The Waterstones Children’s Book Prize: A love-letter to booksellers

Sin eater  cover shareI am so, so delighted, stunned, honoured, and proud that The Sin Eater’s Daughter has been shortlisted in the Teen Books category of the 2016 Waterstones Children’s Book Awards. It seems such an impossible, magical thing to happen. And yet it has. And the best thing about it is I’m in this incredible position because of the lovely booksellers at Waterstones.

I used to be terrified of Waterstones booksellers, when I was a teen. They seemed a different species to me; they moved with a little extra grace, their smiles were a bit more knowing. I couldn’t really look them in the eye.

During my younger teens I went to Waterstones every Saturday, and just hung around. I didn’t have the money to buy anything, but I liked to be near the books. I’d go into town, meet my friend and we’d go to Woolworths. I’d keep an eye out while she nicked bath pearls. Then she’d meet her boyfriend, and I’d go to Waterstones. I’d spend an hour in there, lusting after the books, and then go to the library and get some books out (thanks libraries, I love you, too). Then I’d nip back to Waterstones for a final visit, before sneaking to my Nana’s for lunch, and to read. I was a rebellious child.

the perfumeI remember the first ever, brand new book I personally chose and bought from Waterstones. It was The Perfume, by Caroline. B. Cooney, and it cost me £3.50 from the old Waterstones in Cathedral Lanes, Coventry. For a wannabe bibliophile who had almost zero access to brand new books of her own, this trip was to be GAME CHANGING. Prior to this most auspicious of days, I’d been taking Point Horror books out of the library for a whole year, wondering if I’d ever be sexy enough for a ghost to try and date me, or for a vampire to come and attack me (nope, and nope. To this day). It was time to buy my own.

Looking back now, I can see some similarities to the cover of The Sin Eater’s Daughter and the cover of The Perfume; a scary, creepy bottle; beautiful, vibrant colours; alluring title.

It’s cool when things come full circle.

It’s even cooler when you never even imagined it was possible.

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Artists impression of a Waterstones Bookseller in the mind of Melinda Salisbury, aged 14

I’ve digressed, I meant to talk about why booksellers intimidated me. It’s nothing they did, more just that they just were. They were everything I wanted to be and everything I had no idea how to be. In my head they spent all day in Waterstones with the books, being all smooth and knowledgeable, and at night they went to house parties where everyone wore black, and drank red wine, and talked about sexy exciting things. Like books.

Back then I was a scrawny, be-fringed, goblin child. I was not sexy. The only knowledge I had was the Latin names of every mammal native to the UK, and how to identify them from their stools. And it would have been very illegal to give me red wine.

So I couldn’t imagine that the booksellers would even deign to acknowledge my existence.

I was wrong.

After giving me a good hour to lurk in the stacks like a creepy creeper, a young man finally, delicately approached me to see if I needed any help. Lord, did I.

He was generous with his knowledge, and his time, and he made me feel like buying a single Point Horror book was as weighty a decision as buying a Booker winner. There was no rush. It was as important to him I went home with the right book as it was to me, or at least that’s how it felt. When I’d finally made my choice, the book was carried reverently to the till, where I paid for it. He gave me a shiny, pristine black carrier bag with a big gold ‘W’ on the front and a quote on the back to carry it home in. He even gave me change from my fiver (which, in fairness, he had to. That’s the law. I could try and romanticise it, but that would be weird. Weirder.).

I’ve always been so incredibly envious of authors who talk happily about their lifelong relationship with books, who grew up surrounded by them, had easy access to them, who begged for ‘just one more chapter’ every night. These lucky, lucky people who knew from when they were little that they wanted to be writers, and – more importantly – who believed that they could be.

I didn’t grow up in a family of readers, you see. My whole life it’s been the booksellers of the world, the librarians, and, recently, the bloggers, and the tweeters, and the Instagrammers, who have helped guide and shape my reading experience. Who have led me to the books I didn’t know I needed until they handed them to me.

So thank you, Waterstones booksellers, for that. These days, I realise that not all booksellers are magical beings from another realm who wear black, and drink red wine (obvs most are, I’ve met some of them). I can’t believe how lucky I am to be saying that I’ve been shortlisted for this prize. Thanks for being.

