Having your first book picked as a ‘Sunday Times’ Book of the Month and having two publishers both snap you up seems like the dream scenario for any author (although having to write your fourth book online as a web-based creative writing project for children does sound slightly less appealing).
But for ‘Shrunk’ author Fleur Hitchcock, being a children’s author at all is a bit of a surprise as she only ended up on the now famous Bath Spa creative writing course for children because the adult course was already full.
‘I had been writing for a while, writing stories for adults and wanted to do an MA. But when I look back all my stories featured children, or had a children’s point of view.’ And she found her natural home, now having written ‘Shrunk’ (about a boy who discovers he has the power to shrink things), ‘Dear Scarlett’ about a girl who starts to uncover secrets about her jewel thief father, and ‘The Trouble with Mummies’ about a town where all the adults start behaving like they are living in a different historical period, which is difficult enough for the children to cope with - until all the historical re-enactment starts to involve sacrificing children.
All three books are quite different, although there is definitely a familiar strand of humour present in all of them. They will also appeal to slightly different age groups and if that isn't all tricky enough, Fleur has ended up being published by two different publishers.
I managed to catch up with her after a school event where she mummified some children and had them impersonating animals. Now all just part of the day job.
‘I wrote a book as part of the MA and that book got me an agent. But it did the rounds and didn’t get me a publisher, which was a very grim place. One of the best things about doing the MA was the fact that although I’d wanted to do it to improve my writing, what it also really taught me was about the commercial and practical side of publishing.
‘So we’d have talks where they’d say about this editorial team were really good or this publisher was good at that. And helped us recognise that lots and lots of people writing never make it – or get one or maybe two books published and then never another. So it made me a lot more realistic.
‘And you sometimes have to slap yourself around the face and say that didn’t work and write another one. You can only edit a book so much before it comes such a totally different book than the one you started anyway that it would have been better to have started completely fresh with something new.
‘So I started “Shrunk” and although Nosy Crow thought is wasn’t quite for them, they liked my writing and wanted to meet me. On the train to the meeting Kirsty Stansfield I was thinking that I didn’t really know what they wanted to meet me to talk about and I had this idea of what it would be like to live among the watercress beds around Andover that I passed on the train. And so when they asked me what I was writing next I told them and that became “Dear Scarlett” which was my first book for Nosy Crow.
‘In the meantime HotKey had been sent “Shrunk” and loved it, so I ended up with two different publishers.’
She was also plunged into writing a follow-up to ‘Shrunk’ on-line, inviting children to contribute all their ideas and shape everything from the characters to the plot.
‘The children have really written the book – they will see their ideas there and without their ideas it would not have been the book it is. But my synapses have had to make connections where they have never made connections before and it has been good for me. I have never tried before writing with someone else’s ideas.’
That book will be out next year, but for the moment she is returning home to write a book that, confidentially, may feature time travel and yogurt pots. And to polish up her schools events. ‘I definitely need more penguins.’
What was your favourite book as a child?
It’s impossible to answer that because I liked different books at different times of childhood, whether it was Noggin the Nog, or Narnia or The Silver Sword. And there was a pony book that when I look back was only photographs and information but I read that over and over as I did the ‘Handbook of Horsemanship’. I was a big user of the mobile library. I loved Moomins and Joan Aiken and Nina Bawden, who was a friend of my parents and I read all the books before they were printed and still have all of her letters.
What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?
We've got a copy of The Trouble With Mummies to give away. To be in with a chance of winning it, e-mail us at SpaceOnTheBookshelf@yahoo.com with your name and address and 'Mummies' in the header.