C J Flood is the author of Infinite Sky, which won the Branford Boase Award, the James Reckitt Hull Children’s Book Award, was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, and shortlisted for the Leeds Book Award. Her second novel, The Wild Ones, is due from Simon and Schuster in 2015, and she currently lives in Bristol.
Firstly, congratulations on winning the Branford Boase Award for a writer and editor of an outstanding debut for children; how important are prizes for writers just starting out?
Thanks very much. I think prizes are incredibly important for writers starting out. They bring attention to books that might have gone under the radar, and also give new authors a confidence boost as they continue to write their next book. It can be easy to get disillusioned if you’re book isn’t shooting to the top of the charts, as most don’t, and so getting some acknowledgement that your book has quality is very meaningful.
For readers who haven’t read your book, can you tell us a bit about it?
It’s a story about a settled family and a family of Irish Travellers that results in the death of a teenage boy, and it takes place across Derbyshire farmland during a heatwave. It’s also about a family break down, and I drew heavily from my own experiences while writing. At the centre of the novel is a fictionalised version of my childhood home.
Can you describe your journey to publication?
It was a long journey that began very slowly, and sped up significantly towards the end. I always loved writing, and wrote Enid Blyton rip offs as a kid, but I didn’t really know about how to go about doing it as a career – I didn’t know any writers – and in my teen years it got a bit derailed as I lost interest in books and studying and more interested in dance music and my friends.
I decided I wasn’t going to go to university, then changed my mind, and through clearing ended up at Falmouth College of Arts studying English Literature and Media Studies. Here I had a real education in terms of what I was reading, and also in cultural theory and this began to shape my idea of the kind of thing I wanted to write.
I’d always kept diaries, and I began to use this writing as practise; I began to fictionalise things, and pay more attention to how I was describing people and places and emotions. I read Cold Water by Gwendoline Riley, who was only a little older than me, and had a book deal, and I realised that being a writer was within my reach if I just got better at it.
The interesting diary entries soon morphed into short stories, and I began to share these online at ABCTales.com and submit them to literary journals. I got a couple of acceptances, and joined The Fiction Workhouse, which was a place to share stories and get in-depth feedback. After graduating, I wrote whenever I could, poems and plays and stories and novels, and I avoided or simply failed at getting a ‘proper’ job.
I aspired to write a novel, but I wasn’t good at finishing things. My stories petered out into nothing, which I now know was because I didn’t know enough about how stories work.
Since graduating I had been considering applying for an MA, and finally, in 2009 I actually applied for one. This is when my journey began to speed up. I got a place at UEA where I met my agent at one of their events. Of course, I was only ready to be picked up by an agent because of all those years I had spent writing and not getting very far.
You completed an MA in Creative Writing from UEA; how did this benefit you?
As well as meeting my wonderful agent, I became a better writer. The workshop is an opportunity to learn what works and doesn’t work about your own writing. This taught me how to edit myself, and also it taught me about the kind of writer I wanted to be. You learn from critiquing other people’s work too, so it’s a very effective learning process – or was for me.
What advice do you have for young writers looking to see their work published?
Write, and study writing. Read the classics and also things that are selling well. Become a more interesting person, and try lots of things. Watch telly and films and learn about how stories work. Listen to people and work out how they work. Travel and talk to people and pay attention. Stay in and turn the internet off and don’t read or watch anything or listen to music until you’re so bored you have to write a story just to entertain yourself.
What are you working on at the moment and how’s it going?
I’m working on my second novel, which will come out with Simon and Schuster next year. It’s called The Wild Ones, and it is an adventure story about friendship, family and overcoming loss. It has been hard to write, but I’m now almost at the end, and am starting to enjoy it. All the writers I know keep telling me that every book gets harder, and the thought of this really unnerves me…
Thank you Chelsey!