Thursday, 25 March 2010

SCBWI Undiscovered Voices Winner: ABBIE TODD


Abbie's winning novel 

by Abbie Todd

Blinding Darkness is a futuristic fantasy for teenagers. Amber lives in a world dominated by an elitist race called the Alaimsir, who are obsessed with beauty. They kidnap those perfect enough to join them, and try to eliminate everyone else. Amber's people are divided: living on an island until it is destroyed, then moving to the next.

When Amber's home is attacked, she loses her father in the chaos of escape. Travelling with another family, she evades Alaimsir attacks and begins a long and dangerous quest to try and find him.

Hi Abbie and welcome to tall tales & short stories. 
Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself and your experiences since finding out you were one of the winners?

I was 9 when I first saw my work in print (it was a poem in Mickey and Friends magazine!). I got such a thrill from seeing my words on the page that I instantly knew I wanted to be an author.

I carried on writing as a child, and was successful in several competitions for young writers. I won a ticket to attend the very first Branford Boase Award ceremony, where I met authors such as Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo. One of my stories was published in a book called The Perfect Crime, and I had a number of short stories and poems printed in local and national publications.

I wrote the first draft of Blinding Darkness when I was 15. It was only 40,000 words then, but those pesky GCSEs came along and distracted me. I started to focus on my academic career, and Blinding Darkness sat in a folder on my computer, neglected, for about ten years. In the meantime, I studied English Literature with Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, trained to be a proofreader, got a job in publishing and attended an Arvon course, tutored by Linda Newbery, about writing for children.

I love reading children’s books, and have done ever since the age of 16, when I got a job at Heffers Children’s Bookshop (RIP) in Cambridge. I suppose this means there was only a short time in my life when I read ‘grown-up’ books for fun. I am an impatient reader. Like children, I want the action to start immediately. I don’t enjoy wading through pages of description or waffle.

As a child, I adored authors such as Roald Dahl (who didn’t?!) and Dick King-Smith. As a (sort-of) adult, I have devoured anything by Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman and Garth Nix. One of the best books for young adults I’ve read recently is Stolen by Lucy Christopher. It’s a fabulous, riveting account of a teenager held captive in the Australian outback.

When I got the phone call to say I’d been selected as one of the twelve winners of Undiscovered Voices 2010, I was absolutely thrilled, but at the time I had no idea what the implications would be. I got home, read about the success of previous winners, and my heart started to race.

When the anthology was published, I had 4,000 words of very polished novel, and 66,000 of not-so-polished stuff. I took a week off work to concentrate on the edit, and when that was finished, I simultaneously sent it out to the various agents and editors who had requested the full manuscript.

Before the launch party, I met with two agents who were interested in representing me. I was astounded by the reaction and interest in my novel, and couldn’t believe that I actually got to choose my agent! Actually, when it came down to it, the decision wasn’t a hard one. While both agents had something different to offer, I instantly felt comfortable with Jodie – she had some great ideas for improving the novel, loads of enthusiasm for it, and we talked for ages about similar books and films we liked.

The launch party itself seems like a blur now (Jodie said, quite accurately, that it was a bit like speed dating!). I spoke to most people who were considering my manuscript, and was very pleased with the encouragement and positive responses. It was lovely to meet the other winners, and also the past winners, whose success stories were extremely reassuring when faced with a room full of agents and editors.

At the moment I’m working on incorporating Jodie’s comments in quite an extensive rewrite (I say ‘working on’, but haven’t actually written anything new yet – I’ve spent most of my free time generating new ideas). I’ve been lucky enough to receive, via Jodie, some editorial feedback from two editors at a large publishing company. They’re waiting to see the rewrite…let’s hope I don’t disappoint!

There’s still so much work to do and it sometimes seems, along with a full-time job and a monster commute, almost insurmountable. But I have to keep reminding myself how lucky I am to be in this position, and how long I’ve wanted this. I am constantly encouraged by the fact that, one day, I might, just might, be able to walk into a shop and see a book with my name on it.

Abbie is represented by Jodie Marsh at United Agents



Nick Cross said...

Oh why, oh why does writing a book have to be so hard! Pesky day jobs...

I was really excited by your extract - the action is totally propulsive and really left me wanting to read more. I can empathise with the problem of having a really polished opening that doesn't quite match the rest of the book - I'm still working on that one!

Good luck with the rewrite and be kind to yourself - there's always time somewhere in the day to write brilliantly!


Paula Rawsthorne said...

Hi Abbie,
Congratulations on signing up with your agent. Very exciting times ahead for you.
I look forward to hearing great news about your book.

Emily George said...

Hi Abbie,

Great post, and congratulations again on finding an agent! Good luck with the re-writes!
Emily x

Jane McLoughlin said...

What an exhilerating time for you! Your story is exciting and beautifully written--you definitely won't disappoint. Congrats on all the excitement your work's generating and good luck! XX JANE

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