Jack Meggitt-Phillips was studying on our three-month novel-writing course in London this time last year. Now he is our 73rd student with a major publishing deal! Jack is author of The Beast and the Bethany, a middle-grade children’s book set to be published by Egmont in Autumn 2020.
We caught up with Jack to talk beasts, books and his approach to writing …
Your debut novel The Beast and the Bethany will be published by Egmont in 2020, and it is set to be their biggest new fiction title for the Frankfurt Book Fair 2019. How did it feel when you found out about your book deal?
I’m still somewhat flabbergasted.
I’ve always struggled to get my mother to read my books, let alone anyone else. I believe my reaction upon receiving the call comprised a mixture of screaming, whooping, dancing, and shouting ‘Huzzah!’ at the top of my voice.
I wasn’t popular with my neighbours; however, I’m thrilled to say that mother has now started the book.
Can you tell us a bit more about the world of The Beast and the Bethany, which will be the first book in a three-part series?
It’s a world much like our own, except there are parrots who sing songs like Elvis, and beasts who like to spend their afternoon devouring children with snotty noses.
The first book tells the story of Ebenezer Tweezer – a youthful 511-year old. He keeps a beast in the attic of his mansion who he feeds all manner of things (performing monkeys, pet cats, the occasional cactus), and in return the beast vomits out presents for Ebenezer, as well as potions which keep him young and beautiful.
The beast grows ever greedier, and soon, only a nice juicy child will do. Enter Bethany…
You studied with us last year on our three-month novel-writing course in London, what’s one piece of advice you received during the course that you’ve carried forward into your writing routine?
Probably the most useful was to think about plot and story as separate entities. Plot is what happens, and story is what the book is actually about.
For instance, it might seem like The Beast and Bethany is a horrifying, trauma-inducing book about a beast and its unwitting meals, but really it’s about … no, it pretty much is that actually.
Many of our students find their writing community during their time with us, are you still in touch with any of your course mates?
Very much so. We meet every month and shout at each other over mountains of snacks and rivers of wine. Sometimes we even talk about our writing.
Your debut is for a middle grade audience (age 8-12) and the novel you worked on during the course was for adults (although, it was still full of your trademark wit and humour) – what inspired you to switch gears and write for younger readers?
Truth be told, the book I was working on during the course sort of collapsed at the seams. The characters weren’t behaving themselves, the plot was becoming increasingly silly, and my interest in the thing was wilting faster than a mouldy cabbage.
I started The Beast and the Bethany on Boxing Day as a belated Christmas present to myself because I wanted to have some fun writing again, and because the idea had been scratching away in the back of my brain for a while. I’ve now buried that other book in the back garden.
The extract featured in the Bookseller showcases how fantastic you are at creating believable and distinct character voices. Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to create compelling dialogue?
You’re far too kind. Read everything out loud would be my advice. It’s much easier to spot mistakes, or poor characterisation, or the dreaded clunky sentence when you say it aloud.
Finally, what’s next for you and your writing journey?
I’m currently working on the sequel. And then after that, the beast, the Bethany, Ebenezer and I are going to have a long, serious think about what we can try and get away with for the next book.
I’m also about halfway through planning out the next series of the History of Advertising Podcast, with the History of Advertising Trust.
If you’re currently writing a novel – and want to study with us like Jack – applications are open now for our three-month novel-writing course in London led by Charlotte Mendelson. Or, our three-month online novel-writing course taught by Suzannah Dunn.
We also run six-week online courses designed to help writers at different stages of their novel-writing journey: Starting to Write Your Novel, Write to the End of Your Novel and Edit & Pitch Your Novel.