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26 October 2021

Tasha Harrison: ‘Having support from other writers who know what you’re going through is a godsend’

by Katie Smart Author Interviews, From Our Students, Writing Tips

Tasha Harrison studied on our Writing YA & Children’s Fiction course in 2016. Now she has an exciting book deal with UCLan for her debut middle grade book Clementine Florentine, to be published January 2022.

Read on to hear all about Tasha’s time studying with us and her approach to writing appealing fiction for younger readers…

You studied on our Writing YA & Children’s Fiction course in 2016. How did your time on the course impact your approach to writing?

I’d had agents in the past, and even been on submission before but it didn’t work out, so after taking some time to figure out a way forward, I decided to invest in a CBC writing course and hopefully strengthen my writing skills further. I knew that my next manuscript needed to be super-strong, watertight, bulletproof! So I wanted to find out what my weaknesses were and learn things that perhaps I’d missed along the way. Having feedback from an award-winning author, advice from publishing professionals and other writers’ constructive criticism gave me a lot to think about and definitely helped me strengthen the MS I was working on, as well as my query pitch.

What was the best piece of advice you received from tutor Catherine Johnson during the course?

I’d originally written my comedy manuscript, The Reinvention of Rolo Rawlings, for adults, not kids. I was hoping it would attract readers of all ages, like Adrian Mole did in its day. My application for the adult course was rejected on the grounds that my MS was a better fit with the teen market and I was invited to reapply for the children’s and YA online course instead. If I didn’t even know what market I was writing for, I clearly needed help! One of the first things Catherine advised me to do was make up my mind whether I was writing for teenagers or adults, as I still wasn’t fully convinced that I couldn’t have it both ways! Next she advised me to reconsider my 1980s setting and rewrite it in the present day instead. I had doubts about both these suggestions – particularly letting go of the 80s, as I thought I’d lose a lot of the humour. (Why? I have no idea.) But of course, Catherine’s advice was spot on and I’m so glad I listened to her. My story eventually found its feet again, I developed a deeper understanding of what makes strong writing, and The Reinvention of Rolo Rawlings went on to find me a fabulous agent in Lauren Gardner at Bell Lomax Moreton, as well as make the shortlist for the Bath Novel Awards 2017.

Many of our students form writing support groups. Are you still in touch with any of your course mates?

Yes, a number of our group are still in touch on social media. We regularly compare notes and cheer each other on, commiserating over disappointments and celebrating triumphs big and small. Having support from other writers who know what you’re going through is a godsend!

Your debut novel Clementine Florentine is to be published by UCLan next year. The novel’s eponymous character is a budding poet who has lost her poetry mojo. Can you tell us a bit more about the novel and the inspiration behind Clementine?

While Rolo Rawlings didn’t find a publisher, it did receive a lot of positive feedback, with one editor suggesting I try writing for the middle grade market. So I started thinking it would be fun to write about a cheeky, confident ten-year-old with a passion for poetry, whose self-confidence takes a nosedive when she loses a school poetry competition. While the characters were starting to develop in my head, we went on a family camping holiday and the people in the next tent were playing Billy Idol’s greatest hits. I found myself imagining Billy Idol being Clem’s neighbour from down the road! Billy gradually morphed into Lyn Ferno, ageing punk legend who knows a thing or two about writing lyrics and believing in yourself. When Clem realises her dad is dating Mel, the mother of her poetry rival, Callum, she decides this ‘bad romance’ needs extinguishing asap and she persuades Callum to help her split their parents up. However, new neighbour Lyn Ferno soon makes her see things in a different light, and she realises she must undo the damage she’s caused before it’s too late. As well as exploring themes of facing changes, self-esteem, making mistakes and making amends, the story is full of funny poems, animal misbehaviour and a good dollop of punk attitude!

What advice do you have for writers currently creating an original character to appeal to younger readers?

I think for a character to feel original and authentic, you have to explore their personality until you feel you know them inside and out. What’s their favourite flavour crisps? What TV show do they hate? What ornaments sit on their bedroom shelves? I also think it helps if they have a ‘thing’. Clem’s main thing is poetry. She also collects toy hedgehogs and has her own unique dress sense. Her sister Lottie’s main thing is Taekwondo. Her dad’s thing is music – particularly punk rock.

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

Complicated! It’s very stop/start. I work as a copywriter and developmental fiction editor, so priorities change from day to day. One day I’m working on a campaign strapline, the next I’m working on a structural edit of a manuscript. On the one hand, the variety keeps my writing brain on its toes – on the other, it’s hard to get momentum going with my own writing. And working from home means there’s usually a teenager wandering around singing a TV jingle at top volume (as per right now) or a dog barfing all over the sofa (last week, two-hour clean-up job, and an uncanny moment of life imitating art)!

What words of wisdom would you like to share with the aspiring authors reading this?

My agent gave me some golden advice, which I find particularly helpful as a comedy writer: LET RIP! In an early draft of Clementine she felt I was holding back a little. I was, as I wasn’t sure how far I could go with a middle grade audience. So when she told me to ‘let rip’, I felt I was being given permission to just be me and go for it. She said it was better to have it on the page and edit it out later if need be. But if you don’t put it on the page in the first place, how will you ever know?

Clementine Florentine is available now for pre-order.

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