And congratulations to my fellow Older Fiction nominees, the incredible Lisa Williamson, Lisa Heathfield, and Jandy Nelson, my agency sister Moira Fowley-Doyle, and of course, my arch-enemy Leo Hunt. I’ve read all of our books and I’m lucky to be considered your equal.

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Second blogpost in as many days… Miracles do exist.

 

Eat Worms

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What do I do when someone doesn’t like my book…

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Only joking! My, how we laughed…

When I was little, my sister taught me a fun song. This is it:

Nobody  loves me, everybody hates me,
Think I’ll go and eat some worms.
Big ones, fat ones, slimy ones, squidgy ones,
Watch how they squiggle and squirm.

Bite them, crunch them. Yum! They’re lovely!
Throw their tails away.
Nobody knows how much I grow,
Eating worms three times a day.

So now you know. When I find out someone doesn’t like my books, I go and eat some worms.

Metaphorically, of course.

The first time I realised that someone had read The Sin Eater’s Daughter and hadn’t enjoyed it, I was, of course, crushed (the special kind of Goodreads-rubbernecking-review crushed). Whilst I knew it wasn’t a jolly romp, or a break-neck-paced thriller, it was the kind of book I knew I’d love to read.

And therein, dear reader, lies both problem and salvation.

I wrote the kind of book I wanted to read when I was a teen. Because I’d never found myself in a book – never found that one character I could relate to, or be inspired by. I hadn’t found that person who could be my WWTD? model (What Would They Do?). The girls in the books I read were so feisty, and super-smart, and brave, and had brilliant loyal friends, and they could fight, and protect themselves. They were never unsure, rarely afraid. They were everything I was not.

So I wrote it. I wrote about a young woman who was frightened, and powerless, and trapped. And alone. I wrote about how much she had to work to overcome that. And how hard it was. And I did it in a fantasy world because they were the worlds I loved best of all.

When I first read back over the final version of The Sin Eater’s Daughter, I wished so much I could take it and put in the hands of myself at fourteen, fifteen, sixteen. Young Adult Me needed to read that book as badly as Adult Me needed to write it.

So I guess if people don’t like it, or don’t ‘get’ it, it’s probably because they’re not the target audience for it. They’re not the people I wrote the book for. Slipknot make music for people that love metal – I doubt they sit at home brainstorming how to convince a bunch of jazz fans that they have a genuine message. Marvel Studios make films for people that love superheroes, I suspect they’re not overly concerned with converting World Cinema fans to the joys of Antman. So I think there’s no point in doing anything when someone doesn’t like it. It wasn’t for them, that much is clear, and now we know it, we can all move on.

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This was my signing queue at Hay Literary Festival. So I can’t be doing too badly…

I’m lucky, because since the book has come out, not one single day has passed without me getting a tweet, or an email, a Tumblr ask, or even a comment here, from someone that loved it, and wants to know what happens next. So I know that it is getting to the right people. That the people I did write it for are reading it, and connecting with it. You can’t ask for more.

It’s ok if not everyone likes it, because I didn’t write it for everyone. I’m writing for a very specific audience, so of course there will be people – mostly people over 18, I expect – that won’t get it. But I have to say, I’m a lot more interested in the people that do get it, and it’s them I’m going to keep writing for. My target audience.

So I’m going to eat all the worms – every worm I can get my hands on – and I’m going to grow big and strong on the back of it.

That’s what I do when someone doesn’t like my book; I grow from it.

UKYA Day!

Today is UKYA Day. And I am a UK YA author. And being part of the UKYA community is a massive part of my life now – it’s my watercooler, it’s my office, it’s my after-work drinks, my Christmas party. Writing can be incredibly lonely, but thanks to the UKYA community, I feel as though I have colleagues. And those colleagues have become friends.

I thought a lot about what to write for my blog post today. Should I write about how grateful – and stunned – I am to have been welcomed so warmly into this community, and supported by other authors, bloggers, bookshops, publishing people and, of course, readers? Should I write another emotional post about what books mean to me, what stories mean to me? Should I use this opportunity to overshare a little more of my bizarro life?

