Sam Pollen took one of our creative writing courses in London, back in Spring 2013 (in fact it was the very first time we’d run a 6-month novel-writing course). Now he has a deal with Bonnier in the US for The Year I Didn’t Eat, his first novel for 10-14-year-olds, with publication set for Spring 2019. We talked to Sam about the book and how he came to write it …
It’s really tough to set aside a novel you’ve worked hard on and move on to the next one. Could you tell us why you decided to park the novel you were writing when you studied with us?
When I did the course, back in 2013, I was working on an adult novel. Literary-ish. And though there was plenty I liked about the story, I ultimately realised it wasn’t ‘special’ – it didn’t feel like a story only I could tell. So I started writing something I felt more connected to.
How did you settle on writing The Year I Didn’t Eat? What was it that made you feel so much more connected to this story?
The Year I Didn’t Eat is about a 14-year-old boy who has anorexia – something I have experience with, and something which hasn’t been written about very often. Being a teenager is hard, and having a mental health problem is hard, and thousands of people end up dealing with both at the same time. Frankly, it sucks. So I wanted to write a relatable, funny, serious book for people in that situation, and for those around them.
How did you find the shift to writing for a teen audience – did it feel like a big step-change?
Honestly, no. I’ve always written in a fairly conversational style, which suited this book. And while the subject matter is obviously very relevant to a teenager, I didn’t try to write it in a “teen-friendly” way. To be honest, I think that would be annoying for everyone, not least teenagers.
Did it take a long time to write the book? And did your agent work editorially with you before sending it out?
It took me about a year to write the book. When I was happy, I sent it out to a few agents. I’d already been in touch with Alice Sutherland-Hawes via Twitter, and she’d told me that she was interested in reading it when I finished. Luckily, she liked the end product, and after talking a little about the direction she wanted to take it in, I signed with her. We did one round of edits before sending the book out to publishers.
Any particularly valuable lessons you’ve learned as a writer, so far?
My day job is as a copywriter, and I think it’s taught me some practical essentials:
Firstly, how to write to a deadline. At work, I don’t have the luxury of navel-gazing, or fiddling with things endlessly. This has stood me in good stead.
Secondly, I’m used to dealing with feedback, and finding another way to do something that isn’t working. This is very useful for the editorial process.
And what’s next for you – are you currently working on a new project?
I am. Two projects, actually – for different age groups. Both are at fairly early stages of development, so I’m afraid I can’t say much more than that …
Sam Pollen studied on one of our London-based novel-writing courses. To find out more about the next 3-month novel-writing course, with Charlotte Mendelson, click here
You can study with us online, from anywhere in the world, on the 3-month online novel-writing course, with Suzannah Dunn
If you want to write for children or young adults, as Sam is now doing, take a look at our 3-month online course with Catherine Johnson