Friday, 22 January 2010

How I Got Published: Josa Young

Josa Young is a writer more used to magazine publishing than book publishing, but last year her debut novel was published by independent pubilsher, E&T Books. You can find Josa on Twitter, at her own website, or via her novel's website.

How did I get published? Well, it started a long time ago with an obsession with fairies. I was a tomboyish child, so the gossamer ones did not sit well with my desire to climb trees. But I was convinced that when I was ninety-nine, those bony wings on my back would sprout (being a child of the skinny Sixties they were not immersed in fat) and transport me somewhere or other. So I wrote extensively on the subject; before I could read, in fact.

At prep school, the games mistress also taught English. She hated me so much on the pitch that she once threw a rounders ball at me which hit me smack in the eye as I dreamed at fourth post: but in the classroom she loved me as I wrote delicate haikus about the moon, and drew pictures of Gollum. My first encounter with pedagogic schizophenia.

At Cambridge I wrote very poor imitations of Roald Dahl short stories, published by my friend Roger in his amusing magazine. Later, I applied my fictional gift to preventing myself from dying of boredom while writing about conservatories for a magazine: 'Emerald swept into the double-glazed Amdiga conservatory, her satin dancing slippers making little noise on the Fired Earth terracotta tiles.'

Later still, I went on an Arvon course because although I had been suppressing and sublimating my passion it still had to find an outlet and there, on a windswept moor in Devon, it did. The midwife was Beryl Bainbridge, the doctor Nicholas Shakespeare (who accused me of verbal diarrhoea — Beryl said he was jealous of my typing speed).

She told me I should write a novel while stirring powdered gelatine into her tea. So I did, in the five weeks between two magazine contracts (Slimming, and Pregnancy — one leading inexorably to the other). So excited was I with my 100,000 words that when I bumped into a rather grand publisher who was now doing a little light agenting, and he offered to read it, I was overwhelmed. Particularly when he rang two weeks later and told me he loved it. I thought all that writing about hitherto very fat ladies standing in one leg of their trousers was over at last. That was in the mid-1990s. I have a few dry and withered rejection letters, but nothing else to show from that episode.

In 2006 I was writing a piece about self-publishing, vanity publishing and publishing for a magazine. I contacted self-publishers AuthorHouse, who had just landed in Milton Keynes from the US and they asked me if I wanted to give it a whirl for my piece. I didn't even think the manuscript was in an electronic form any more, but managed to get it converted to disc and sent it off. When the galleys came back, I could see all kinds of wince-making glitches and set to work with a will on a couple of new drafts — again between editorial contracts.

Then I forgot all about it again. It sat on the AuthorHouse website. I designed a cover (heavily influenced by 1980s Virago), and mucked about with editing, putting quotations at the top of chapters, typefaces and all, but I did not publish. While Acting Features Editor at Tatler I was approached by Lorne Forsyth, who had just taken over publishers Elliott & Thompson. He wanted to grill me about internet matters, as that is the other thing I do (CondeNet,, AOL UK etc) and I just wanted a nice lunch. Ever a girl to sing happily for Zafferano, off I went.

While I confidently expounded on SEO, blogging, social networking, interactivity and all that stuff to this highly competent and intelligent person, he gently probed me on the subject of my own writing. Instantly I shrank back like a snail. Detecting this, he pointed out that he was always astonished by how sensitive people were when it came to their own creativity. Could he see something I had written? I shyly handed over the password to the Authorhouse PFD.

That was in 2008. In 2009 he relaunched Elliott & Thompson as E&T Books and requested One Apple Tasted for the launch list. To begin with I was quite stunned. In January of last year we had our first proper meeting and there was One Apple Tasted all nicely marked up by editor and publisher with comments. All I had to do was take it home and 'run it through the typewriter'. Then we were off. I suggested Lawrence Mynott, a brilliant illustrator and book designer, as well as an old mucker of mine from that glorious decade, the 1980s. And there it was — the pink, black and white cuboid of my dreams.

E&T gave a hilarious party at my mother-in-law's house — where Peter Pan was written — on a lovely July evening. And people started buying it, and reading it, and saying things on Amazon and elsewhere that made me hide my blushes behind my fan. I compounded the problem by writing a piece about sex for the Telegraph, which caused a flurry. I had to explain that I could not write as I wanted to until after my beloved mother died — but then when my father died as well, I found caches of letters dating from WWII which indicated a very different emotional landscape. I am really sorry they are not here to share the fun.

Now Sail Upon the Land, the next one, is bubbling around in my head night and day, and flying out of my fingers when moving house, childcare, building websites and writing for some reason many brochures about chalets, will let me.


Jill said...

I guess the message is to keep at it and keep trying. Writing is a long and ever changing process and the industry is in more flux now than ever before! Write what you know. Write the book that you'd want to read. Know your genre. Keep trying and you'll get there, right!?!?

Thanks, Jill
"Blood and Groom" is now in stores!

Marsha said...

What a great story - thanks for sharing! It's good to know that persistence pays off... eventually.

Anonymous said...

Love stories like this! It makes it even better for when your book really does happen! =D

Nicola Morgan said...

You wrote that story brilliantly, Josa - I was hooked! I am not easily hooked. I am too busy and too flightly and too overwhelmed by rubbish to be easily hooked. You broke through all those barriers. Thank you!

M.R.J. Le Blanc said...

What a great read, it's always nice to see a new voice make it.

HelenMWalters said...

I loved One Apple Tasted, and can't wait for Josa's next book.

Unknown said...

Jill: yes indeed, writing a book that was a bit like what I wanted to read, ie with LOTS OF STUFF in it. Will check out yours.
Marsha: You are right
Sara: so glad you liked it, funny feeling, not easy to define
Nicola: I feel incredibly chuffed that I broke through to you.
MRJ: Thank you
Helen: Your review remains one of my very favourites and I am writing away like anything at next novel Sail Upon the Land

Unknown said...

O, and Hodmandod is Josa Young. Hodmandod is also an old English word meaning snail. Not a lot of people know that.