I decided not to. I decided that today I’d do something with the thing that brought me into the UKYA community, which is of course, the book I wrote. What I’m about to share are some of the deleted scenes from the very first incarnation of The Sin Eater’s Daughter. I’m not going to give much context for them, suffice to say they never made it to the final version, for one reason or another, and I hope you enjoy them.

Happy UKYA Day!

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‘I’ll take you back now, my lady,’ Lief says, turning to lead the way.

I shake my head, wanting to stay in the sunlight for a little longer.  ‘I am not quite ready.’

‘Dorin said I was to take you back.’

‘And so you will.  But I’d like a few more moments to finish my work.’

‘My lady, I must insist you come with me back to your rooms,’ he says.

For a moment I stare at him, both amused and annoyed at his attempt to command me.  It’s been a long time since someone, save the Queen, told me what I must do.  When he stares back at me, his eyebrows raised, I draw myself up to my full height, though my head would barely reach his shoulder if we were to stand back to back.  ‘Lief, I will finish my work.  Then we will return.  Let that be an end to it, please.’

I’m sure if he could he’d take my arm and pull me back inside, his lips are parted, his eyes flashing.  Then he lowers them and his head drops into a bow.

‘Yes, my lady.’

I can feel him brooding behind me and I deliberately take my time sketching the flower.  He moves around, pacing the pathway, transferring his weight from foot to foot, sighing occasionally.  Each time he reminds me he is there I rip the sheet I’m working on away and begin again.  When he huffs I spend five whole minutes drawing a single boom.  When he scuffles his boots in the stones I tilt my head and consider the scene before me, my head rested on my hand, my face the very image of contemplation, save for when I cannot stop myself from smiling.  It becomes a game, though one he doesn’t understand straight away, and for each sign of impatience he displays I level back at him a gesture of serenity.

He finally makes the connection between his own actions and mine and he stills.  For a time I draw, trying to faithfully render the flower, trying to mimic the delicate strokes of Merek’s drawings.  At last I have a picture I am not ashamed of and I gather my things and rise.  I don’t speak to Lief as I pass him, keeping my chin tilted upwards.

Lief’s footsteps are loud behind me, the stamp of an angry child, and I consider stopping abruptly, or wheeling around to catch him off guard.  It would be amusing to see him stumble away from me.  But I don’t know him well enough and, despite Dorin’s assurances of his swiftness, it could go badly wrong if I he didn’t stop when I did.

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2)

On the pretext of wanting to make sure things are set for Dorin’s return I make Lief take me down into their quarters.  My guards keep their quarters in the room below mine, at night they sleep in shifts, one on sentry duty before my door, the other asleep in the room below until it is time to change.  I’ve never been there before, never needed to with a guard outside my door at every moment but now it is just Lief and I make him show me Dorin’s bed, telling him order a new pillow, an additional blanket.

I try to hide my curiosity but I’m surprised that he seems to keep nothing personal on his side of the room.  Both men have a small stub of candle on the wooden chairs by their beds; Dorin’s also contains a small dagger, a rag he presumably uses to polish it, and a battered tin soldier.  But Lief, as yet, has done nothing to carve out the space and claim it as his own.

I think he might be embarrassed about my being here.  As I fuss with Dorin’s pillows I can feel his eyes resting on me, watching me.  The room is not untidy, in fact, it is too orderly.  Dorin and Lief’s room is crisp, the blankets folded back to reveal smooth mattresses, pillows plumped and clothes hidden neatly away.  When I had brothers they left a trail of devastation in their wake, dropped handkerchiefs, small toys made of matchsticks and horse chestnuts, apple peels and orange pips.  Though my guards are grown men, not boys, the neatness of the room is still a surprise.

‘You keep it well,’ I say to him.  ‘I had no idea men could be so neat.’

‘I haven’t used it much.’

‘Do you not miss your old home?’

‘No.’

‘Is Tregellan very different from here?’  I have been planning to ask him this since we started talking, hoping he’d tell me all about the land, give me some stories I can feast on when I’m alone.  I had hoped that he would have something Tregellian in his room that I could look at, but there’s nothing.

