Most writers arrive fully-formed, their debut novel hailed as something special and original. That or they’re just ignored and left to fend for themselves. The word ‘debut’ carries a special cache around the publishing industry. I started off performing live shows, writing my own stories, hoping to be published one day. Twilight was a huge smash and suddenly ‘YA’ was the thing. I liked the idea of communicating radical ideas to a younger audience, just like my idols back in the 90s had with me. Punk was everything. I wanted that in my books. My thing was weird books for weird teens. In hindsight, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I think I was just masking a lack of finesse. The ideas were there, but I wasn’t quite polished enough as a writer yet. Despite that, Conjuring The Infinite came out on a small press. They can’t hit harder than the big publishers, but my tribute to all the stuff that freaked me out as a kid sold quite well. That’s when I made my first mistake. I put out the weirdest, strangest, oddest book for teens ever. Violent, strange, and (at times badly written) completely ridiculous with policemen exploding into glitter and gore, Endless Empress was initially titled Dead Teenagers. North of Porter, described as ‘Scooby-Doo on acid’ (I think a good review?) was too high concept and I didn’t have the ability to write it the way it should have been written. Glowglass starts to ‘get there’ but again I’m trying to show off. It’s too dark, nasty, and I was still processing my sister’s death when I wrote it. Some of that made it in – and if you’ve read Happiness, you probably know what happened to her, without me having to go into it. Her anniversary is soon. I’ve recently realised that all my books reflect what I’m going through at the time, emotionally speaking. The tagline for Glowglass should have been ‘A girl in trouble is a temporary thing’ which is a Romeo Void lyric, but I got frightened of being sued and somehow ended up with ‘a girl on a tape waits for a guy to press play’ whatever that meant. Me, being insecure, not pushing myself the way I should have, especially with my ideas. Glowglass is a mean, vicious little book. All the good kind people suffer and the unpleasant characters…well, they suffer as well. What was I thinking? I wasn’t. I was reacting and working through everything through writing. Meanwhile, Scottish YA wasn’t really impacting either, with ‘UKYA’ being a hashtag for London YA, which has always ruled the genre. I tried my best, folks!
Along the way, I gained a lot of new followers and librarians have been hiring me since on the strength of my live events, which I’ve been told are quite good. I set up a book festival for young readers to try and get them off their phones, but Brexit scuppered that forever. I also ended up with a stalker, which was quietly traumatising. This week I ‘toured’ around Scotland, popping into branches of Waterstones to sign my book, not expecting to find them stocked, only to find them on the main display, with people excited to see me. I’ve felt so obscure for years, so trust me, it felt good. Also, my writing has evolved, now with a style of my own (I like to think). As much as I envy authors who just appear from nowhere, I’ve taken a bit of a longer, but more interesting route. I’m not ashamed of those old books, but they’re like looking at someone else, a friend from years ago I don’t really think about any more. His writing is different to mine, yet my name is on the front covers. Happiness is really a debut novel from someone who wrote and published a lot of other novels, if that makes sense. Those old books made me new friends, so I’ll always be grateful. They’ve taken me places I’d never been, events I never would have been invited to without them. The Edinburgh International Book Festival, schools around Scotland, Yay YA (my own festival for a few years), and Aye Write.
I’ve been just as lucky as I have unlucky. Mostly, I’ve been writing stories.