What first got you into writing books?
At the age of 6, I wrote a poem called ‘Aston Villa, We Love You’ (don’t judge me) which was one of the winners in a county children’s poetry competition. At the prize-giving ceremony, Brian Cant - YES, BRIAN CANT - read it out to the audience, everyone clapped and the buzz of glory blew my tiny mind. I was hooked.
I’ve always loved the way that reading a book can take you to a new place, inspire you or move you. As well as voraciously reading every novel I could get my hands on, I have written continuously since that first Aston Villa poem: stories, bad sixth-form poetry, endless lovestruck diary entries etc. It wasn’t until my first job in publishing, that I really got to grips with what being an author actually meant though. One of my many tasks was to go through the disparagingly named ‘slush pile’ - the mountain of manuscripts and hopeful letters that arrived through the post - and basically reject every single one.
Despite realising just how few manuscripts reached publication via this route (I would say one or two of the thousands I read during my five years working in Editorial), I was not put off, and picked up plenty of useful tips, namely: get a literary agent to represent you if you want to be taken seriously. Be ruthless about cutting all the boring bits out of your story. Grow a thick skin and prepare to experience rejection - then pick yourself up and try again. Above all, don’t be rude to the lowliest member of the editorial team or expect your name to appear in massive gold letters on the front of your book, and definitely don’t try to cop off with staff at the author Christmas party (oh, the stories I could tell…)
Have you studied writing at any point?
Yes, I have taken a few script-writing courses and workshops (I would love to write for TV one day) as well as a ‘Write A Novel in a Year’ evening class. While I wouldn’t say everyone can necessarily become an author from attending a course, you can certainly hone your skill and learn a lot about characterisation, plotting and pace. For me, taking the evening class meant that I had to produce a new piece of writing every week and (terrifyingly) have my fellow students read it and comment on it. Before this class, I’d had lots of children’s books published but never a full-length novel. I was so inspired, I wrote my first Lucy Diamond book in eight months.
When did you decide to adopt a pseudonym?
I have many pseudonyms! I have written quite a few children’s series under my real name, Sue Mongredien, but have also contributed to other series, such as the bestselling Rainbow Magic books (written by ‘Daisy Meadows’ - ie about five different authors) and the Secret Kingdom series (as ‘Rosie Banks’) among others. (These have very much been ‘commissioned jobs’ rather than my own creations - the publishers like to have one name on a series like this regardless of how many writers they use so that the books can be shelved together in shops.)
When it came to sending out my first full-length novel, my agent suggested using a pseudonym to keep it distinct from my children’s books. During our conversation, I mentioned that I’d just written a book called ‘Lucy the Diamond Fairy’ (as Daisy Meadows) and he said, “Lucy Diamond could be a good pen name...” and that was that. The publishers loved it as they could make all sorts of puns with the surname (“A gem of a book…” “Sparkling prose” etc) - and also (top tip) if you’re going to choose a pen name, it makes sense to have the surname beginning with a letter higher up the alphabet. (This is because booksellers shelve their titles alphabetically and customers tend to begin their browsing with the A-surnames. If your surname begins with a Z, you could be overlooked!)
What are your favourite things about working at The Guild?
It’s great having people to chat to over a cup of tea or lunch, and I love hearing about what everyone else is working on. I find I concentrate and knuckle down much better in the office there too, as I’m not wafting around at home, sorting out laundry or plain old skiving off. And I actually love walking into town to work, just like a normal person with an actual job.
What big thing are you working on in 2014?
Daringly - or foolishly, I’m not yet sure - I’ve agreed to write two Lucy Diamond books AND a new Christmas novella this year. Each novel is about 110,000 words, and the novella about 25,000, so it adds up to a lot of writing. Book one is done and edited, and will be out in January 15. The Christmas novella is just about in the bag, and will be published digitally in November this year. And now I’m working on novel number 12, a big juicy book for next summer. Wish me luck...
To check out Sue’s work go to http://www.lucydiamond.co.uk/ and www.suemongredien.co.uk Her latest Lucy Diamond book is called ‘One Night In Italy’ and is out in paperback on June 5th. Her new children’s book, ‘Harry And The Monster’ is also out in paperback the same day.