Hello, Dear Readers! Thursday again and time for me to ramble on at you for a bit. Again, this is more like a series of random thoughts than a real essay, so apologies in advance.
Lately I've been thinking about the fact that I was published really young. Meeting Karen Mahoney and Lee Weatherly at the Foyles event made me realise how unusual it is for someone to get attention from a mainstream, respected publisher at the age of twenty-one with their very first completed YA novel, and to get a publishing contract at twenty-two with their second completed YA manuscript. I was incredibly lucky to have crossed the desk of my first editor, who encouraged me and offered me so much support, and incredibly lucky that he worked at Walker Books, who have a fine tradition of nurturing new talent and developing close relationships with their authors.
But it wasn't just luck. A lot of it was me; me wanting it so, so badly because the dream of being a published author felt like all I had. It was the only thing that would make everything I had gone through as a bullied outsider worthwhile, the only thing that would show everyone who'd ever picked on or mistreated me that I was a valid person, that they were wrong and I was right the whole time. The full force of my determination went into writing and trying to get published, and it left room for nothing else - not college, not looking for a satisfying job, not even much in the way of a social life. And that single-mindedness did pay off. Even though my first book (The Swan Kingdom) wasn't actually released until I was twenty-four, I had a publishing contract by the age of twenty-two. I had, I felt at the time, WON.
Here's a hint to my past self: You really haven't. Sorry.
I'm proud of The Swan Kingdom. In fact, I'm proud of all the books I've written, in different ways and for different reasons. Each story and each set of characters represents something important to me, challenges that I set for myself, whether I was entirely successful in meeting them or not.
But there's no escaping the fact that being published young - and having spent so much of my life up until that point focusing exclusively on writing - had a huge effect on the quality of my debut and my early work. I'm not like Veronica Roth or Sarah Rees Brennan or Rae Carson. My first book wasn't a storming, ground-breaking piece of fiction that astonished commentors could hardly believe was a debut. It was a quiet, sweet little story that a lot of people liked, but which didn't give much of a hint as to the stories I would be producing in the future.
My courage, my craft, my perspective on humans and their relationships, my awareness of diversity... these things have gotten better with each book I've published. And as a result, each book I've written has been just a bit better than the one before. I know this. I know it in my heart and I know it because everyone tells me so. It's one of the comments that I see all the time - on Goodreads or on review blogs. 'This author just keeps getting better and better'. When reviewers, your editor, even your mum agrees, you get the message. And I'm really happy this is the case.
But developing like this - in public, with every reader as a witness to your progress - is tough. Sometimes looking back at decisions made in previous books makes me cringe. When I see reviewers pointing out the same old problems with my earlier books that I've seen mentioned in a dozen reviews before, sometimes I want to crawl into a hole. How could I have let the book go out like that? Why didn't I see those problems at the time it went out? Am I going to have to regret that for the rest of my career? I'm not going to list all the flaws that I (and everyone) can see in my own work here, but suffice it to say that if I could write The Swan Kingdom and Daughter of the Flames all over again *now* they would be vastly different books.
In fact, they wouldn't be The Swan Kingdom and Daughter of the Flames at all.
Because I couldn't write The Swan Kingdom now. I couldn't write Daughter of the Flames. I'm a different person and a different writer. The books might have the same titles (or maybe not even that!) and be based on the same fairytale or original ideas, but they would not be the same books. Those characters and their choices would be, most probably, unrecognisable. The way I would write them would be unrecognisable.
Would I feel better about them right now if they were in that form? Most probably.
But what about in ten years time?
In ten years time maybe I'd be cringing over them in exactly the same way. Just because they'd be more acceptable to the current me, that doesn't mean that the me five or ten years from now wouldn't find loads of mistakes and flaws there. Just because I'm a better writer now, that doesn't mean I'm the best I'll ever be. What a horrible thought!
And what's more, if The Swan Kingdom - with all its many flaws - hadn't been written, and accepted, and come out when it did back in 2007, would I have ever have written Daughter of the Flames at all? Without the mistakes I made writing Daughter of the Flames (which haunted me, and haunt me still ) would I really have had the courage and maturity to write Shadows on the Moon, the book that ripped me to pieces and left me a totally different writer then I was before? Without the new confidence that came from writing Shadows on the Moon, would I have been able to produce FrostFire, the book which my editor (and my mum!) tells me is my best work to date?
We all suck now in comparison to our future selves. Of course we do. I thought I was pretty hot stuff when I first managed to create a shortcut on my desktop without messing up, or the first time I successfully boiled dried pasta without it sticking to the bottom of the pan. Those achievements were vital at the time. I couldn't get anywhere until I'd managed them. They pushed me onto more ambitious next steps. But looking back NOW, of course they seem simple and small in comparison to making and maintaining my own website, or cooking a five course Christmas dinner for my family.
The trick is to realise that the mistakes you made in the past are equally small in comparison to the things you can achieve right now. That the mistakes you make now are small compared you what you will be able to do in the future.
So yes, I sucked in the past. I suck now. And I will suck in the future. But who cares? Because I also did amazing - really amazing! - things in the past too. I got published before I was twenty-five! And I'm doing exciting, challenging things now; I've only just turned thirty and I already have four books out! And I will carry on doing great things in the future. No matter what mistakes I've made and am making and will make.
No matter what.
Spending time regretting the past? Wishing things had been different? Asking 'What if'? Well, it might be irresistable. But the very best way to make sure that you don't spend your entire life looking back over your shoulder wishing the past had been different is to do the best you can - the most courageous, scary, strange and YOU that you can - right now. None of us will ever be flawless or produce anything flawless, and accepting that is the only way to keep moving forward.
I suck. You suck. Everyone sucks. And that is a wonderful thing.