That moment for me was in July last year. I was feeling stuck in a rut as far as the children's stories were concerned. You see, I'd had what had seemed to be an amazing opportunity – but it had slipped away.
Some time ago, when I was trying to see if my Terrible Twos columns could be worked into a book, I'd had an introduction via a friend of a friend to a wonderful lady. As a part time literary agent, she had agreed to represent me. When I wrote The Invisible Cat (as it was called then) she sent it to the Editorial Director at Puffin.
The email that eventually came back said she liked the story very much, but really they were looking for ideas with series potential. Nevertheless she agreed to meet me.
Wow. How many people does that happen to?! Because of her hectic schedule, there were about six weeks between receiving the email and actually going in. Right, I thought, that should be enough time to illustrate the potential for a series of books.
In the time I had, I wrote five more stories. The transition from one story to many necessitated the naming of the cat, of course, and when I sat down to consider what a good name for an invisible cat would be, it seemed obvious straight away.
The invisible cat was based on my daughter Ava's own imaginary cat, so the cat was essentially an extension of her (or rather, they were one and the same). My nickname for Ava (please don't ask me why, I honestly don't know) was Squishy McFluffy. And having pretty quickly ascertained that more things would rhyme with McFluff than with McFluffy, the cat was christened.
I went to the meeting with an arm full of stories and a heart full of hope. It was a good meeting, she told me about what she felt was really working in children's picture books, and she promised to read what I had taken.
And then… nothing.
Many months went by (and many emails were sent, by me). Everything came to a complete standstill. Obviously, Squishy McFluff had not hit the mark with Puffin. I felt gutted at having come so close. But no cigar.
Having accepted that it just wasn't meant to be (and having already researched self publishing), I decided to seek out some support and advice from an online forum.
And that's when my moment happened. I Googled, and of all the the writing communities that popped up, I clicked on The Word Cloud, run by The Writers' Workshop. It was while exploring the main site I noticed a little green advert for something called The Greenhouse Funny Prize. I clicked the link, I read the rules, I noticed there were about 10 days before the competition deadline.
I pondered it for an evening and asked Dan if the stories were funny enough (he said they were, but I couldn't help feeling he may be a little biased). I read and re-read them and thought, well why not? They were all just sitting there, after all. I only had to format the synopses and write the blurbs. It took me an hour, I pinged them all over. And then instantly regretted it. Oh no! How desperate did that look?! Sending six! I should have just picked one. I cringed at myself.
Then having submitted them all I looked in more detail at The Greenhouse's website. It appeared, as a rule, they did not represent picture book authors. Neither did they represent poetry. And one of the judges, Leah Thaxton – who was Publishing Director at Egmont at the time – had discovered Andy Stanton's Mr Gum. Oh, lordy.
I don't know if you have read any Mr Gum books, but they are seriously funny. I mean, there are bits of those books which have literally had me crying with laughter.
McFluff is completely different, of course, but I think I decided right then I shouldn't get my hopes up. I forgot all about the competition. Chalk that up, I thought.
But a few weeks later, I got one of the best calls of my life. I was told Squishy had been shortlisted, but then to discover he had won, well, I couldn't believe it.
The prize was a ticket to the Writers' Workshop Festival of Writing and, best of all, representation by Julia Churchill who would, within two months, secure me a four-book deal with Faber and Faber.
I am VERY lucky, I know how lucky I am. Squishy McFluff needed a little serendipity and although I didn't know it was happening at the time, there was one moment, one perfect moment, when I could have looked at a different website – but didn't.
What happened with Squishy McFluff shows that, whatever you write and however good it is, not everyone will love it. Certainly some people will say it's 'not quite for me'. But you only need one person to love it, the right person at the right time. It can, and does, happen.
The Greenhouse Funny Prize is back in 2013, by the way. Julia will be offering up details some time soon, and I'll share them here too. So if you write funny fiction for children, in whatever guise, consider entering. Hitting 'send' might be your perfect moment!
Next blog post, I'll tell you about how I received the offer from Faber and Faber, and then I can get right up to date and stop talking in the past tense. In the meantime, Happy New Year!