When I noticed a photo of three people in the Emirates Lit Fest email, I decided to take a closer look, on the off-chance that I’d know one of them. And I did! The two men I have no idea who they are, but the lady on the right was Rachel ‘Exploding Loos’ Hamilton. It seemed she had been at the festival, and that she’d been runner up in their writing competition. I didn’t know that! I thought Rachel ‘just’ wrote amusing books about exploding portaloos.
Which is not a bad thing. We need books like that, and she does it so well. But anyway, I immediately emailed her to demand a blog post explaining her past, her runner up status and anything else interesting. Because if it’s one thing I’ve learned, it is that exploding loos authors can be pretty entertaining on almost any subject:
“I’m Rachel Hamilton, author of The Case of the Exploding Loo – a title I’m beginning to regret now people have started to refer to me as the Exploding Toilet Lady!
There I was, minding my exploding toilets, when Bookwitch got in touch to say she’d spotted my name on the author list for the 2015 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. (A spectacular list, full of kids’ book superstars like Michael Morpurgo, David Walliams, Julia Donaldson, and . . um . . . me!?!). She asked me to write about my journey from struggling scribbler, via literature festivals and exploding toilets, to the wonderful world of published author-hood. How could I refuse a witch? She can do terrible things with that wand.
So here are the steps that helped me create my own Happily Ever After.
I got my family on side early
It’s rubbish to live with an absent-minded author – my daughter tells the story of the day she opened her school lunch box and found a sandwich and a packet of biros. So I try to make up for my frequent lapses into rubbishness by involving my family in the bits of my book journey I think they’ll enjoy. When I did my book tour I asked my drama-loving daughter to come up with a comedy routine to introduce me at each event. My computer-obsessed son helped me organise my website and blog tour. And my husband has been entertaining himself making facebook ads for my book (although he may be fired from my campaign after adding a ‘shop now’ button to the last one and accidentally linking it to the Amazon page for Veet hair removing cream!?). I grab every opportunity to tell my family how much I appreciate their support and dedicated my book to them:
I kept on writing even when I wasn’t quite sure why.
I love strange words from other languages. One of my favourites is ‘Sitzfleisch’ (literal translation, seated meat) which means the power to persevere in a sedentary activity – for example, putting your bottom on a seat and keeping it there until you’ve finished your book. I’m proud of my ‘Sitzfleisch’! I’ve heard people liken being a wannabe author to being Wile E Coyote – with obstacles being flung in your path or dropped on you from a great height – but the authors who succeed are the ones who laugh in the face of killer boulders and jagged rocky ravines, and keep on chasing that bird.dream.
I found my ‘voice’
I wasted a lot of my early writing years trying to create books for adults. But, over time it has become clear that my brain never fully matured to adulthood, so writing that kind of book always felt like hard work. It was only when I started making up silly stories for kids that my imagination and my writing really started to take off. Writing become more fun than fun, and people wanted to read what I’d written.
I found brilliant people to play at ‘book writing’ with.
Writing is often described as a solitary profession. Not for me. I drag everyone I know into the creation of my books! I kidnapped my sister Kate and my cousin Chris and forced them to rampage through the Science Museum with me for The Case of the Exploding Brains, setting off alarms as we acted out ways the bad guys might have been able to steal the museum’s moon rock. I lured all my cleverest friends and relatives into helping me solve the science problems that popped up in early drafts of both books. And I regular harass my forensic detective, policeman, explosive expert and prison officer friends to help me with fact checking.
But the most helpful ‘playmates’ of all are my kids and their friends, who act as slightly crazy guinea pigs for early versions of my books. When they laugh, I know that chapter’s a keeper. And when they start poking each other instead of listening, I know that scene has to go. I am also shameless about picking the brains of brilliant fellow children’s authors. The wonderful Tony Bradman was my hero and mentor while writing The Case of the Exploding Loo. The hilarious Tatum Flynn (author of the hellishly funny, D’Evil Diaries) was my brilliant critique partner for The Case of the Exploding Brains. And the marvellous Joe Craig very kindly allowed me to gatecrash one of his school visits to see how the professionals do it.
I got lucky
Obviously, I think my book is brilliant 😉. But there are thousands of other brilliant books sitting in cupboards or on laptops out there, so I’m very grateful for the chances I’ve been given. I was lucky enough to enter the right competition at the right time – the 2013 Emirates Festival of Literature First Fiction Competition. I didn’t even win, but as I always say (and I do mean ALWAYS, it drives my daughter mad) being runner up didn’t hurt One Direction. My entry caught the eye of the competition judge, Luigi Bonomi, who became my literary agent a couple of weeks later and within a month, he had negotiated a two book deal with Simon & Schuster! Which is why I keep telling everyone (cue: more groans and eye-rolls from my daughter), ‘I couldn’t have written myself a better happy ending.'”
There you are! I like immature people with Sitzfleisch. (And Rachel is right about the wand.)