Gianna Pollero took our online Writing YA & Children’s Fiction course in 2016. Now she has a three-book deal with Piccadilly Press, an imprint of Bonnier. Her debut middle grade novel Monster Doughnuts will be illustrated by Sarah Horne and published in August 2021.
We caught up with Gianna to find out more about her time studying with us and discover how her daughter inspired her to write Monster Doughnuts …
You worked on your debut novel during our Writing YA & Children’s Fiction course in 2016 – how did the course change your approach to writing?
The course helped me so much. Having a really great mentor and feedback from all my course mates made a huge difference to the way I approached writing because I started to see things from a different perspective. I’d never had anyone properly critique my work before so the comments really highlighted my strengths and weaknesses, which I then worked on as much as possible.
The course definitely gave me more confidence in myself as a writer and also totally cemented the aspiration to pursue my dream of becoming a children’s author.
Many writers find a group of trusted readers on our courses, are you still in touch with any of your course mates?
Absolutely! I’m in touch with several of my course mates, who have continued to be an invaluable source of help and support. In fact, in February, I had a long weekend dedicated to writing (and the odd glass of wine) in Ireland, with two of them!
I’m delighted a number of them have also had success in finding agents and publishers too.
Your debut novel Monster Doughnuts will be published by Piccadilly Press as part of an exciting three-book deal. How did you feel when you found out that you were going to be a published novelist?
I know it’s a predictable answer but it was honestly a dream come true. It’s still surreal when I think about it and I’m not sure it’ll sink in fully even when I’m holding a real copy of my book, in a real book shop! I feel so lucky and so grateful for the opportunity and to be able to say I have achieved a dream I’ve had since being about ten years old!
Monster Doughnuts is a middle grade story following 10-year-old Grace who uses doughnuts as her secret weapon to hunt monsters. Can you tell us a bit more about your debut, and the inspiration behind it?
The inspiration for Monster Doughnuts came from my daughter, Sophia. It started when she came up with the idea of one of the book’s main characters, a ruthless, doughnut-loving, board game-playing cyclops called Mr Harris.
I asked her lots of questions about the character and a story started to grow around him. I based a lot of Grace’s character on my daughter – they’re both feisty and brave, but clever and kind too.
The story follows ten-year-old Grace and her older sister, Danni. Ever since their parents’ mysterious disappearance the sisters have been running the family bakery, Cake Hunters. Their cakes and doughnuts are the best in town – but don’t be fooled, the shop is just a front for the sisters’ much more important trade! Grace and Danni come from a long line of monster hunters, and their amazing cakes are renowned for defeating all kinds of monsters, from Sock Stealers to Snot-nosed Ogres.
But when they come across Mr Harris – a doughnut-loving cyclops – the sisters realise they’re about to face their biggest challenge yet. Mr Harris is one tough cookie. He’s incredibly grumpy, quite people-eaty and not very good at keeping promises. But every monster has a sweet tooth, and resisting the Hunter sisters’ marvellous concoctions is no easy task.
When Grace discovers Mr Harris has information about her missing parents, she knows she has to find a way to gain his trust, and rescue her mum and dad from their extraordinary location.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I tend to write mostly in the evenings so, usually, it involves a lot of coffee and more biscuits than it should! I always start by re-reading the chapter I have written most recently to get me straight back into the story. I tend to work in short bursts as it seems to keep my writing fresher.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors work on children’s fiction?
So much you could be here all day! The main points, I think, are:
Write as much as you can and try lots of different material but always make it something you enjoy writing about.
Ask for opinions from people who will be honest, particularly those in the writing community themselves.
Research the agents you plan to approach. Choose those who like, and are looking for, the sort of material you write. Keep your cover email letter short but informative!
And don’t, under any circumstances, give up! It took me three novels, several years and countless approaches to find my agent but it was absolutely worth it. She completely ‘gets’ my writing and couldn’t be more supportive or helpful. I am now very lucky to be able to say exactly the same thing about my editor at Piccadilly Press.
Finally, what’s next for your writing journey?
I’m currently writing book two in the Monster Doughnuts series so that is keeping me very busy for the time being. The first book is out in August 2021, the second in February in 2022 and the third in August 2022 so I think the journey is going to be a very exciting one!
I’m very lucky to have Sarah Horne illustrating the stories and I can’t wait to see them come to life in her amazing drawings.