We’re super excited to have a guest blog from Domique Valente, author of spellbinding new fantasy series Starfell which we’re pretty sure fans of Cressida Cowell and Nevermoor will LOVE!
Find out how a pact Dominique made with herself as a child led her to become an author…
Books have been the great love of my life since I can remember, and as soon as I realised that books were written by actual people I knew that this was what I was going to do – it was a kind of soul pact I made with myself. I started scribbling away soon after. I’d love to say that I took to it easily and that the words flowed like wine and everyone praised these efforts – but they did not. My teachers praised others, a lot. And I was frequently left staring at my work and my mediocre marks, thinking… how could I up the ante? This probably explains an old poem I came across in a rather hilarious diary (written when I was eleven), which begins, ‘As I walked down the dismal road of doom…’
Still, no one said I should stop, and that was enough. But, call it sheer stupidity or determination (depending on the day), I kept at it, graduating to really silly stories and sillier poems. By the time I entered high school, some of the praise – which till then was firmly the reserve of others – shifted a little on to me, and every year some of these stories were placed in the school yearbook, which was in my mind the highest honour known to mankind.
After university I became a journalist, which really helped my writing – there’s nothing quite like a busy newsroom and editors with zero-tolerance policies for sentimentality for learning how to write. From this I developed a really thick skin, or at least a thicker one. Considering mine was tissue paper, this was a good thing. My grammar improved too, which was an even better thing.
Still, that little nine-year-old voice that believed I would write a book someday persisted, and I started writing the world of Starfell as an escape from the newsroom. I have a well-defined funny bone and a quirky side that, alas, always gets in the way when I wish to write something ‘literary’.
The character of Willow Moss appeared around eight years ago. She popped into my head while I was driving home from work and thinking about the idea that so many fantasy stories feature ‘the chosen one’ – the lost princess who must save the kingdom, or the only one with magic in a thousand years who must save the world – and in some ways it annoyed me, because even in my own mind I couldn’t relate. It was like the equivalent of being a supermodel – or the idea of ‘who you were in a past life’. When asked, everyone always seems to believe they were a king or a queen, but chances are, most likely, you were not. There’s a high probability that you were some kind of serving maid…Someone had to have the job. And, while I was thinking this, the character of Willow Moss, age twelve, with the worst magical ability in her family…appeared.
I started writing it the next day. I don’t know what it is about less ‘perfect’ characters – perhaps it’s that I relate more – but they have enormous appeal. It’s probably why I have always liked the witches and hags in fairy tales more than the princesses.
In a flurry of excitement, I shared my first chapter with my best friend, who was incredibly kind and supportive and had a field day fixing all my appalling grammar. (I aim to please.) One of these corrections was a query about a misplaced comma, which made it appear that, amongst misplaced wallets and wooden teeth, Willow had also found last Tuesday. Was this what I intended, my friend asked? Of course not, I answered. A missing day? How absurd . . . Only to sit up (three years later) while on holiday in France, realising that actually THAT could be the ENTIRE plot for book one! It was kind of a Eureka moment while I was trying to have a nap and my brain had other ideas.
It took a further four years to really get to grips with the plot and what losing a day would mean. It got a lot of agent rejections. But I kept trying, and kept redrafting. It got to the point where I didn’t think it would ever get a deal. I wrote a different novel – for adults, under a pen name – and that landed a deal, and then I wrote five more, and suddenly I had this whole other career writing women’s fiction. Some days it actually felt like my pen-name alter ego was mocking me. As there would be a rejection for me, there would be a new deal for her. But still, even so, I couldn’t quite let Starfell go, and finally, last year, I redrafted it again and suddenly got an agent (the best one ever) after seven years of hearing ‘no’. Seven publishers offered to publish it at the same time – one for each year, maybe? I am not the kind of person who cries when I’m happy…but I did then.
I think one of the things I learnt early is that if you keep going, and you keep trying to get better, you can get there in the end. And while there were many who thought that I should probably give up, myself included, who labelled the whole thing stupidity, it’s funny how when it finally happened everyone started calling it determination instead. Fine line? Sure. But only writers get to create the ending for themselves.