Why is it a BIG week for Sophie Green?
PUBLISHED: 02:00 05 March 2019 | UPDATED: 02:02 05 March 2019
After much hard graft, the librarian’s debut novel is coming out. It’s for young readers and billed as ‘Scooby Doo high-jinks meet Casper in Gotham City’
When Sophie Green and I last had a proper chinwag, back in 2011, things were looking peachy for this aspiring author. Her unpublished novel The Last Giant had been shortlisted for the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition. It seemed the countdown to take-off had begun. Thing is, with writing you can’t count your… well, chickens.
I thought a publisher would have picked up The Last Giant…
“Yeah, me too! Not having won a competition turned out to be a difficult sell. It took a few months before I realised that the publisher who ran the comp definitely didn’t want it, and then I continued to submit – maybe to 20 more agents and publishers with no joy,” says Sophie.
“Then I got lucky.”
An old friend of the family, “someone I hadn’t seen for decades” but who worked in the industry, said she knew a couple of agents who would at least read it. “One turned it down; the other called me in for a meeting.” Progress.
“The first conversation I had with my agent was about The Last Giant, before she was my agent, and she said the problem was that it wasn’t an easy book for a debut writer because it was hard to pitch – it was both an adventure fantasy and a parody of one.
“I can’t help sending up the things I love, but I still love them, so it was an irreverent take but an earnest one. But she did tell me it would be a very good book for an established writer to release, and she is a major agent, so that fuelled my confidence to try and write something else and get myself established.”
So here we are now, days away from the publication of Potkin and Stubbs – the first instalment in a hardboiled detective trilogy for readers aged from about nine and shortlisted a while ago for the Bath Children’s Novel Award.
What’s it about?
In the corrupt metropolis of Peligan City, determined young reporter Lil Potkin is looking for a scoop. One rainy night she meets Nedly, the ghost of a boy no-one else can see.
Nedly has been looking for someone to believe in him ever since the investigation into his disappearance went cold. When they discover his death is connected to a series of murders, Lil and Nedly set out to expose those responsible, with the help of a down-on-his luck private investigator who might hold a clue to Lil’s hidden past.
Bath Children’s Novel Award founder Caroline Ambrose commented on its “confident, pacy plot, spunky heroine and wonderfully gritty ‘detective noir’ setting. Our younger Junior Judges loved the message that it’s easier to get someone to believe in you when you believe in yourself and were thrilled by the properly-scary climax and cliffhanger ending”.
When, where and how did you learn Piccadilly Press was offering a deal for Potkin and Stubbs – and how did you react? (Scream?)
I remember that I got the email at work and so I had to suppress everything because I didn’t want to yell it from the rooftops before it was all signed and sealed – which can take quite a long time.
So I just put it aside and carried on working, and then a couple of hours later I was walking home from work in the dark and outwardly I was just walking normally, listening to my iPod and probably smiling to myself, but inwardly I was in a Technicolor musical and I was dancing down the streets and cartwheeling and doing the occasional karate kick with joy.
Was it always a three-book deal? Quite something, eh?
It IS something – definitely. It’s a big investment for a publisher to offer a three-book contract to a debut author before they know whether the first book will sell, and it shows a lot of faith, which I haven’t taken lightly.
There’s a lot riding on the first book in any series – if no-one reads it then the others don’t stand much of a chance, so you have to give it the biggest push you can and hope for the best.
I hear that fiscal austerity – and the rise in the number of people on the margins – had an influence on the story.
When I started writing Potkin and Stubbs, austerity was affecting most people to some extent, but for people who were only just getting by it has been devastating. People who rely on the services (that are) being cut are often disadvantaged and vulnerable already, or they have become that way. They don’t always have a voice; they get lost inside or outside of systems.
Nedly Stubbs is a lonely orphan who has had more than his share of hard times. He has been missing for a year and no-one is really looking for him. The book is set in a corrupt metropolis, so I needed someone to make me feel like that wasn’t good enough: that with enough determination and ferocity things could change.
And so Lil Potkin came along to rescue him, fearlessly refusing to accept things the way they are – someone who is prepared to fight for as long as necessary; someone with enough resilience for two.
Hardboiled crime came out of the Great Depression in the US and so it seemed a way for me to tell a story that fitted with some of the things which were on my mind but would also provide an escape from them; a way of thinking about them which was more hopeful.
What else has happened since we last had contact eight (arrgh!) years ago?
I was living in Leiston but working at Woodbridge Library – I was there since 2002 (Halesworth was 2000-2002). I have a new job – as of 2016 I started work as the children’s stock librarian for Suffolk Libraries – which is literally one of my dream jobs; and I’ve recently finished my professional registration as a librarian.
Any risk you’ll ever move away from your native Suffolk?
I would love to live abroad for a while, and there are so many amazing places in the UK I could go to, but I would find it hard to leave Suffolk in the long term. I’d miss the skies, and there is something hard to define about knowing the lay of the land that anchors you to a place.
I lived in Liverpool for a few years when I was studying and I loved it, but coming home on the train and seeing the landscape flatten out filled me with a strong sense of having roots. Sometimes you have to leave somewhere to see it for what it is.
Can you now retire, buy a mansion and write full-time for evermore?
No. Writing is literally one of the last careers you should get into if you want to make a living from it. Like all the creative industries, you have to do it because you love it and you think you have something to offer.
According to The Society of Authors the average annual income of a professional author is around £10,500 a year – so it’s below minimum wage.
I still work full-time to pay the mortgage, but there aren’t many authors who can make a living by their writing alone, which is why festivals, school visits, creative writing workshops etc are so important.
Sometimes I do daydream about how great it would be to write full-time, but only because I would have more spare time that way. It would be a big risk to leave a secure job to be a self-employed writer, particularly this early in my career – and, anyway, I love my weekday job, so I’ve got no complaints.
Potkin and Stubbs is published by Piccadilly Press on March 7 at £6.99.