Last week Ebony McKenna told us how she dealt with the problem of her publisher not wanting to publish more than two of four planned books. That’s getting to be a far too common problem. This week Miriam Halahmy has agreed to answer a few questions on what she did when her publisher ceased to operate, just as she was expecting to send her third novel out into the world.
“How did you start? Was it just one book at first, or did you know there would be three?
Hidden was the first Young Adult book I had ever written. Before that I had written and published short fiction and a novel for adults. But half way through writing Hidden, I became interested in the bad girl, Lindy Bellows and decided she needed her own story. This became Illegal. I decided that I wanted to continue with my novels set on Hayling Island and so Jess, the leader of the posh girl gang, moved forward in Illegal, and then Stuffed became Jess’s story, together with her boyfriend, Ryan. I call the books The Hayling Cycle and my new publisher, Albury Books, would like another. I have a very good idea and so there might be a fourth!
And what about your contract; was that for one book at a time? Did you actually have a contract or agreement that Meadowside would publish the third book in your Hayling Island cycle?
Meadowside loved Hidden and offered me a contract for that book. However, I had written Illegal and had a strong synopsis for Stuffed. They loved Illegal and liked the ideas for Stuffed and so they then offered me a three book contract which I accepted.
When, and how, did you find out that they would not be publishing Stuffed?
In September 2012, a few months after publishing Illegal, I was informed that Meadowside had been taken over by Parragon Books, the fiction list cancelled and rights for all three books would revert to me. I was devastated, as you can imagine.
Had you already written it by then? Did you ever consider giving up on Stuffed?
I had completed Stuffed and was actually working on a new novel. I had no idea what would happen to my Hayling Cycle and whether Stuffed would ever be published.
How did you set about finding a replacement publisher?
I didn’t. I felt realistically that no-one would want the third book in a cycle of three and it was also very unlikely that a publisher would take on all three books. But in June 2013, Simon Rosenheim, the former director of Meadowside, who had left before their demise, emailed me and said that he was starting his own publishing company, Albury Books, and would love to publish my books. Simon came and met me in my home. He was very keen to put the Hayling Cycle back in print, especially as Hidden had done so well. ‘I was so proud when Hidden was nominated for the Carnegie Medal,’ he told me. He also said that Stuffed would be Albury’s first unpublished book and would showcase what the publisher could offer. I was delighted to sign with my original publisher again and give my cycle a new lease of life.
Did the change delay publication of Stuffed?
Originally Meadowside were going to publish Stuffed in March 2013, a year after Illegal. Albury worked very fast and were able to publish in February 2014, only eleven months later. So yes, publication was delayed, but the end result has been amazing.
How has it been different working with a new publisher on an already established series of books?
Simon was already right behind my books as he was my original publisher. But of course there were different editors, designers, type setters, etc to work with and this was tricky at times. I was used to the way the Meadowside team worked and we had discussed the layout and design of Stuffed already and had a particular vision for it. However, Hannah Howell, Publisher Controller, and Simon worked together so well and helped me to overcome any problems. We all had the same vision. We wanted Stuffed and the other two books to be produced to the same high standard as my previous publisher so that I could be proud to promote my books and also proud to be published by Albury Books. We believe that we have achieved that.
What would you have done had Albury not stepped in? Any thoughts on self-publishing?
I was considering publishing all three as e-books. I was also looking into companies that simply printed back lists for established authors. But I have to say that my heart was not really in this because I knew how hard it would be for Stuffed to get noticed this way and very difficult for me to reach my audiences. I am very relieved that Simon contacted me and set up Albury Books.
I gather you have lots of events about to happen this year. What sort of events, and where and for what age group? What do you talk about; the books, or the kind of society that caused them to be written in the first place?
Yes, I have had a sudden wonderful resurgence of interest in Hidden and as a result have been invited to schools in Paris and Frankfurt. Also Hidden has been chosen by IBBY Ireland to feature on their website for International Children’s Day, April 2nd, as an example of multi-cultural issues in children’s books. Meanwhile, with Stuffed coming out, I have about 20 invites to schools, festivals, colleges and universities. At an author event I talk about my books, give a reading and I have adapted some of my scenes into drama scripts which the students are very keen to read out. I encourage debate, group discussion and question and answer. My books cover some of the most contentious issues in our society today and there is always a great deal to discuss.
Do you have plans for your next book yet? Can you tell us about it, or do you feel it’s better to stay quiet until a book is finished and ready to go out and meet its readers?
In the past year my book, Meet me Under the Hitler Tree, about a Far Right street group influencing a Sixth Form college, has been under submission. No takers yet and so I have written a new book with Home at its heart and that is currently being redrafted. I have an idea I am researching and will let you know as soon as I have some news.”
I’m very relieved Miriam found a solution to her problem, and that we have more books to look forward to. (Might be a good idea to buy one or several of her Hayling Island books, just to encourage her new publisher?)