Thursday, 12 March 2009

Guest Blogger: Shanta Everington - Author of Give Me a Sign

Todays Guest Blogger is Shanta Everington. Her book, Give Me a Sign was published by Flame Books, and included along Megan Taylor's book, in the first selection of EI. Both authors will be speaking at the first EI event, next Wednesday at the Hammersmith Library.

After a rocky road to publication, I was thrilled when my young adult novel, 'Give Me a Sign', was selected as one of the first picks of the month for the Exclusively Independent Initiative.

'Give Me a Sign' is my second published novel and my first for young adults. I've always wanted to write for this market, as it was during my teens that I really became hooked on reading novels. 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee, was the first book to have a major impact on me, with its exploration of prejudice provoking a powerful emotional response. But it was Judy Blume who had all us girls turning the pages in our lunch break with stories that spoke to us personally, such as 'Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret', 'Then Again, Maybe I Won't' and the infamous 'Forever'. I wanted to write a teen book that dealt with issues of difference and tolerance, and how we all struggle to accept ourselves and others.

I tend to write quite organically, without a whole lot of planning and plotting. I started off with the idea for my main character, Liz, a fragile sixteen-year-old girl, who is mourning the loss of her dad and trying to readjust to her new family life with step-dad Dave and half-sister Emma. A shy asthmatic with big feet, Liz finds herself being bullied at school by performing arts wannabes, the Russell twins. The story explores Liz's difficult relationship with herself and her mum. It's not until she meets new boy Doug, who happens to be deaf, that Liz is able to start to see herself in a different way. At the time of writing 'Give Me a Sign', I was immersed in a deaf project in my day job. I was totally thrown in at the deep end in learning about this whole new community, culture and language, an experience I found quite stressful. This inspired me to create a deaf character so that I could explore some of the issues about deaf identity and deaf-hearing relationships.

I was very lucky to have an agent when I completed the book and she submitted it to the children's imprints of mainstream publishers. Rejections can be difficult to cope with but you learn to develop a thick skin. However, publishers stating the book was 'too political' or that 'our girls don't like to read about disability, they like to read about people like them' not only depressed me but made me feel strongly that the book needed to be published. I started to look around at independent publishers who I felt may be more interested in this type of story but then I encountered another hurdle - many small presses don't look at 'children's fiction.' I stumbled across ethical publisher Flame Books who take books that explore social issues. Despite the fact that they had only published adult fiction, I sent the book in anyway, with all the reasons they should publish me! After a nail-biting six month wait, they offered me a publication contract and published 'Give Me a Sign' as their first young adult novel in July 2008.

Independent publishers should be applauded for their willingness to take risks on books that sit within an area which mainstream publishers are unlikely to consider. But getting published is only the first step to getting your book into the readers' hands. Although I was very fortunate that my local Waterstones have a policy to support local authors and therefore agreed to stock 'Give Me a Sign', I know it has been difficult for my publisher to get high street chains to stock our books. That's why I'm genuinely excited about this innovative initiative from Legend Press and The Arts Council England, which I hope will mean more books from independents reach the book buying public.

I've recently completed my second young adult, and am now working on a memoir of early motherhood. I hope to place these books with publishers soon!

Shanta is the author of two novels, 'Marilyn and Me' published by Cinnamon Press (2007) and 'Give Me a Sign' published by Flame Books (2008). She has an MA with distinction in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University and lectures in Creative Writing with The Open University. Shanta lives in London with her husband and son. Visit



Jane Turley said...

Well done Shanta for overcoming more than your fair share of hurdles to get published.

It's a funny market out there; I understand publishers saying that girls just want to read about "people like them" but personally I would have thought with the current sensitivity to disability and the politically correct climate (Maybe I'm wrong?!) that it would also be very topical. Perhaps it was a brave move by Flame but it seems to me that Give Me a Sin is the sort of book that many children will be encouraged to read at school where there is more sensitivity to some of the issues you address in your book.

Congratulations on your success. (And not writing about ponies!)

Jane Turley said...

I meant "Sign" of course - Yikes me and my typos...

Shanta Everington said...

Thanks, Jane. Maybe 'Give Me a Sin' would have got a better reception from commercial publishers! x