‘Not really,’ he says.

‘Will you tell me about it?’

‘Forgive me, my lady, but I’d rather not talk about it.’

He hurries me from the room as soon as he can, back to my pretty prison, and I return to my screen and gazing out of the window.

 

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3)

‘Do you feel better now?’ Merek asks as we walk briskly through the knot garden, trying to keep the chill at bay.  The seasons are changing rapidly, the smokiness of autumn is in the air, the leaves on the ornamental trees beginning to turn tawny and gold under the sullen sky.   Rowan berries are bright scarlet on the trees that line the walkway.  The winter will be harsh, even by Lormere’s standards and I hope Tregellan has a warmer climate.

‘Better?’

‘After last night, and this morning I suppose.’

My cheeks flush and he smiles.  ‘You did not embarrass yourself, if that’s what you think.  Mother said that on the whole she believed you handled it with grace, considering what a shock it must have been.’

‘Yes,’ I turn to look at the small hedges that line the pathway.  ‘It was a revelation.’

‘I did mean what I said.  I do want to make you happy.  You’ve saved me, you see.’

‘I know.’

‘Do you?’ he stops and takes my clasped hands in his and I fight the urge to pull away.  ‘I don’t believe you do, Twylla, but I will show you my gratitude every day for as long as we both live.  I owe you so much, and I will repay it.  Anything you want, ask and you shall have it.  Nothing is too good for you now.’

I shake my head and he tugs my hands again.

‘I mean it, Twylla.  I do.’

‘I know, Merek.  It’s still a lot to take in.’

‘But good?’ he asks earnestly.

‘For so long,’ I begin, ‘for so long I have been pulled one way or another and always told what I am to be and what I will become.’

‘I know,’ he soothes, misunderstanding me.  ‘It was the same for me.  But you and I can make things our way now, we will rule and no one can tell us what we may and may not do.  We are the keys to each other’s freedom.  No more will you have to do anything other than what you desire.’

How am I to stay angry at him, to despise him as Lief so clearly does, when he thinks we are saving each other?  He means to offer me the world and I cannot tell him I do not want his world, that this is just another in a long line of roles I am told I will fulfil.

‘You’re too good,’ I say and I mean it.

‘I don’t believe anyone has ever thought of me as good before,’ he smiles.  He steps away and I watch him bend and examine the flowers.  He’s so different here with me in the gardens.  He smiles and the smile reaches his eyes, he jokes and is earnest and kind.

A cold tap to my nose makes me look up and a second raindrop falls onto my forehead.  I drop my head and then the heavens open.  Merek and I look at each other, rain soaking us before he grabs my hand and begins to run, pulling me back towards the castle, my cloak flaring behind me like a pennant.  I fumble to raise the hood but we’re moving too fast, the rain drenching us in a matter of moments, the white of Merek’s tunic turning transparent under its weight as we race through the garden, up the stairs and into the hall.

When I look at Merek he’s laughing, his face full of joy, his dark curls dripping onto his face.

‘Mother would be furious,’ he grins.  ‘How undignified of us to be caught in a rainstorm.’

‘We had very little warning.’

‘We ought to have known, Twylla.  We ought to have been able to command the sky to cease immediately.  What kind of rulers will we be?’

I smile back at him.  ‘Very damp ones.’

‘If I were the rain I would chose to fall on you, queen or not,’ his smile is wide and I blush at his flattery, until a forced cough makes me turn.

Lief stands there, his face white and blank as he stares at my hand, still in Merek’s.  Worse than that is the Queen’s face; she is staring at me with naked hatred and I grip Merek’s hand tighter.

‘There you are,’ she says coldly.  ‘I was beginning to wonder if I’d have to send the dogs to find you.’

She makes to attempt to mask the threat there and my throat tightens as she continues.

‘It would be a terrible pity if Twylla also caught a chill and I had suspected the weather would turn.  Had you not fled the solar I might have told you.’

‘We’re fine, Mother,’ Merek says, his smile wiped from his face as he shakes his head, showering his mother in droplets from his hair.

‘And yet you look soaked through.’

We all look at Merek’s chest, the taut lines of his body visible through the material that clings to him and again my skin fills with heat.

