Tuesday, 10 October 2017

My journey to becoming a published author by Sarah Driver

Hello! This is my first blog piece for ABBA and I’m delighted to be stopping by. I thought I should start by introducing myself, so here goes! I’m Sarah, I come from Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex, and I’m the author of The Huntress Trilogy; a fantasy adventure series for 8-12s published by Egmont. I graduated from the Bath Spa MA in Writing for Young People in 2014. My debut novel, The Huntress: Sea, was published this April. The experience has been magical, and so surreal – made even more so by wonderful happenings such as Sea becoming Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month (a month before official publication!) – that at times I’ve struggled to feel anything but dazed, even numb. There has been a fair bit of pinching myself in disbelief. This is all I’ve ever wanted, but how do you cope with achieving your wildest dream when suffering from intense imposter syndrome? How do you adjust to the sudden externalization of your innermost identity, especially when writing was once an escape?

I’ve loved reading and writing for almost as long as I can remember. I started writing around the age of five, filling notebooks with stories of family holidays and writing nonsense poems to make my family laugh. One of my most treasured possessions was my bright orange typewriter. Aged about nine, I started binding stories into little books and asking friends to illustrate them or write the blurbs. Spoiler: I may have been a bit obsessed. Aged fourteen I started my most serious stab at writing my first word-processed novel. This experience remains, to date, my most successful attempt at writing a synopsis – I wrote it instinctively and easily in about half an hour. If Doc Brown appeared right now and offered me a DeLorean ride back in time, the only thing that might make me consider being a teenager again would be having so much natural confidence at writing. I never finished the novel (note to former self – FINISH SOMETHING!) and not long after that, various unfinished projects began to gather, as life gathered speed. A level English put me off studying English or Creative Writing at university, and besides, no one in my family had been. From a young age I knew very well the importance of ‘learning a trade’ and not risking a repeat of the struggles faced by my parents – job security was worth the world and, after all, no one really becomes an author, do they? I’d never met one, and couldn’t be completely certain they existed. 

After a gap year of traveling, a dropped university course, a clutch of story rejection slips from magazines and competitions and an assortment of jobs, I finally decided to train as a nurse – my mum had once been a nursing assistant and my aunt was a nurse in London. I’d also met some fantastic nurses as a kid when myself, my brother and my dad were all seriously ill at one point or another (sorry, Mum!) Although not the most natural choice for a severely introverted bookworm, this turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. After a humbling, at times terrifying, exhilarating and life altering three years of university and hospital based training, I worked as a staff nurse before training as a midwife on an accelerated degree course. It was as intense as it sounds, and I rarely had the chance to read fiction, let alone write it. But the urge to write, as well as a deep sense of guilt that I wasn’t, itched inside my bones.

As soon as I finished midwifery training and began my first post at a London trust, I started to increase my fiction reading and even to write again on days off, between tough shifts.

There was something about the way that health work had changed me that made me ready to take myself seriously as a writer – I’d seen how high the stakes can be and learned how important it was to live fully and wholeheartedly for the moment. I’d also had a few poems published in an online poetry zine and that was a hugely validating moment for me as a writer. I desperately needed time and space to write and decided to investigate MA courses in creative writing. I found out about the Bath Spa MA in Writing for Young People and knew it was for me – I realized that every project I had ever worked on had been, in essence, aimed at younger readers.

I secured a place on the course as well as a part time midwifery contract (yes, I worked night shifts alongside a full time one year masters course. I seem to have an appetite for intensity.) 
The idea for The Huntress came about just before starting the course, when I was ‘supposed’ to be working on something else. I sat at my kitchen table and scribbled about half a page of a new project, which I called All the Gods’ Little Creatures (definitely a working title!) It was a page of free-writing in the voice of Mouse, my protagonist in The Huntress, telling me about her family and life aboard her home, which I immediately knew was a ship. Lots of things had brewed in the back of my mind and influenced the voice, atmosphere and setting that began to unfold.

The MA gave me space to read and write. It felt like making a stand against self-doubt. It gave me something I had never experienced before – a writing community who encouraged me to keep going. 
I learned as much from my peers as I did from the course itself.

I completed a first draft of The Huntress: Sea in 2014. Later that year I won the annual United Agents prize for the ‘most promising writer’, which is how I met my agent. By September 2015 she had sent the manuscript off to publishers, and by November we had a three-book deal with Egmont. The whole process probably seems very fast to onlookers (and I know it was fast, in comparison to many experiences) but in some ways, it’s taken a long time. The inward journey has been epic. The fact that it’s been slightly convoluted feels right, like everything was meant to be and contributed to making me the writer I am today. Sometimes, the right path isn’t the clearest or straightest one. I can’t wait to keep learning as much as I can about writing. The learning curve has been steep, but I know it’s only just beginning.

Last month, I found myself celebrating another amazing milestone – publication of my second novel, The Huntress Sky, only five months after the launch of Sea! I grabbed a copy of the book and invited my dad to Herstmonceux Castle, where we spent a fantastic few hours with Sussex Falconry, flying hawks, kites and owls. Here is (the extremely vocal) Halo, a barn owl:
And here’s a slightly wonky photo of Sky against the castle backdrop.

This year, I’ve been slowly calming down and learning to enjoy the experience of being in such a privileged position. I’m gradually learning how to speak in front of audiences at festivals and schools, though my palms still sweat and my throat still tightens. I’m learning how to trust in my creative process, as well as my innate sense of storytelling – a sense I believe is in all of us. I’m learning how to wear my new identity of ‘author’ (such a beautiful word) and not feel so exposed in doing so. It helps that I have the most supportive community of writers, agents and editors to guide me. Big thanks to my lovely friend Jess Butterworth for the chance to write this piece, sorry for the life story and thank you for reading! 

Sarah Driver 


Steve Gladwin said...

Thanks Sarah and all the best with the up and down, rock and roll world of writing.

Heather Dyer said...

Exciting! Good luck on your writing journey...

Rowena House said...

Lovely post, Sarah, about an uplifting journey. Hope the Huntress & future stories are huge successes for you.

Anne Booth said...

I really loved your first book and after reading it gave it to my 11 year old niece. I must buy the second one now, and I will definitely read it before passing it on to her again (if I can bear to!). In one way I don't think I need to say 'Good luck' as you are such a good writer - but I say good luck anyway as we all need it!