Today we’re joined by debut children’s author Serena Molloy, whose novel about dyslexia Wider than the Sea is getting rave reviews. Serena talks agents, book deals and the ‘pure magic’ of meeting young readers who have connected with her book
Thanks so much for joining us, Serena. Can you tell us what led you to write your debut children’s novel Wider than the Sea?
Well, in a general sense, everything I had written up to that point in my life! I see all writing projects as being like steppingstones leading you along the twisty path that is the creative life.
In the more specific sense, I was discussing a different book with my agent and an editor, and I happened to mention I had struggled with dyslexia as a child. The editor suggested I write a book about that.
My son was finding school difficult at the time, as he was experiencing the same issues I had experienced, and I suppose it was very much on my mind. While that editor didn’t end up publishing Wider Than the Sea I will always be grateful to her for planting the seed in my mind.
- Did your experiences as a teacher, and also as a child who struggled with dyslexia, inform your novel?
Absolutely. As a teacher, I have seen so many children struggle at school for many different reasons. I know the huge impact a good teacher can have on a child’s life (I was lucky enough to have the right teacher come along at the right time) and I wanted to show that in the story.
Also, I wanted to capture the utter frustration I experienced as a child really struggling in class. I suppose I was remembering so much of that because I was going through it all again with my son.
- Do you have a set writing routine? And do you have any writing rituals that help to inspire you?
No, I’ve never had a set writing routine. As a mum of four, I quickly realised that if I was going to seclude myself away in a ‘room of my own’ I’d never write anything! I’ve always written in my kitchen, with family life going on all around me.
Now that all my children are at school I tend to write in the mornings, after the school run is done. Because writing time is precious, I do a lot of thinking before I sit down to work.
I usually need to have a good idea of what I’m going to write, of where the story is going, so that when I get to my computer I’m all set to go.
I usually listen to music, my current writing buddy is James Blunt.
- Did you experience many set-backs on your path to getting published? Did you ever doubt yourself and, if so, was there anything that helped you to stay motivated?
God, yes! Wider Than the Sea is the fifth children’s book I have written but none of the others were published. When I signed with my first agent, I thought I was all sorted but she didn’t manage to sell the book and I ultimately decided to part ways with her.
I think doubt is just part of being a writer but focusing on the craft, on the writing itself, rather than the outcome is what kept me going.
- You’re represented by Sara O’Keeffe of Aevitas Creative Management. Did it take you long to find an agent and how did you go about doing it?
As I mentioned, Sara was the second agent I signed with and even then the book she signed me for didn’t manage to sell.
But she believed in me, and that belief was infectious. I then wrote Wider Than the Sea and managed to get a deal with that one.
- Can you tell us how your two-book deal with Hachette Children’s Group came about? How did you feel when you realised you were finally going to be a published author?
Having written those other books that didn’t sell, it seemed unbelievable when Hachette offered me a two-book deal.
I think my children and husband were just as excited as I was, and we danced around the kitchen. And there was cake. You always need cake!
I don’t think it actually felt real till I held the book in my hands. That was a very special moment.
- What would you say has been the highlight of your writing career so far?
At my book launch, I spotted a young girl I didn’t know coming into the bookshop already clutching my book tightly to her chest. Someone called me over to meet her and then she was so overwhelmed she had to go away and gather herself.
She bravely came back and told me how much she loved my book and how much it meant to her and how it related to her life right now.
That is just pure magic for any writer to hear but even more so I think for a children’s writer because the books we read and love as children can really shape our lives and the people we become.
- Do you have any favourite books on the craft of writing?
Honestly, I’ve never found craft books very useful. If I try to analyse what I’m doing it starts to stifle me.
While not a craft book, I love Liz Gilbert’s book Big Magic as a deep dive into the creative life. Such a wise woman.
- Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring authors trying to crack the world of publishing, but who might be getting disheartened?
I think just focus on the story you want to tell rather than the idea of getting published. The latter is completely beyond your control.
Celebrate the small wins, like making the long or short list for competitions, or getting a piece published in a magazine.
Also, get some good writing buddies who will support you through the whole process. That was key for me! You don’t have to go it alone.
Wider than the Sea is available for purchase here