‘I can find a dry tunic, I’m sure.’

‘Have some brandy, see to it the girl does as well,’ the Queen replies coldly before turning on her heel and leaving us.

Merek watches her go with a smirk on his face before turning back to where Lief has edged to my side.  I watch as Merek and Lief stare at each other, watch as a shadow passes over Merek’s face before he lets go of my hand.

‘We should change,’ he says to me, reaching out to undo my cloak.  He bundles it up and thrusts it into Lief’s unprepared arms as he passes.  ‘Dry this,’ he commands.  ‘Twylla, I’ll see you in the solar shortly.’

Then he is gone, leaving me with my furious lover.

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4)

The cell door is thrown open and one of the guards firmly takes my arm.

‘Is it time?’ I ask, ashamed of the tremor in my voice.

They do not respond, leading me out from the cell, out of the dungeons, towards the main door.  Their faces are grim, as if they have no taste for the task they must perform but will do it nevertheless.  The light outside is dim, dawn light, and I know it’s time and my heart thuds violently beneath my ribs.  I am not sure if my legs will hold me for much longer.  I won’t be able to run.

We do not go out of the main doors, turning to the south instead and I speak again.

‘Where are you taking me?’

Again there is no reply, just the relentless passage through the castle.  The corridors are empty of people, all of the doors are closed and there is no one to ask, no one to see my fear, or shame.  I realise everyone must assembled, that the Queen does mean to bring the court to watch.  I wonder if the maids have already been into my solar to divide my things between them.

We walk through the abandoned Great Hall, the large fireplace empty of flames, the candles in their sconces unlit.  Up the stairs towards the royal solar and fear fills me again.  Why am I being taken there, what can the Queen or Merek have left to say to me?

The solar is empty and the guards march me towards the window.  For a second I am convinced that they will make me sing, one last time, but the guards push me down onto a chair.  My hands are pulled behind my back and tied and then they lift the chair and carry it to the window.  Far below, a hasty gallows has been erected on the lawn outside the castle and I see the sun fading over the forest on the horizon.  Sunset.  Not sunrise.

Immediately I begin to struggle, to try and tip the chair.

‘His majesty says you are to watch.  He will talk with you afterwards.’

‘No,’ I say and then I am screaming it at the top of voice, over and over, no, no, no, I will not watch and they cannot make me.  I will close my eyes and I will turn my face and I will rip my soul out of my body if that is what I must do but I will not watch him be hanged, I will not watch them take his life in front of me.

Is this his idea of kindness, to spare us the dogs but to hang him in front of me?  ‘Tell him I’ll marry him,’ I beg the guards.  ‘Tell him now, tell him I’ll do anything to not see this, to stop this, please, I beg you.  Fetch the Prince – the King! Fetch Merek! Merek! Merek please!’

My pleas fall on deaf ears and the guards remain at my side as I weep and struggle.  Then there is a boom from below, the sound of a drum beating slowly.  My heart adjusts to beat in time with it, each drumbeat a heartbeat, each thud a second of life that Lief has left.  And though I swore I wouldn’t look, when the drums begin I cannot tear my eyes away.  The view is obscured by the side of the tower, I can see only the steps that lead up to the gallows and part of the crossbeam, but I can see the executioner standing to the side, his face hooded, his arms bare and meaty.

This cannot be.  It cannot be.  But it is and there he is, being led out, a white hood over his head, clad in a long white shift that covers him head to foot.  He stumbles and I lean forward but his guards right him and they continue the slow march to his death.  They aid him up the steps and I see the executioner step forward and take his shoulders, guiding him out of my sight.

The drums beat faster, as does my heart and I cannot stop watching, hoping for a miracle, a bolt of lightning from the Gods to strike the executioner dead and burn the rope that is surely draped around Lief’s neck now.

There are three sharp drum beats, and silence, and then the executioner steps back.  I see a barrel spinning off to the right, rolling off of the gallows onto the grass and then there is nothing.  After a moment, the executioner turns away, removing his hood and taking a swig from a tankard he had left on the side of the gallows.

It is done.

