Today is publication day of The Christmas Carrolls, a feel-good, heartwarming tale perfect for Christmas! Mel Taylor-Bessent, creator of Authorfy, has taken the time amidst the excitement to answer our questions!
How long have you been hoping/dreaming to become a published author?
I’ve loved writing since I was about eight years old. I grew up as an only child, so writing stories was the way I entertained myself, but it wasn’t until I studied Creative Writing at university that I thought I should try to become a published author. During my university course, I actually secured an agent for a book I wrote for my dissertation. At the time they were the largest literary agency in the world, and I (hilariously!) thought I was going to be rich and famous and published on bookshelves all over the world (I’ve since learnt how publishing really works!). After a year of editing the book with my agent, and just before we submitted it to publishers, my agent had a career change and I found myself back at square one. So, fifteen years and two businesses later, I can’t quite believe I’m going to see my name on the cover of a book and that that book will be in bookshops and libraries all over the country. I’m very much pinching myself as it’s been a lifelong dream and a fifteen-year journey to get to this place!
Has your experience with creative writing clubs and working with publishers helped?
One billion percent. I ran children’s creative writing workshops (Little Star Writing) for almost a decade after graduating university, and although I was meant to be teaching the children, they also taught me so much about things like pace, humour and current trends. I also learnt not to dumb down my writing. The students I taught were aged 7-11 and they never shied away from emotional storylines, difficult topics or scary scenes. In fact, they loved nothing more than to surprise me with their ideas and they’d do whatever they could to make an impact when they read their stories out loud. Despite this desire to write in a mature and unexpected way, they also taught me that you can never be too old for toilet humour, which definitely made its way into ‘The Christmas Carrolls’!
Working with publishers for the last fifteen years has also been hugely eye-opening. From arranging author events and literary festivals for Little Star Writing, to creating resources and interviewing authors for Authorfy, I’ve picked up so many writing tips from authors and learnt so much about promoting children’s books from wonderful marketing and publicity teams that I think I’m in a much stronger, more knowledgeable position to become a published author myself.
How do you juggle work, family and writing?
With a lot of help and support! I am very lucky to have a wonderful team around me. I write one day a week (plus most evenings / weekends / whenever my 8-month-old is sleeping!) and then I look after my 8-month old two days a week and work on Authorfy for the other two days. When I do something, I put my all into it, whether that’s trying to promote ‘The Christmas Carrolls’ or take Authorfy to the next level, so it can be exhausting trying to singlehandedly run a business, write / edit children’s books and launch a career as an author, but it’s also hugely rewarding and I feel very lucky that I’ve finally fulfilled my dream of becoming a published author. I also couldn’t juggle everything without the support and understanding of my amazing agent, my editor and my friends and family.
What top tips for writing would you offer aspiring authors?
I’d say, remember why you are writing. For most of us, we write because we enjoy it, but it can be very easy to start comparing ourselves to other writers or to second guess the type of story we think publishers are looking for. This definitely happened to me over the last fifteen years. I kept comparing my writing to authors I admired like Abi Elphinstone and Kiran Millwood Hargrave, and the more pressure I put on myself to write epic, adventurous, magical stories like theirs, the less I enjoyed the writing process. That’s why I decided to shake off any pressure I felt and just write a story that I enjoyed. For the first time in a long time, I just wrote for me. I wrote scenes that made me laugh and created characters I wanted to be friends with. And that was when the writing started to flow again. That was when I knew I’d written a story I was especially proud of. I suppose that was the time I rediscovered my own writing ‘voice’, too.
Do you have a special writing place?
I write anywhere! In the Authorfy office, in my living room (especially at Christmas when the tree and decorations are up!), on the kitchen floor, at the local park . . . I prefer to write my first drafts by hand, so I always have a notebook and pen with me wherever I go.
How do you keep motivated to write, edit and market your book?
I’ve dreamt of becoming a published author for fifteen years. And that included dreaming of how my cover would look, dreaming up what I’d say in school events, dreaming up how I’d want my website to look or ways in which I could promote myself. I’ve been dreaming of this moment forever, but if I’m really honest with myself, I don’t think I ever thought it would actually happen. So I think that’s all the motivation I need – I think back to when I wanted to become a published author more than anything and now I want to relish the experience and make the most of every opportunity.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading The Christmas Carrolls?
First and foremost, I hope readers enjoy the book. I hope they laugh. I hope it makes them think about ways in which they can spread cheer. I hope the book reminds them of that fizzy exciting energy that’s in the air at Christmas time. I hope they empathise with the different characters and I hope they think about the importance of being yourself, being unique and accepting other people’s differences.
The Christmas Carrolls, written by Mel Taylor-Bessent, Illustrated by Selom Sunu is published by FarShore and available from today!