The Fear and the Fizz : Six Things I’ve Learned as a Newbie Published Children’s Author

Guest Post by Darren Simpson

My debut children’s novel, Scavengers, was published by Usborne in March. It feels like aeons ago, thanks to the lifetime’s worth of emotion that’s been crammed into the last five months. 

It took me a decade to get published and – on hindsight – that period was a gruelling, ten-year trundle to the launching peak of a rollercoaster. And now that I’ve been sent hurtling down, I’m holding on for dear life. It’s as exhilarating as it is terrifying. 

Here’s a list of six things I’ve learned during the plunge. Let’s get the scary ones out of the way first.

1.Fairtytales don’t exist

I spent ten years chasing the publication dream, and during that time I became horribly fixated. It got to the point that I started to believe that, if I were ever published, life would instantly become fairy-tale perfect. I imagined quitting my day job and sliding down rainbows to swanky cafes, where I’d sit all day with coffee and notepads, petting unicorns and exchanging banter with adoring staff.

Turns out I was wrong. Since signing my fairy-tale contract I’ve crashed my car, drilled a hole through the wrong side of my house, put a fire out in my living room, and witnessed masked men with hammers sprinting from a neighbour’s house. 

In short: life goes on.

2. I’ll never lose the fear

This ties in with the previous point. 

When I got my book deal, the thing that hit me most of all was relief. Such sweet, sweet relief. After all, I’d spent ten years worrying that I might never get published – that all my hard work had been a colossal waste of time. 

But I quickly learned that, when you’re published, you replace your old worries with new ones. So instead of thinking “Will I ever get published?”, you think “Will the book survive editing? Will it sell enough copies? Will I get another deal? Do I have another book in me? Will it be as good as the first? Is it wrong to worry like this? Am I worrying about worrying? Do I need to see a doctor?”  

And so on. Long live the fear.

3. I’m not alone

The good news? I don’t need to see a doctor. The fear is normal. At least, it seems to be, based on every other author I’ve spoken to. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a few now, and it doesn’t take long to discover that they – particularly fellow newbies – have exactly the same fears and insecurities as me. This creates an instant comradery that has given me perspective and frequently saved my sanity.

4. Children’s lit people are awesome

And speaking of comradery, the children’s book industry – and everything it connects to – is genuinely awe-inspiring. 

It’s all very new to me, as I essentially fell into children’s fiction by accident. But every person I’ve met and been involved with – my incredible editor, the good folk at Usborne, fiction bloggers, social media champions, authors, publicists, school librarians, English teachers, library services, children’s book groups, booksellers, charities, federations and societies… They’ve all been brilliant. 

Hence it was such a treat to attend the FCBG Conference last April. Pitching Scavengers at the publishers’ session was a tad scary, but everyone was so keen and kind, and I loved the themes of compassion and tolerance that infused so much of what publishers had on show.  

There’s just so much positivity, passion and creativity in this field. I feel like I’ve joined a huge, talented team of kind and dedicated people, all brought together by the same agenda: to make children passionate about books, and by extension to spread happiness, empathy and self-learning, thus aiding – trite as it may sound – the prospect of a better future. 

It’s an absolute privilege to have ended up here.

5. The kids are alright

Actually, the Who reference isn’t really apt; the kids are fantastic. I’ve visited a lot of schools with Scavengers, and I always go home buzzing. Not just from the adrenaline, but from the energy and spirit of the children. The pupils I meet are consistently creative, caring, witty and brave. I really like children – I have a couple of my own – but being able to meet so many of them through my writing has made me feel more optimistic about the future than I ever did before. Plus they make the best reader art!   

6. There’s more fizz than fear

Overall, the fizz of excitement far outweighs the fear. Sure, there’s new stuff to worry about – deadlines, writer’s block, reviews – but there’s a whole lot more that puts a spring in my step. 

I honestly believe that, to get published, you need that little spark of luck to coincide with your perseverance. And I got lucky. Even now, I wake up every day feeling blessed. Not only because my writing is finding readers, but also because I get to connect with wonderful people for a wonderful cause.

I mentioned earlier that life – with all its fretting, fiddling and faff – still goes on after publication. It really does, but with a happy fizz that bubbles eternally in my belly. 

I still remember when I put that fire out in my living room. There was extinguisher powder everywhere, my family were cowering in the garden, and a fire engine had just skidded to a stop outside my house. Not much fun at all, but as it happens I’d been told – just moments before the fire broke out – that Scavengers had received an amazing review in The Guardian

It was a strange experience: reporting to firemen and staring at burned walls, all the while feeling like one of the luckiest men alive.

So yes, it’s quite a ride. I’m holding on tight, and am chuffed to say I have two bits of very exciting news on the way, which will be revealed as soon as I’m allowed to say more. 

Long live the fizz! 

Darren Simpson is the author of Scavengers (Usborne), which is part of the 2019 Summer Reading Challenge, a Toppsta Best Debut of 2019, and one of The Guardian’s Best Books of 2019 So Far.

The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.

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