Monday, March 05, 2012

New Cynsations Reporter: Siobhan Curham on Daring to Dream

By Siobhan Curham
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When I was younger I lived in a house crammed full of books. Both of my parents are avid readers, and I certainly inherited their bookworm gene. I loved escaping into the world of fiction, and the more I read, the more I wanted to create my own worlds of words for other people to enjoy.

Sadly, lack of confidence in my writing abilities meant that my writing dreams remained just dreams for many years.

But the thing about dreams is that they don’t go away that easily. Fictional characters would keep popping into my head like imaginary friends and life seemed full of plot ideas ripe for picking. So I would fill notebooks with these ideas. And then finally, when I was on maternity leave with my son, I decided to try actually writing a book.

I started with a nonfiction book, as it felt more within my comfort zone, but when that was published in 2000, I finally had the confidence to have a go at writing a novel for adults. To my shock and delight this novel went on to get me a three-book deal with a major U.K. publisher, and I felt as if my dream of becoming a successful author had finally been accomplished.

But it wasn’t that straightforward. After disappointing sales for my third novel, I was dropped by my publisher. It’s funny how something that can feel like the end of the world at the time can end up being one of the best things to have happened to you with the benefit of hindsight.

At Paris Book Fair.

Being dropped by my publisher led me to start running workshops and coaching other writers. And this led to me becoming a writer in residence at a local high school. Teaching writing to students reminded me of the passion I used to have for books and writing when I was younger. I loved the enthusiasm and energy with which teenagers would approach their writing, and it was infectious.

Before long, I had an idea for a YA novel and writing it was nothing at all like writing my adult fiction. Whereas writing for adults had felt laborious at times, writing about teenagers felt like second nature. Clearly I am still very much a fourteen-year-old at heart! The book flowed, and creatively it was the most enjoyable experience of my writing career.

Literally, the day I finished the novel I got an email from a friend saying that a U.K. children’s publisher was actively seeking new writers. I quickly emailed the first three chapters off to the commissioning editor, and she replied immediately asking to see the rest of it.

I was offered a two-book deal within a couple of weeks. But before I’d signed the contract the publisher started back-tracking on what they’d originally offered me financially. Still feeling jaded from my experience with my previous publisher, I withdrew the book. And then I made a decision that would go on to change my writing career beyond recognition – I decided to self-publish.

I self-published Dear Dylan in April 2010 and, thanks to some wonderful reviews on YA blogging sites, it started to create a bit of an online buzz. Then one day at work I read about a U.K. book award called Young Minds that were looking for entries. I knew that most national awards didn’t accept self-published books but I figured I had nothing to lose, so I posted them a copy.

I was delighted when I heard that it had been accepted into the competition. And even more delighted when it was long-listed. That to me felt as good as winning. So I was absolutely ecstatic when it made it to the shortlist of six. All the other books on the list were from major publishers, so it was a massive boost to my confidence.

And then, in a fairytale ending, Dear Dylan actually won the Young Minds Book Award.

The whole experience was a fantastic lesson in never giving up on your dreams – and how if one path becomes blocked you should simply find another. Winning the award has transformed my writing career. Dear Dylan went to auction in the U.K., and I ended up with two-book deals in the U.K., France and Germany. It is being published by Egmont U.K. this April, with my second YA novel, Finding Cherokee Brown being published in April 2013.

I am now writing a YA series with a TV tie-in, which is massively exciting, and three days a week I work as an editorial consultant for a London-based company, helping bring younger children’s books to life. It feels wonderful to have come full circle, from a book-loving kid to a creator of children’s fiction.

Finally, I can say that my dream really has come true.

Max editing.

Cynsational Notes

Siobhan Curham lives in a village just outside of London with her teenage son – who is mad about football, and her rescue dog, Max – who has a phobia of footballs!

She dreams of one day living in America, which is where her grandma was from, and she goes to visit her family there every chance she can.

Siobhan contributes news and interviews from the children's-YA creative, literature and publishing community in the U.K.

10 comments:

Catherine Johnson said...

Super interview, thanks!

Bonnee Crawford said...

What a wonderful success story! It just goes to show that anything is possible if you believe in yourself and your capabilities. I would love to end up in a similar way with my own writing.

Samantha Clark said...

Great post. Very inspirational. Thanks Siobhan and Cynthia.

Anonymous said...

This what dreams are made of. It starts with a thought, then a journal and then a lot of hard work. Good for you Siobhan - I'm one of your biggest fans.

Sam Delaney - Detroit, Michigan USA

wallynosox said...

What a great story about just keeping on.Should inspire all young (and old like me)writers. Thanks Siobhan. I remember an old adage. Writers write.

mima said...

Thanks for sharing, Siobhan and Cyn! Awesome story with some very intriguing twists:)

Caryn Caldwell said...

What a great story! Thanks so much for sharing it.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Thank you, Catherine!

Indeed, Bonnee! Perseverance is key.

So glad you enjoyed it, Samantha.

It's the hard work where Siobhan really pushed through. So many give it, but she was determined. Thanks, Sam!

Yes, writers write.

My pleasure, Mima & Caryn!

Sarah Towle said...

Great story, Siobhan! Thanks to you and Cynthia for sharing. Truly an inspiration!

Now, time to get back that that dream 'o mine...

PS Loved, LOVed, LOVED Dear Dylan!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Here's to making your dream come true, Sarah! And yes, Dear Dylan is terrific.

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