I am numb.  I thought I would scream, I thought I would feel it when his soul flew out of his body, I had thought to hear the crack of my heart as it broke when he died.  But there is nothing and I slump in the chair.  The guards untie me, skittering away from me in case I lash out at them once I have my freedom.  I do not have the energy to lash out at them, or rage at them.  Instead I sit, my eyes closed, his face imprinted on my eyelids; the wide, toothy smile that meant he was teasing, his bright green eyes, soft in the light of early morning, blazing when he came to my bed that night.  All gone.

When I am alone, I stand and brace my arms against the side of the window, pressing my face against the cool glass.  I cannot see Lief, I do not know if they have cut him down or whether they have left him there for the crows.  I don’t know why they hanged him nor why I’m here.  I don’t want to be here.  I wonder how much it would hurt, to die falling from this tower.  It would be a slap in the face to the Queen and I would not have to endure another moment here knowing he is in the world no longer.

The door opens behind me before I have time to test my resolve, but I do not turn.  I do not want to see Merek now.  I thought we had reached an understanding, come to a place where we respected each other.

‘Twylla,’ he says, shutting the door softly behind him.

I shake my head in irritation.

‘Twylla,’ another voice says, a voice I’d not thought to hear ever again. I turn sharply.

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I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world that almost was. Massive, massive thanks to the ever-extraordinary Lucy Powrie, for organising today, and all of the UKYA chats. She works endlessly and tirelessly to promote and celebrate UKYA and there would be no UKYA community without her.

Marchin’ On

Well, March has been EVENTful (badum-tsh!). March has been the month that contained my first bookshop event, my first literary festival, and my first time approaching a bookshop to sign copies for stock. And it has all been MAGICAL.

6tag_060315-090456Firstly, I got to spend World Book Day at YA Birmingham, which was beyond incredible. Incredible to be on the other side of an event I’ve celebrated for so many years, incredible to meet people who liked my book enough to come out on a chilly Thursday evening to talk to me about it. Some of my family came, friends came, and fans (you cannot imagine how amazing it is to think my book has fans) came too.

I got to meet people like Sofia and Lize – who I first spoke to on Twitter – face to face and chat to them about the book, as well as catch up with people like Chelley Toy, who I met at the Scholastic Bloggers’ Brunch in January, and who is rapidly becoming an excellent friend/potential arch-nemesis.

During the event I answered questions posed by the very wonderful Jamie from YA Birmingham (who also presented me with THE most amazing present afterwards). I read two passages from the book, the beginning, and one of my favourites, and then took some audience questions, before finally holding a book signing! A more detailed version of the night can be found here on Chelley Toy’s Blog, Tales of Yesterday, and the photo above was also taken by her.

There’s no way of writing it down without it sounding trite, or saccharine, but it was the most wondrous thing for me, to have this real-world experience of seeing the book out there, in people’s hands, and talking about it. If I’m honest, it made me hungry for more of it.

So it was a very good thing that on Saturday 21st, I was invited, along with my fellow YA authors Catherine Doyle and Lisa Williamson, to be part of the Young Adult Rising Stars panel at Oxford Literary Festival. Chaired by the very warm and witty Caroline Sanderson, we each got to talk about the worlds and characters we’d created, what our inspirations were, what being published meant to us, and what we planned to do next, before taking questions from the audience.

Oxford Literary Festival is a huge, well-respected, and vital part of the UK, and global, literary scene and it was an absolute privilege to be invited. I was more than a little overwhelmed by it; I’m still pinching myself, and again, it was a brilliant opportunity to meet people who were really interested in how we’d come to write our stories, and why we wanted to in the first place. I loved hearing more about what inspired and drove Cat and Lisa, and if you want to know more too, then the very lovely Lily Golding has written a full report of the panel on her blog The Whispering of the Pages.

Finally, today I did something I’ve been building up to for a long time. For a long time I’ve seen people tweeting about how they’d been into bookshops and signed copies for stock, and I wanted to do the same thing, but had no idea how you’d go about it.

A quick ask online informed me I could either nip into my l6tag_230315-123007ocal shop and offer to do it there and then, or email/tweet/call in advance and see if it was something they’d be interested in. I decided to bite the bullet and do the former, and I’m so glad I did.

