Journey to Publication with Nina de Pass

In early 2016, I left my job at a London publishing house to take up a place on the Faber Academy’s six-month Write a Novel course. I remember explaining this in our first class when asked to introduce ourselves. I also remember – clearly – everyone’s reaction: mostly their disbelief. The truth was I adored writing, and was doing it whenever I could – early mornings, late nights, on the bus, on my phone as I walked down the street – but I had worked determinedly for years to get that job and there I was, throwing it away for a place on a course that gave no guarantee that I’d actually complete a novel, let alone get it published. So why on earth had I just thrown myself off a cliff?

I hear all the time from other writers that the publishing industry can feel like a fortress, where editors are fierce gatekeepers. Yet, I had already worked behind those supposed iron gates, which gave me a different perspective. Over the years, I have worked with editors who care deeply about the books they publish, and fight tooth and nail to give authors the platform and reach they needed to get to readers. I remember one brilliant editor locked herself in a bathroom to cry when one of the books she worked on hit the Sunday Times bestseller list. She had worked relentlessly for and with that author – and, God, she loved that book. This made an impression on me – above all, I felt hopeful. I saw first-hand new books bought, new authors’ careers launched. I worked with many magnificent, talented authors. They worked tirelessly, they wrote tirelessly – but they showed me publication could happen, it did happen all the time. It would require hard work, of course, and dedication. A lot of writing, rewriting, editing, deleting would need to be done. But, at the end of it all, why couldn’t I be one of the lucky few? These are two words I think about a lot: why not?

The Faber course is, above all, a space to learn and write – it’s for people who take writing seriously. I am in that camp. To me, writing is a wonderful thing – something I do most of all because I love it – but it is also a massive commitment. I started working part time, I moved back in with my family, and I wrote whenever I could. My day in the Faber offices in Bloomsbury Square became my favourite day of the week. My tutor, Shelley Weiner, and my coursemates gave me the confidence to talk about my novel as though it was something more than just words and fictitious scenarios spinning around my head. It’s no exaggeration to say those days changed the course of my life.

My novel The Year After You, is about a seventeen-year-old girl called Cara who has survived the same car accident that killed her best friend. Unable to move forward, Cara is sent 5,000 miles from home to a boarding school perched at the top of a mountain, in total contrast to everything she has left behind. It’s a book about guilt and grief tied up so tightly they are indistinguishable from each other. But most of all it’s about love – the love between friends, as well as romantic love. All those people who show us how to keep living when living seems impossible.

I wrote it extremely quickly; I somehow completed the first draft by the end of the six months, so buzzed up by the energy, grit and fun of the course. When it ended, I felt both a little bereft and a little terrified. The agents’ reading, where literary agents are invited in to listen to two minute readings from students’ novels, was on the horizon. I am a horrible public speaker, so this, for me, was a nightmare. I don’t remember standing up – I sometimes wonder how my legs got me to that podium. I think I put so much importance on the reading, because my book had become so important to me. I had been living in it for six months, and thinking about it for many years before that. I am not a performer, but I reasoned that if this was the best opportunity to showcase it, it was my duty to give it its best shot.

Miraculously, after the reading, I was approached by my now agent, Laura Williams from Greene and Heaton, who requested the full manuscript. A weekend went by at a snail’s pace. Did I sleep? I must have done, but I honestly can’t remember. She emailed me the following Monday: I think your novel has huge amounts of potential, and I was wondering whether you’d be up for chatting through some editorial thoughts? I met her a week or so later, not knowing at all what to expect. Would we get on? Would she see the book the way I saw it? The meeting itself was a bit like a first date; looking back, I suppose we were both sizing each other up. I liked her instantly, I loved all the editorial suggestions she had, and I truly felt she understood the book I had set out to write. At the end of the meeting, she offered me representation.

The agent-author relationship is a professional one, but it’s a hugely important personal one too. I feel fantastically privileged to have Laura on my side – she is a cheerleader, smart and editorially brilliant. For months, she worked with me to get my novel ready to submit, then sent the book out to editors in 2017. And so it began. I read stories daily about big pre-empts, bidding wars and books that are snapped up overnight by over-enthusiastic editors in grand auctions. These things do happen and are fantastic for the authors involved, but they are by no means a given. This was certainly not what happened to me. In fact, the whole submission process took about a year.

