work.
I guess the moral of the story is that if you want to be a writer then you should go for it. No one can find you if you don’t put yourself out there. My road to publication was an unusual one but there are a lot of different ways to make yourself heard. Don’t give up! And if you see an interesting writing competition then enter it. I used to think normal people didn’t win competitions but now I know they do. Because I’m one of them.
About Poppy Pym and the Pharaoh’s Curse
Winner of the Scholastic Montegrappa Prize for New Children’s Writing. Poppy Pym has grown up in the circus, eating candy floss for breakfast and learning about lion taming … until her circus family decides she needs a more traditional education, and they send her to boarding school. At first, Poppy has trouble fitting in at St Smithen’s, a school that is very different from the circus. But when an ancient Egyptian ruby comes to the school and dangerous accidents start occurring, it’s up to Poppy to save her new home and solve the mystery of the Pharaoh’s curse!
About Laura Wood
Laura Wood is the winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing. She has just completed her PhD at the University of Warwick studying the figure of the reader in nineteenth century literature. POPPY PYM AND THE PHARAOH’S CURSE is her first novel.