They let me sign all the copies they had, said they wished they’d known I was local, and told me I should come back, soon, and often and that they’d love to do an event with me in the future. So I’m going to try and be braver when I go to new places and ask if I can sign a few copies in lots of bookshops.

That’s all for now, but I’m hoping I’ll have some news to share soon. If not, I’ll write a post about how much I love my new bicycle. It’s a real beauty xxx

BIKE

On dreams and hope and never quitting.

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Look at my dress!

Last Wednesday, in a crypt beneath a church in Farringdon, I held the launch of my debut novel, The Sin Eater’s Daughter. As I said in my last post, this event was much longed for, but never really expected and today I thought I’d say a bit about why.

At the launch, there was the usual meeting and greeting and some signing of books. I also made a speech, and one of the things I was, and still am, very keen to explain is exactly why I didn’t think it would happen for me and the reason, quite simply, is that I am from a working class background.

For a very long time, I (absolutely misguidedly) thought that the literary world would only open its doors to you if there was someone in your family who already inhabited it (ideally an Austen, or a Dickens) or if you’d attended a top-tier university. I didn’t know you could go to state school, and be on the free school meal plan, and wear Hi Tec trainers and carry your PE kit in a plastic bag from Iceland, and still be a writer. I thought it was a dream too far, even for me (And I dream BIG). So while I loved storytelling, I didn’t think I could be on the other side of the pages, not really. I put the dream away.

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But then, in the year 1999, I kept hearing about this children’s series called Harry Potter. My nana bought me a copy of the first book for my birthday and I sat and read it in one go. I went out that afternoon into town and spent all of my birthday money on the books that had already been released. And two Hogwarts t-shirts. And some chocolate frogs. I was hooked completely, to the point where my nana would tell me whenever she came across anything about it in the newspaper.

And in 1999, there was a LOT in the newspaper, about Harry Potter, and the author, J.K. Rowling. Looking back now, it leaves a nasty taste in my mouth when I realise how much the press focused on the rags to riches story of J.K. writing as a single mum, on benefits, penning it in cafes because they were warmer than her council flat. But at the time, a light switched on in my head. She was like me. She was an ordinary person too. And she’d written some books.

Launch 1

Lovely people are lovely

The dream began to wake up. Slowly.

Years passed; I went to college, then university. Life seemed pretty normal; I was ticking all the right boxes. Sure, I was mostly miserable, but that was adulthood right? Then my world crumbled. Three months before finishing my degree my boyfriend and I finally broke up for good, after four and half up-and-down years. A month before I handed in my dissertation, my beloved part-time job at the local theatre was terminated due to reconstruction work. And then my time in education – the cornerstone of my entire life – was over. All of my friends were moving away, moving on.Suddenly I was back living with my nana; jobless, directionless. All of the things I had built my life around were gone, in the space of just a few months and I had no idea what to do next. Or how to get out of bed, some days.

And who swept in to save me again – none other than J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. The only thing keeping me remotely interested in life that summer was finally getting to read Deathly Hallows and seeing how it ended. I read it, and I wept and I punched the air and I laughed. Then I had a good, hard think about what I was doing. I decided that if this kid, this seventeen year old boy could defeat the worst evil in the world, I could find a job and sort my life out. If J.K Rowling could write a series of books that changed the entire world forever, maybe I could write at least one book that some people would  like a little. It was a start.

Last Wednesday, seven years after I started writing seriously with the intention of trying to get a book published, I did it.

It wasn’t easy; the first book I wrote took two and a half years and was around 130k of absolute awfulness and I deleted it almost immediately upon finishing it. The second took two years and was ok, but unoriginal. And then the third… Well, that’s on shelves in shops right now. I didn’t know if it would be possible, but I had to try. I’m so glad I did.

In a crypt on the 4th February, 2015, the people I love, new friends and old, and the team that have championed me from the beginning, ate, drank, laughed and celebrated the story I wrote. Friends flew in from Norway, Scotland and Ireland. I got to see almost everyone who has supported and encouraged and helped me on this journey and I never thought I would. I never thought it could be me. I’m a writer now.

