Welcome to our interview series with the Europolitan Mentors! The Europolitan Mentorship program pairs qualified, inspirational mentors with aspiring authors and illustrators, who write in English, to help bring them closer to publication, or to publication at a higher level. Each mentor will select one mentee from all applicants.
This six-month online one-on-one program provides mentees the opportunity to work personally with and learn from a successful professional with teaching experience and a proven track record in children’s literature.
Thank you for joining us today, Danielle. And for being one of our mentors. I always like to know about how people became writers so could you share with us your path to writing. Was this something you’d always done or did you pick it up along the way?
Of course! Writing has always been such a huge part of my life. Mainly, because I’ve always loved books and words. Although I never actually thought that I could be a writer. I think it was a combination of various things. Growing up, I didn’t see enough writers of colour on the front covers of books (especially, children’s books). Then on top of that, you’re often told that you need a ‘proper job.’ Anything in the arts is usually seen as a hobby.
When I went to University I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so I decided to pick the one thing that I enjoyed. I studied a degree in Creative Writing at the University of East London. It was such a steep learning curve for me, but I loved every minute. It was then that I realised, I didn’t want to do anything else. Writing was the only thing that made sense.
I went back to study an MA in Creative Writing, then started teaching shortly afterward. Things really started happening for me at the age of 23. After getting a load of rejections, a short story I wrote was shortlisted for a competition. Not long after that, I was shortlisted to write for Emmerdale (a British soap opera). Up until this point, I’d been writing, but I had no idea if I would ever get anywhere. Both of those things were particularly huge for me, as they were the push I needed, to keep going. Then in 2015, I left my teaching job to start working as a storyline writer on Coronation Street. That was my first ever writing job – which I still can’t quite believe! It was completely surreal, as I’d watched Corrie religiously growing up. Working on a soap was the best training I could have asked for. It taught me so much about story, structure and not being precious with my work.
It was also then, that I started to see myself as a writer (even though, I’d been doing it for years!). Something just clicked for me, and it made me realise, that maybe I could write for a living. I’d always wanted to write books, so when my contract ended at Corrie, I decided to focus on that. I applied to a writer development programme called Megaphone which was set up by children’s author Leila Rasheed. The whole point of Megaphone was to support BAME writers with the completion of their first children’s or YA novel. I was over the moon when I was accepted into the programme I wrote And The Stars Were Burning Brightly on the development scheme. Not long after that, I signed with an agent. Then in 2018, I signed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster. I actually have three books coming out in total, as my first non-fiction children’s book about the life of Maya Angelou will be published in September. Writing has always been there, but I suppose, I just needed the courage to take the first leap.
And since writing and publishing are two different beasts, could you share with us the journey of your book being published and what you’ve learned over the years about publishing?
I’m still very new to the whole publishing process, which means that I’m constantly learning all the time. Getting an agent was a crucial step for me. I have such a supportive agent (who championed my manuscript form the very beginning), and I think that’s so important. Finding the right agent, who believes in you and your work.
One thing I’ve definitely learnt through the whole publishing process is patience. Things take such a long time, from signing the contract, to actually having a finished book in your hands. There are so many editing stages that you have to go through before you even get to copy edits, and it’s hard! I’m learning to be patient with myself (and the length of time that it takes, for a book to be ready).
One of the other things I’ve learnt is the importance of being open to change. Luckily, I’ve never been too precious about my work, which definitely comes from working on a soap, as story strands you have written are often changed. My novel has changed so much, since that initial draft. I actually love the collaborative side of writing. I definitely think that learning to be open is very helpful.
Also, having a support group of fellow writes is so invaluable.
What role did mentors/critique groups/MFA play in your creative career?
My BA and MA helped me immensely, in terms of learning about the craft of writing. Studying at UEL, was one of the best things I could have done. It was my first experience of a critique group, of what it’s like to be a working writer, of feeling a sense of community and belonging. My tutors were beyond supportive and I owe a lot to them.
Leila Rasheed has also played a huge part in my creative career. Had it not been for Leila and Megaphone, then I wouldn’t have written And The Stars. Sitting down and thinking – ‘I’m going to write an entire novel’ is daunting. Especially, when all you have is a blank page. Leila is incredible. Before Megaphone, I didn’t even know if I was a children’s/YA author. I wanted to see if I could write a novel, but I never would have imagined that I would end up with an agent, and three books, due to be published.
Leila helped me in so many ways. From feeding back on my early drafts to consoling me through those moments of self-doubt. I feel so lucky to have met Leila – she really is incredible.
What excites you most about being a mentor for the SCBWI Europolitan Mentor Program?
I’m excited to give something back! Mentoring has played such an important part in my career (and I know what a difference it can make). I’m really looking forward to being part of the SCWBI Europolitan Programme.
Thank you, Danielle! To follow Danielle on twitter, click here.