My novel Out of the Blue came from a short story that I wrote in 2010, about a global epidemic of fallen angels. I put it away and didn’t think about it again until March 2015, when, during a slow day at work, I had the idea of rewriting it as a YA novel set set in Edinburgh. I sketched out a plan there and then, and by the time submissions for Undiscovered Voices opened in July, I had a first draft – albeit a very, very rough one.
At that stage, however, I felt the most important thing were the first two chapters that I would be submitting to Undiscovered Voices that summer – that’s what the judges would be basing their decision on, after all, and it’s obviously what will grab any other readers’ attention too. In my view, that meant:
- A good opening line. I must have tried out a hundred before I found one I was happy with.
- A strong narrative voice. I wanted to make sure my main character Jaya’s personality and her attitude to the situation came through from the very first paragraphs.
- The right action/background balance. I often find this quite difficult in opening chapters – you don’t want to storm into the action without any context as to where your character is coming from, but too much background can slow the story down.
- A little bit of humour. Out of the Blue isn’t a comedy, but I find it’s often a good way to add some extra personality and set the tone of the text, if appropriate.
- Some hooks. Knowing how much to reveal and when is something I also find quite tricky. I spent a long time honing the chapters so it was clear what the story was about and where the plot was going, while still creating enough intrigue to keep the reader (hopefully) interested.
I spent a long, long time trying to get these right, then crossed my fingers and submitted my entry in August. After that came the not-so-small task of polishing up the rest of the book while waiting for the longlist. I didn’t think I had much chance of being selected, but I spent the rest of the year writing, rewriting, editing, editing some more, improving the prose and filling in the many plotholes until I had what I hoped was a coherent novel, just in case.
I’m glad I did, because in January I got the call from Sara Grant to tell me I’d been selected for the anthology! The months after that were a bit of a whirlwind: I got lots of requests to read the full manuscript, went to London for the Undiscovered Voices party, and ended up with several offers of representation. I signed with my excellent agent Hellie Ogden in March last year, and by October she’d sold my novel to the amazing team at Macmillan Children’s Books. I was really blown away by their creative ideas and enthusiasm for the book, and it’s now due out in spring 2018.
Considering I started writing Out of the Blue just over two years ago, it feels like things have moved pretty quickly! That’s largely thanks to Undiscovered Voices, for which I’m so grateful. I’m also glad I spent so long focusing on making sure those two chapters were as strong as possible. I’ve done some major rewrites since then and the rest of the book has changed massively, but those opening chapters are more or less the same – so I think the hard work paid off!
I really can’t encourage unpublished writers enough to enter Undiscovered Voices. Whether or not you end up with an agent or publishing deal, it’s a brilliant chance to have your work read by agents and editors, a huge confidence boost, and will introduce you to lots of fantastic writers and illustrators too. Best of luck!