Today I have the pleasure of welcoming writer Shanta Everington to my blog. Her parenting book "The Terrible Twos" was published last week.
Shanta works as an editor for 'Disabled Pregnancy and Parenting International, has published two fiction novels: "Marilyn & Me" and "Give Me A Sign" as well as writing poetry and short fiction.
Being terribly nosy & eager to learn from her success I caught up with Shanta to ask her a few questions about why, what and how she writes................
You write on your website that your way into writing creatively was to study for an MA Creative Writing at MMU. But when did you first know you wanted to be a professional writer?
Well, I loved telling stories when I was a kid. I have vivid memories of creating comics with my sister when we were really quite little. But at school, I found the teachers were more interested in teaching grammar and punctuation than fostering imagination, which put me off writing stories. I didn't really pick it up again until my late twenties, when I suddenly decided I wanted to write a novel. So I did.
How did you begin your professional writing career?
As mentioned above, I wrote a novel in my late twenties. I suppose you'd call it chick-lit. I sent it to lots of publishers, who rejected it. Then I sent it to a literary appraisal service who said it wasn't likely to get published as the market was saturated but I did have writing talent and I should keep going. Perhaps they said that to everybody but I took in in a positive way and wrote two more novels.
The second novel was another chick-lit novel that never found a home. The third was something a bit different, narrated by a young woman with a learning disability who wanted to be Marilyn Monroe. This was the novel I worked on for my MA. I entered it into a writing competition for debut novels run by Cinnamon Press in 2006. It was shortlisted and they offered to publish it. 'Marilyn and Me', the third novel I wrote, became my first published book in 2007. The only other piece of creative writing I'd had published before that was a single poem, although I wrote charity publications such as factsheets etc in my day job.
What are the main differences in your approach and methods of writing a non-fiction book as opposed to a fiction novel?
I've only written one non-fiction book so I don't know if the process would always be the same but with 'The Terrible Twos: A Parent's Guide', I sent a proposal to the publisher and was commissioned on the basis of that so it was pretty planned out in advance. I never plan in advance with novels. I just start with characters talking inside my head and then they start talking on the page, as though they have a life of their own. I felt more in control of the non-fiction book. In my novels, the characters were definitely in control of the story.
With my fiction writing, I don't tend to think about the reader until the end. I am driven by the characters. With the parenting book, I was very conscious of the audience from the outset. I was constantly thinking about what I wanted to get across, what impact I wanted the book to have, how it would help other parents etc. It was a very different thought process.
Also, writing fiction can be a very solitary pursuit, whereas I've found the process of putting together the parenting guide more of a collaborative affair and I've really enjoyed that. I've enjoyed interviewing people for the book and gathering all the information together.
Do you have a preference or passion for one type of writing? i.e. non-fiction/journalism/poetry/fiction novels etc. Why?
I like writing different things at different times depending what is going on in my life. Sometimes I write for the creative outlet and other times I am more publication oriented. It is great when both come together. Right now I am finding it hard to get back into novel writing partly because it is such a time commitment and there is no guarantee of publication again at the end of it! I've enjoyed writing more smaller pieces such as poetry and short stories in the last couple of years. And this new parenting guide venture has been an interesting journey as it is something I am very passionate about.
Evidently you have a wealth of childcare experience and expertise but can you relate a specific experience that inspired you to write 'The Terrible Twos'?
Being called into my son's nursery when he was two and a half to discuss his behaviour. I was mortified! I had awful visions of him hitting other kids and destroying all the toys. But he was just having traffic stopping tantrums. It seemed they were worse than everyone else's. :) I was totally stressed out about it.
I talked to a lot of people about it and read everything I could but I couldn't find a book that met my needs. I found a lot of parenting books very formulaic and prescriptive. I didn't identify with them at all. So I thought I'd write one that I could identify with and maybe it would help others too. It helped some that Need2Know Books had advertised on their blog that they were looking for someone to write a book on the terrible twos...
What unique element/approach does 'The Terrible Twos' offer parents who may have read other parenting books but still be struggling?
My book is unique because it doesn't tell parents 'how to' parent or what they 'should' be doing. Rather it helps parents understand why the terrible twos occur in the first place. I recognise that every family is different and offer a range of strategies to help parents find their own way to transform the 'terrible twos' into the 'terrific twos'!
There are parenting books written by non-parents (e.g. Super Nanny and Gina Ford) and parenting books written by journalists who are parents with no professional childcare training. I'm a parent and a qualified early years teacher, so hopefully I can contribute personal experience and professional expertise. The book also draws on the experiences of a wide range of other parents and every chapter includes a real life case study.
Sounds great! I remember the terrible twos all too well and I wish I had had a book like yours to help me through what can be an exhausting and confusing time.
How does working as a professional writer live up to what you imagined it to be and how does it differ?
Well, I certainly don't earn a full-time living from it so I'm not sure I'm a fully fledged professional but it is always such a buzz to see something that I've worked over find its way into print. :) It turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be to get published and to keep getting published. There have been many more rejections since the first acceptance. I never thought so much of my material would end up in the bottom drawer/cutting room floor. :) On the other hand, I love writing in so many genres and forms. I adore it. I have to do it and I cannot imagine ever stopping. :)
What top 3 tips can you offer unpublished writers?
1. I think it's important to primarily write for yourself. Write what you are passionate about. At the same time, it doesn't hurt to keep an eye on what publishers are looking for if getting published is important to you.
2. Persevere. Remember that all writers get rejected, even those who have been published, and some of us get rejected more than others.
3. Never underestimate the value of networking. At the same time, try not to be too demanding. Think about what you can do to help other writers. It's all about the karma! :)
Great advice, thank you Shanta for sharing your writing experience - its been a great help and inspiration.
You can learn more about Shanta Everington and her writing by clicking on the links in the text above and by visiting her website at www.shantaeverington.co.uk.