Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New Beginnings from an Old Story - Guest Post by Pippa Goodhart

It’s New Year’s Eve, so a moment to consider casting out the old and bringing in the new. But is casting out of the old really necessary to the creation of something new? I’ve just made a new start with something old, and that something is a story called Ginny’s Egg.

I have had over ninety children’s stories published in the traditional way over the last twenty years, but I’m brand new to self-publishing. I’ve just created my first Kindle ebook: Ginny’s Egg. Ginny’s Egg was originally published by Mammoth (later Egmont), got shortlisted for Young Telegraph Book of the Year and sold well.

Cover One
It was reissued with a new cover some years later, kept in print for a good number of years, but finally went out of print about twelve years ago.

So why, out of all my now out of print books, was Ginny’s Egg the one I’m trying as an ebook before any other? Because it’s a story that is close to my heart, and because it is the book that made me into a ‘real’ writer in my own mind.

I’d been a bookseller for years, but was now at home with two small children, mixing child minding and writing ‘reader’ reports on slush-pile manuscripts for the children’s editors at OUP. I got nagged by my husband into writing a children’s novel for the Kathleen Fidler Competition, and that story became my first book, Flow. I thought that if Flow got published, that would be it. I would look at it every day on my shelf, and feel smug and amazed that I had had a book published. But I soon had both my agent and my publisher asking me, ‘so, what will the next book be about?’ Suddenly I had to be a professional writer, producing a story from nothing, and to a deadline.

Cover Two
I went to a talk by Annie Dalton in which she told that the way to play with fantasy in fiction isn’t to create a whole new world that needs every bit of that world explaining (because telling what people look like, what they eat, how they dress etc inevitably slows down the actual story), but to set a story in a recognisable world, and then take just one strand of that world into fantasy. I got home from that talk to find my husband building a new hen run for Nancy Next Door, and small daughters collecting chicken eggs. Eggs. Hmm. Delicate objects, yet strong enough to contain a life. A life that’s hidden. Anything could be inside that shell ….

Hands up all of you who had a go at hatching out an egg when you were a child? I tried multiple times, always with disappointing, and sometimes smelly, results. But what if you kept the egg warm and it DID hatch? What if it hatched a baby dragon!? What do you do with a baby dragon that’s hungry and growing fast and starting to breathe fire? You need to get it back to its dragon mother. But how? That’s what Ginny faces.

In the background, distracting Ginny’s parents from their daughter, Mum is giving birth to a longed-for sibling for Ginny … who turns out to have Down Syndrome. I suppose I introduced that idea so that the parents too had to come to terms with a new baby that wasn’t quite what they were expecting. The publishers, reading my first draft, liked it but wanted me to turn the story into much more of an ‘issues book’, pushing the dragon story into the background, and concentrating on the family and disability side of things. I didn’t agree. I wanted to do the opposite.

There I was, an author almost in spite of myself, and ultra-keen to please my publishers and to do as they asked with this second book, but with a fundamental disagreement with them about how the story should work. I KNEW that the dragon story was the one in which to explore my themes, not the more obvious (more boring?) baby one. But, going this way against publisher advice, I was worried about writing a story that was in bad taste somehow with my implied comparison between a baby with a disability and a baby dragon. So I sent my story to the Downs Syndrome Association and they were very helpful; really welcoming a story that considered how it was for the sibling of a disabled child. Their only suggested change (obvious, once it’s been pointed out!) was that I shouldn’t refer to a ‘Downs baby’ but to ‘a baby with Downs Syndrome’, putting the child before the disability.

I rewrote Ginny’s Egg in the way I’d wanted to, and my editor liked the result. Phew! So an important writerly lesson was learned about knowing your own story better than anybody else can.

Cover Three
But, just days after sending off my reworked story, I was given test results showing that my own baby that I was pregnant with had a ‘high risk’ of having Downs Syndrome. Gosh. How did that real life/fiction relationship work? As it turned out, baby Susie didn’t have Down’s Syndrome … but, again entirely coincidentally, is now an adult planning to work in speech therapy with people with Downs Syndrome. Life is strange!

For over twenty years now I’ve found myself involved with the movement to get characters with disabilities included in good children’s fiction of all sorts, but as individuals first and foremost, not defined by their disability, and with their stories not revolving directly around their disabilities. See http://www.inclusiveminds.com/ and http://www.letterboxlibrary.com/

So now Ginny’s Egg is updated to a new version (encyclopaedias and milk bottles out, internet and mobile phones in!), and given its third cover, this time by lovely Jessica Goode whose work I found on a blackboard outside a food shop!

Happy New Year!

www.pippgoodhart.co.uk

14 comments:

Lee said...

Annie Dalton has obviously not read Ursula LeGuin, to name just one example of a skilled world-building fantasist.

Chris Longmuir said...

I like the idea of setting a fantasy in the world of normality, but I must admit I'm not overly keen on the type of fantasy novels which spend more time on the world-building than character-building! Give me characters any day.

madwippitt said...

Covers 1 and 3 have got me hooked ... and do I sense another great post about that story of how you found Jessica Goode on a blackboard? :-) Looking forward to reading both the book and the anecdote!

Debbie Bennett said...

Although I do read other-world fantasy, I much prefer what I call "contemporary fantasy" - something different about our own world. But yes - characters are everything for me too. If the characters are good enough, the world-building (or indeed plot) aren't that important to me.

madwippitt said...

And I think you are missing the point being made Lee - that there are many skilled complete-world writers - Tolkien is possibly the best example of having gone to town on this - but that it is possible to create a fantasy world without having to necessarily go quite that far ...

Pippa Goodhart said...

Oh, I'm sure Annie Dalton has read, and appreciated, total fantasies but was making the point that it's not a question of 'all or nothing' when it comes to fantasy, and that taking just one strand into fantasy to look at something in new ways can give as good a fictional experience as imagining a whole new world.
Yes, isn't it interesting feeling the effect different cover styles have on us? And interesting too that different people react differently!
Thanks for your comments.

Pauline Chandler said...

And I was one of those lucky authors you picked from the slush pile! Thank you, Pippa! Without whose support, I might never have been published at all! X

Pippa Goodhart said...

Oh, thank YOU, Pauline! I remember the excitement of finding Dark Threads as brilliance (that made me cry!) amongst the mass of less than brilliant slush pile texts. You're a wonderful writer.

Lee said...

'I went to a talk by Annie Dalton in which she told that the way [italics mine] to play with fantasy in fiction isn’t to create a whole new world that needs every bit of that world explaining (because telling what people look like, what they eat, how they dress etc inevitably slows down the actual story), but to set a story in a recognisable world, and then take just one strand of that world into fantasy.'

If I'm missing the point, mapwippet, then it should have been explained better. Please note the italicised words above, which clearly suggest there is only one way to tackle fantasy. There isn't.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Apologies, Lee. Yes, I gave the impression of a closed mind where there isn't one. 'My bad,' as my daughter would say!

Lydia Bennet said...

It's always interesting to read the history of a book - especially one that's so close to the author's heart! Yet again we see one of the boons of ebooks, giving out of print or old books another lease of life. Happy new year to you!

julia jones said...

always pleased to hear from another former bookseller - and loved this story about a story

Pippa Goodhart said...

Thank you for the new year good wishes. Happy New Year to all of you too!

Sandra Horn said...

What a great 'story of the story'! Thank you!