About halfway through the submission process, I started working full-time as an assistant at The Soho Agency, a literary and talent agency in central London. When I first started, I kept my own writing quiet; a part of me worried they’d be horrified to learn I had written a book, the other part worried they wouldn’t think I was serious about my job. Neither of these things came true; I honestly couldn’t ask for more supportive or excited colleagues, who continue to be such champions of me and this book. But at the time, my hope for this book’s chance had faded somewhat. Rejections from editors poured in throughout 2017 – some of them warm, some of them lukewarm, some of them disinterested. Working for a literary agency helped me to fully understand the subjectivity of the publishing industry. It was a reminder that finding the right home for a book comes down to personal taste, timing and luck.

I was starting to make peace with the fact that this book wasn’t a goer, then, in February 2018, Laura told me that Ink Road had offered to publish The Year After You. The news came when I was working from home because it had snowed so heavily that travel in central London was a nightmare. I remember it vividly. I was sitting at the kitchen table and there was about a foot of snow on the ledge outside. I’m quite fatalistic, and this confirmed it. It must be fate – after all, my novel is set in the snow. Nine months later, just before the Frankfurt Book Fair, Laura rang to tell me that Ink Road had an offer from Delacorte Press, a young adult imprint of Penguin Random House in the US, to publish the book in North America in Spring 2020.

When I think about it, I realise my road to publication has probably been less jagged than most, but it has taken time. I have learned about patience, about subjectivity, and I have been reminded, as the first responses come in, of the generosity of all the people in the book world who have taken the time to support me. I continue to be amazed by the kindness and encouragement of those around me – my family, friends, Faber coursemates, colleagues – and all those I have met recently, and continue to meet: bloggers, reviewers, booksellers and other authors. This whole experience has been surreal; I feel very lucky and very excited about everything to come. 

By Nina de Pass

Author photo: © Alex Lloyd

The Year After You was published in the UK by Ink Road on 14th February; Penguin Random House will publish in North America in spring 2020.

Website: www.ninadepass.com 

Twitter: @marinadepass

Instagram: @marinadepass

#QUICKFIC 22/03/2019: The Winner

Well that was very lovely!

Riding the high of actual sun (briefly, but I swear it emerged guv, honest!) we went for a brighter prompt this week. And not one piece involving murder this week! Death, yes, murder, no. I think that’s a #QUICKFIC first. Let’s take one last look at your prompt:

So without further ado, your brilliant winners:

Runner Up: Thea Oxbury

The Single

Charity shops? Sorry, no. I catch the melancholic whiff of lives dismantled, unwanted consumables ‘regifted’ in the name of a good cause, I’m out. Should never have crossed the threshold. Except for –

I was passing by when they caught me. Those eyes. How many years is it now? Thirty? No, more.

I still think I find your hairs, sometimes. Quavers and minims peppering a patch of floor. I dream about them. I rarely hear that tune, though. How could I? I’d need your voice for that.

But those eyes.

I walked in. Couldn’t look back at those eyes, so I went to a clothes rack instead. Felt the tweed of a motheaten great coat and thought of… the bus stop, how we’d stand together, both of us, inside that coat. They don’t make them like that any longer, do they? Didn’t in those days, either.

I turn back to the window display, because I want, at least, to pick up that old 45, cover frayed around the edges. It’s just a momentary memory, your smile, his smile, as you slid the vinyl from it’s cover.

I’m moving towards the window, but someone stands in my way. Some kid. He takes the record from its stand.

“Mum,” he crows, “This’ll be great as a place mat. Forty five pence!”

“Oh, go on then,” mutters the woman behind me.

No, I want to say. No, you can’t. You’ve no idea.

But I say nothing.

And I think: melancholic whiffs of lives dismantled.

Runner Up: Thomasin Sage

The Seraph of Forgotten Songs

She’d been leafing through the vinyl records for five hours now.

The only sound in the dusty shop was the shwip of each dog-eared record sleeve as it came to rest softly on the one behind it. The old cardboard sleeves had the kind of nicks and rips that showed they had been loved once, perhaps played at full volume with friends or alone with a glass of wine.

