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Jenny Pearson: 'Get yourself a writing group'

BY Katie Smart
7th Mar 2019

Former Writing YA & Children's Fiction course student Jenny Pearson received a three book deal from Usborne (after an eight way auction!) for her debut middle grade novel – The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates – which went on to be nominated for the Costa Children's Book Award 2020.

Here Jenny talks about the importance of finding your writing tribe, perseverance, and what she learned from her CBC tutor Catherine Johnson.

You were a student on our Writing YA and Children’s Fiction course back in 2017 – how did your time on the course impact your approach to writing?
I cannot overstate the huge impact the course had on my writing. I learned so much. I started with a book that I thought was okay. I realised fairly quickly that it was in fact rubbish, but also learned why that was. I started to take my writing way more seriously and dedicated time to it. And I learned the value of seeking out feedback and listening to it.

What’s the most memorable piece of advice you received from your tutor Catherine Johnson?
I loved Catherine’s approach to tutoring. She is so full of energy and enthusiasm and really knows what she is talking about. She tells you how it is, which I really needed. I think all the feedback she gave me was spot on, so it is difficult to choose one piece. Perhaps what sticks out in my mind though, was something she said during our last 1:1. She told me that if it wasn’t the book I was working on, to keep on writing because she wouldn’t be surprised if I made it with another. I did NOT believe her. She turned out to be right. Again.

How does it feel now that your debut novel, The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates, has been sold to Usborne in a three-book deal?
I never thought that I’d end up in this position but it feels amazing. I am so excited to be working with Usborne. They are so enthusiastic about the book and are genuinely lovely people. I plan to MAKE them all hang out with me.

This is a different story from the novel you worked on during the course, how did you know when to start afresh? Can you tell us about the importance of perseverance as a writer?
Honestly, even though I do still love it, I think I’d got bored of working on the first novel. I learned a lot writing it but knew I could do better. So I wrote Freddie. When I had finished it I received a revise and resubmit for my first book from my magnificent agent, Sam Copeland. I managed to convince him to read Freddie instead and I’m so glad he did.

As to perseverance, I don’t think it is important, I think it’s essential. I spent a year on my first book and then only six weeks writing Freddie. Perhaps the hard work on the first book paid off in the writing of the second. Who knows? Sometimes the words come, sometimes they don’t, but showing up at the laptop each day is what gets you there in the end.

Tell us a bit more about The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates and your approach to writing humour, particularly for middle grade readers…
I’m really lucky in that as a teacher I spend my days around kids of Freddie’s age and they are genuinely hilarious. I get so many ideas listening to their conversations.

I also have a terrible habit of trying to be funny in class. There are many tumbleweed moments. I empathise with stand up comics – such a tough gig. But I have learned a bit about what kids do find funny. Funny Brexit joke – not so much, but turn up with your trousers on backwards and inside out – apparently hilarious.

Are you able to give us a peek into your thoughts on books two and three?
I’m very excited about books 2 and 3. I was so pleased both Sam and Usborne loved the ideas as much as I do. They are standalones but similar in that they have both heart and humour. I’ve almost finished my first draft of book 2.

Many of our students find writing friends for life on our courses – are you still in touch with any of your course mates?
One of the best parts of the course was finding my writing friends. There were fifteen of us when we started but now our critique group is down to a core few who I adore and would not be at this point without. They tell it how it is and are all excellent writers and I love their stories. I would not be surprised if they will be doing interviews for you soon too!

What advice would you give to aspiring children’s authors?
Back yourself.

Feedback is to make your story better not to cry over.

Read ALL the children’s books. All of them.

Hang out with kids. (But not in a way that could get you arrested).

Don’t write drunk.

Get yourself a writing group. I already have the best one but I’m sure there are others out there.

Oh and do the Curtis Brown Course and listen to Catherine Johnson because that woman is always right.

If you’re currently writing a YA or children’s novel take a look at the selective entry online course that Jenny took...