At some point, all parents upon finishing a bed time story, with their child gently drifting off to sleep, must have put the book down and thought ‘what the hell was that?’
I do Edie’s bedtime stories every night, it’s something that I love doing, but over the last two years or so I’ve come across some dreadful stories – often too long, too convoluted or just too darn weird (and that's just for me, God knows what Edie makes of them!). I’ve even had to hide some of the worst offenders just because they annoy me so much. Of course I love the Gruffalo and oldies such as Five Minutes Peace, but some of the nonsense I’ve read Edie are a perfect advert for not smoking weed – it’s the only logical explanation I can think of!
So about a year ago, having read one too many stories that left me frustrated at lazy rhyme or just plain irrationality, I thought, I could do that. And so I did.
With Edie’s imagination reaching new-found levels she would inspire me on a daily basis with talk of characters and situations that formed the games she played, things us boring old adults might not even dream of. She’d also ask classic questions such as ‘how does Father Christmas know if I’m naughty or nice’ and other more random questions covering anything from bunnies to dinosaurs, from witches to cute kittens. When I took everything she was saying and coupled it with her unbelievable ability to imagine, I found myself dreaming up simple tales a child could relate to and would be excited by. Knowing I wanted to write, I paid even more attention to story time with Edie - what was it I liked about certain books and what was it I disliked? Once everything was mixed together, I had some firm ideas for a series of short children's books. And so, I set to work.
A few months later, after writing constantly, making notes in the middle of the night, chopping up variations of stories and forever changing the twists to build excitement, ensure recurrent wit and a polished finale, I had three short children’s picture books written and refined. My wife is a magazine editor and my father-in-law a book editor so I was confident between the three of us they were up to a good standard. I even met with children’s author Curtis Jobling who gave me some good advice, so I was happy I’d done all I could. With three stories good to go, I was proud of myself, a little nervous, but above all else, excited about what could possibly happen next.
I wrote a 90,000 word novel in my 20s but was never quite convinced by the story I told, so it’s sat gathering microelectronic dust on my computer ever since. But these children’s tales filled me with confidence. As far as I could tell, these stories were the best things since sliced bread, or importantly better than the books I’d read Edie the night before – they’d been published, so surely mine could be?
How wrong could I have been? A good nine months on and I’ve tried a few agents and gone to publishers directly. Nothing.
It’s a tough market to crack. Agents won’t take a chance on you unless you’re already published or the next JK Rowling (although she was famously rejected over 30 times) and publishers are inundated with submissions (mostly from parents like me probably). Finding a publisher that accepts unsolicited pieces is a job in itself and when you do stumble upon such a gem, they’ve closed their submissions due to sheer volumes (because of parents like me probably!).
I’ve since written a fourth book (that is not linked to the previous three) and have sent this off to publisher who accepts unsolicited work – so fingers crossed, but it’s a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.
So, at the moment it's all a bit of an open book ('scuse the pun)' type situation. But I think the key is to keep writing, keep coming up with new ideas (with the help of Edie of course), keep exploring different avenues and stay positive in the hope that something will take off. And in the meantime, if you take anything from me, it's that anyone can have a go - I'm sure you've all read enough children's classics (and not-so-classic) to inspire you...