The shop keeper had given up trying to offer his advice. She had returned his queries with a warm, beatific smile before continuing her search without a word. It was eerie.

What is she looking for? he wondered. The question gnawed at him.

He put down his tattered paperback and decided to watch her instead. Sometimes she would pick up a record and nod to it as if greeting an old friend, or place a hand gently on the cover before returning it to the box. Other times she would close her eyes and tap out a rhythm with her foot, or simply shake her head sadly and move swiftly on to the next.

By the end of the day she was surrounded by a halo of dust from disturbing the forgotten songs. The early afternoon light filtered through it oddly and it felt like he was looking at her in an old, yellowed photograph.

He approached her once more, his heart pounding in his chest. She reminded him of when he was a young boy and still believed in angels.

The Winner: Gabrielle Turner

Breakages must be paid for

It was back again, and it wasn’t long since the last one. This time I tried to memorise how it felt. I wanted to write it down, in the blind scrawl that was becoming my handwriting, but how would I find anything to write with, in this state? I stood still. All around me, the world was becoming hazy. I steadied myself against the door frame and breathed in until it hurt.

It wasn’t a migraine, I was sure of that. In the hospital they’d talked about degeneration, about auras, oedemas and tunnel vision. I’d had dozens of scans. Drops that made my face go numb. My sight was perfect.

“You alright up there?” a thin voice called from the ground floor.

“Fine, fine,” I heard myself reply. In a junk shop, of all places, I thought. What about the china ornaments; the stacks of records and first editions at my feet? Could I make it down the stairs? If it was anything like the other times, I’d be like this for an hour at least.

The closer things were to me, the more blurred they appeared. Against the white walls, I could make out the rectangular forms of paintings and felt thankful for their reassuring green dullness. Certainty continued to melt, and the hard angles of the room were twisting slowly out of focus. Feet, hands, books, all becoming one. The disease was taking me to a place where there were no edges.

Congratulations to Gabrielle, Thomasin and Thea. Big thank you to everyone who entered. Happy weekends everyone!

For a look back at our previous #QUICKFIC flash fiction competitions, click here.

#QUICKFIC 22/03/2019

Hello hello, and welcome to the new brighter, Spring like edition of #QUICKFIC, Faber Academy’s flash fiction competition. Yes Spring is finally here and we can all put away dreadful things like winter coats, and darkness at 4 pm. 

Before you all spring into action and write me a piece, a rules refresher:

  • Use the prompt below to write a story of 250 words or less.
  • Pop the story into the body of an email, including the title and the word count, and send it to academy@faber.co.uk. Make sure it’s in the body of the email, not as a separate attached document!
  • Do all that by 2:50 pm today. 
  • At 3:30 we meet back on the blog for the winning entries to be revealed.

In honour of World Poetry Day, this week’s prize includes two brilliant collections by Christopher Reid and Simon Armitage in addition to our usual fiction fare:

a stack of books "Istanbul" by Orhan Pamuk, "The Wolf Border" by Sarah Hall, "Paper Areoplanes: Selected Poems 1989 - 2014 " by Simon Armitage and "The Song of Lunch" Chrisopher Reid -Faber Academy's flash fiction competition #QUICKFIC

 

You ready?

You set?

Okay….

Annnd here you go:

 

a half focused image with what looks like an open door, white paneled and wooden in focus. Out of focus and to the left is an ornate picture frame with a pastoral image, out of focus, just visible. In the foreground we see a hand holding a record close to the camera, while the other hand browses through a jam packed looking shelf of other records. The image is very cluttered and cramped, but somehow still homey - Faber Academy's flash fiction competition #QUICKFIC

Back at 3:30!

By entering Faber Academy’s flash fiction competition #QUICKFIC , you’re granting us non-exclusive worldwide permission to reprint your story on our website should you win. 