Launch 2Thanks to everyone who came, and everyone who wanted to but couldn’t. I love you all much xxx

Plot twist: It’s real. Really, really real.

Happy New Year! It’s now 2015; the year Richard III will finally be properly interred; the year I will take heavy, heavy advantage of my Historic Palaces annual pass; the year of the Sheep; the year the onesie is outlawed (hopefully).

The year The Sin Eater’s Daughter comes out.

That probably shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, but it turns out that it was. It’s not as though I’ve been lacking evidence of it; I have a contract; I have proof editions; It’s been available for pre-order; It’s had reviews. I’ve even planned a launch party. The date has been set for a long time; Spring 2015, the book will come out. That was always the plan.

And yet, until last week, I didn’t quite believe it.

So what changed that?

These guys did.

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Actual books

A whole box of them, arriving at my house. With my name on the spine, and the cover. My dedication at the front, my acknowledgements in the back.

The story I wrote in between them.

Now it seems real. Now I understand that this is my dream, coming true, live, right now. In twenty-four days it’ll (hopefully) be on shelves in the UK, and (hopefully) dropping through letterboxes. People will be able to hand over bits of metal or paper and get a copy in return. It will be read. With a little luck, it’ll be enjoyed. There is no turning back.

The book is coming.

Suddenly it’s very real.

Suddenly I’m being sent really amazing interview questions, and being asked to go to events. People are tweeting at me to tell me they liked it. People want to talk to me about it, they want me to talk about it.

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Book Selfie

Naturally, I’m terrified. For so long it was mine. My book, my story. Then it was mine and a few trusted readers. Then mine, trusted readers and Claire’s (my agent). Then it was mine, TR’s, Claire’s and Scholastic’s. And in twenty-four days it will be mine, TR’s, Claire’s, Scholastic’s, and the world’s. It’s without doubt the strangest, most brilliant, bonkers, exciting, petrifying thing that’s ever happened to me. I never thought it could happen, and now it is.

I’ve spent a lot of time imaging what it might be like if this particular dream came true and I have to say, the reality is even better. When I imagined it, I didn’t include the amazing people I’d meet along the way, or the things I’d learn, or see, or do. I didn’t think any further than the book.

So it was quite a shock when the one thing that had always been the focus became the most impossible thing of all. But now, they’re here: I have copies of my own book.                 I can give copies to the people who love me, I can give copies away in contests. My book. It’s real.

This post, more than anything, is for me. For posterity. So I can remember how it felt in the run up to publication.

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This was a real feature, in a real supplement, in a real newspaper. REAL.

And, for the record, it feels fizzy. In the good way.

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… And I got an early present!

Yesterday I received a lovely email from my American editor, telling me that The Sin Eater’s Daughter had been given a starred review by Publisher’s Weekly! For those who don’t know quite what that means, it is as amazing as it sounds – it’s their way of saying they think it’s “a book of outstanding quality”.

So this is pretty much what my face looked like when I found out:

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Below is the text, taken from here, and featured in the December 1st issue of Publisher’s Weekly:

The Sin-Eater’s Daughter

Melinda Salisbury, Author

This dark fantasy, Salisbury’s debut, transports readers to a kingdom ruled by a terrifying mad queen, the product of generations of incest, who has her enemies hunted down and torn apart by hounds. Seventeen-year-old Twylla, the prince’s betrothed and the human embodiment of the daughter of the gods, endures her duties at court—which include executing traitors with a mere touch of her poisonous skin—in hopes that money sent home will better her younger sister’s life. Though the clear-sighted prince hopes to enlist her as an ally against his cruel mother, Twylla begins to fall for her fearless and skeptical new guard, Lief, who reveals a shocking twist about Twylla’s position. In a triumph of characterization, Salisbury makes the path of duty represented by the prince and that of passion represented by Lief equally compelling. In addition to creating vivid and varied characters, Salisbury has a talent for worldbuilding, populating her world with shiver-inducing legends, original customs, and political and religious debates. First in a trilogy, this novel leaves many questions unresolved, but the open ending is nonetheless satisfying. Ages 14–up. Agent: Claire Wilson, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (Feb.)

I’m so happy.

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