#QUICKFIC 15/03/2019: The Winner

I should never suggest you get dark with me, is what I learnt from today’s #QUICKFIC entries. Thank you to everyone that played along though! I may never look at forests, painting, camping, going on retreats or pylons the same way ever again. Here’s one last look at the prompt that inspired all that:

And here are your runners up and winner:

Runner Up: Lou Witts

On the Shoulders of Giants

The first blast took out the mobile networks. The second levelled cities. The last fragmented continents, decimated the population and sent us back to the Dark Ages. Where we stayed for the next four, five hundred years. Rebuilding took longer than anybody could have imagined. All records erased. Including the knowledge in our heads. So we retreated. To our make-shift homes, big enough to let us live, small enough to withstand the winds. Then, after what must have been nine, ten, eleven generations, we found a way. With enough light to power the plants, we passed our days sowing and reaping and watching the sun rise and set. Then sowing became hard work so we found tools to help. The tools became mechanised and the first sparks of electricity were rediscovered. What a joy, we said, what a joy to to be able to see after so many years in the dark. We’ll never let that happen again. And we really meant it, at the time.

Runner Up: Paul Jenkins

Getting Used to It

Your father warned you. His voice on the mobile responding to the good news. A boy, seven pounds exactly.

You yawn and your father laughs and says you’ll get used to it. A one-armed man glides past you with a drip trolley, seemingly oblivious to the lack of symmetry in his life. He got used to it. You’ll get used to it.

The boy’s mother smiles at you from the bed. The baby’s expression is one of resignation. Welcome to the world you whisper. You yawn again. No more sleep for you, your dad said and suddenly you see him as an old man.

Three years pass and you take your son to a park. The wind picks up; you check the hat is secure on your boy’s head. You check his coat is adequate.

Nearly there, you say to him.

But the park is full of people. Other children with diseases in their eyes and hate in their hearts. Look at the seesaw with its promise of knocked out teeth, the roundabout‘s silent menace. Your child is laughing and smiling. You push him gently on the swing. Everything is fine.

Higher Daddy Higher Daddy he shrieks, kicking out at the sun. That swing is creaking too much.

It is time to go home. Getting late, little man, you say in a voice you don’t recognise. You look at the sky, it might rain. That plane might crash.

How quickly it gets dark round here, how quickly it gets dark.

Winner: Gillian English

Outside

I didn’t ask to come. Easily led, that’s my problem. Always desperate to be part of the group, looking for friends who can substitute for family. Now here I am, lost in a howling forest, in a tent as thin as a plastic bag. The wind is battering and the tent is straining, ready to split and fly. Rain is pounding from above, seeping in from below. I might as well be outside; the only real protection offered by this flapping plastic is that it stops me seeing what’s out there. It’s been out there for hours, ever since I killed it.

And I really didn’t need to. It’s the most frustrating thing. If she hadn’t – well, no point wasting time on that. The others were no help, standing there open-mouthed, one of them whipping out his mobile to film me, not even asking permission. The next minute they were off down the path, chasing a signal. So here I am, waiting. The wind is dropping and I can hear something outside, edging closer, squelching across the sodden ground. A fox or a badger, I guess, attracted by the smell. It’s nature’s way, and she was always a keen recycler. But it’s right outside now and I’m wishing I hadn’t dropped the knife when I hear it behind me, slicing through the skin of the tent, opening me up to the wind and the wet, bloody darkness.

Many congratulations to Gillian, Paul and Lou. Keep them coming!

We’ll be back at 9:50 next Friday with another prompt. Personally, I’m rooting for some sunshine and light next week.

Until then!

For a look back at our previous #QUICKFIC flash fiction competitions, click here.

#QUICKFIC 15/03/2019

In keeping with the current London weather and our continued stormy skies, today’s Faber Acdemy #QUCKFIC flash fiction competition prompt is appropriately dark and moody. I know how much you all love to get dark and spooky, but before you dive in, here’s a quick rule refresher!

You’re going to see a prompt. Using that prompt, we’d like you to write a short story of 250 words or less. No more than that please! Send your story in the body of an email, including the title and the wordcount, to academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50 pm this afternoon. Our wonderful winner gets these books:

Without further ado, your prompt:

I’ll wait for the wind to blow some wonderful pieces of flash fiction into our inbox. See you at 3:30 to announce the winner!

By entering Faber Academy’s flash fiction competition #QUICKFIC , you’re granting us non-exclusive worldwide permission to reprint your story on our website should you win. 

 

#QUICKFIC 01/03/2019: The Winner

Runner Up: Daniela Azzopardi

The Art of Summoning

She is flying.

She glided over the hard wooden floor as easily as if she were being held up by clouds and the dim lights showered over her an ethereal glow as she stood on her tiptoes. Her movements looked effortless, but from the edge of the stage he could see her eyebrows furrow as she moved with the music.

It was just the two of them; the audience did not matter, the theater staff did not matter. In that moment, she embodied the whole world. He was present, living and breathing, through her gentle movements; the precise control the ballerina held over every muscle in her body and every fiber of his being.

What had started as mere jumps and clumsy pirouettes only months after she had started to walk, had now blossomed into a full art form that could enamour anyone whose glance fell on her. His eyes grew hot as tears tethered on the edge. Had it really been that long since he waited outside those classes, when she would dance her way to his car, her hunger for ballet still not satiated after hours of lessons?

The music rose to a crescendo. The crowd heard their breath as the ballerina dove into her final bow.

Applause erupted. A chill ran down her spine and as she glanced up, she could swear she saw a familiar shadow flicker out of sight at the edge of the stage; the shadow of a protector long gone, but never forgotten.

The Winner: Victoria Clarke

Second chance

Dust clings to my fingertips as I drag the box out from under the bed, I wipe it on my trousers. It’s been years since I’ve opened this shrine for a life that nearly was. They’re still there, underneath the torn ticket stubs and crumpled flyers: my ballet shoes, tattered and worn, scuffed at the toes from hours spent en pointe. A symphony of soaring strings crashes around the walls of my bedroom. I close my eyes and inhale it, savouring the bittersweet taste on my tongue, rolling it around, trying it out for size again. Nothing in life compares. We travelled the world, relieving ourselves of the hunger pangs by throwing each other against the wall. Slight we may have been, but meek we were not.

I’d never call her a mistake. She was borne out of love, out of romance. Or so I thought at the time. In truth, he was persistent and I was naive. And then she was here, and he was gone, travelling off with the troupe to the incense filled warmth of the Middle East while I boarded a plane back to Europe with a suitcase and abdomen fit to burst.

All the other girls do it, she said, face reddening, spoon discarded in her cereal bowl. You did it Mama, why can’t I?

The shoes slide on my feet as if I was Cinderella, at least Prince Charming gave me something. I’ll tell her yes when I collect her from school.

 

What a welcome back, courtesy of Victoria and Daniela. Many thanks to everyone that sent a piece in! We’ll be back the Friday after next for your next installment of #QUICKFIC.

Until then!

For a look back at our previous #QUICKFIC flash fiction competitions, click here.

Link

It’s a week of firsts, apparently. It’s the first day of a month, the first day I acknowledge that Spring may one day return (the two days of sun we had doesn’t count, I’m afraid, no matter how many of you decided to eat ice cream) and the first #QUICKFIC, Faber Academy’s Flash Fiction Competition of 2019. Yes we’re back, bigger and bolder and brighter than ever.

First, it behooves me to explain the rules. If you’ve never played before or forgotten how over the break, here’s how to play:

  • You’re going to see a prompt on Friday morning at 9:50 am. prompts can be anything, including but not limited to: Playlists, Wikipedia Articles, Quotes, Pictures and anything else we can come up with, so be prepared!
  • Your task is to create a short story of 250 words or less inspired by that prompt.
  • Paste your story into the body of an email, including a title and your word count, and send that email to academy@faber.co.uk by 2:50pm on the Friday afternoon.

At 3:30 we’ll announce the winner and runners up for that week. The winner receives a stack of books. This week’s stack is this rather lovely lot:

ack of three books including ''Owl Sense' by Miriam Darlington, 'Innocent Blood' by P.D James and 'The Silent Musician' by Mark Wigglesworth - Faber Academy's flash fiction competition quickfic

Get it, got it, good? Perfect. Then your first prompt is below:

- Faber Academy's flash fiction competition quickfic

Let the #QUICKFIC-ing commence! See you again at 3:30!

By entering Faber Academy’s flash fiction competition #QUICKFIC , you’re granting us non-exclusive worldwide permission to reprint your story on our website should you win.