Interview with Megan Peel – Author of The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair

I am delighted to welcome Megan Peel to Bookbabblers today. Megan has answered a few questions for us here…

Tell us a bit about yourself:
I live in the Yorkshire Dales, with my husband who is also a writer, our giant white dog, two cats we fished out of a dustbin in Greece, and our one year old daughter (fondly known as ‘stunt baby’ due to her penchant for climbing improbable bits of furniture.) I juggle writing children’s books and motherhood, with working freelance in advertising. Sometimes the juggling gets too complicated, and I drop things, hopefully not the baby…

Please tell us about The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair and your inspiration for the book:
The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair is a comic adventure for seven to eleven year olds (although I am never sure about putting ages on books, as reading confidence and tastes vary so greatly from child to child). It tells the tale of a boy called Bruno with a rare talent for musical “phartling”, who gets kidnapped by an ancient secret society known as the Knights Trumplar. In one sense, the inspiration for the book was simple: a real life musical phartle performed by an old friend of mine. However, what starts off as a fairly straightforward gag soon unspools into a rollercoaster adventure of surreal proportions, taking in a school full of spoilt celebrity’s children; a mysterious alpine kingdom; undercover secret agents disguised as Hollywood film stars; a talking parrot and a dare-devil rescue operation. Believe it or not, a lot of the inspiration for these elements came from events or characters from my own childhood, transported into a new context. When my mum read the book, she kept sending me random texts like: “Oh my God, you’ve included the origami loo paper from that posh Swiss hotel we stayed in when you were eight!”

The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair is your first novel, what was your road to publication like?
In a word, bumpy. I’ve wanted to be an author since childhood, but it wasn’t until my late twenties, that I got round to actually sitting down at a desk and writing a book from start to finish, (and, there it is, the one big secret to becoming a writer). The first novel I wrote was for adults, and it was the typical first book: confessional and a bit embarrassing. I sent it out in brown envelopes and very nearly got an agent for it, but I am glad that I didn’t, as had it actually been published, I would now have to run round trying to buy back every copy so I could put them on the compost heap. I started writing The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair about three years later and it took about another three years to finish a first draft as I was trying to fit in writing around a full time job in advertising. When I eventually had something I was happy-ish with, I bought a copy of the Children’s Writers & Artists Yearbook, and sent it out to a selection of agents, and… got a lot of rejections. Some of them quite nasty! I had lost hope completely, when months later I got an answerphone message from Jo Unwin at Conville & Walsh, to say that she had joined the agency as the new children’s agent, found my manuscript on her desk and loved it. As soon, as I had Jo on my side, I began to feel a glimmer of hope that the book might finally get published. Jo was a very hand’s on agent, (I say ‘was’ because she has since left the agency to work as the deputy publishing director of Doubleday), and we worked on the book together for about a year, before she sent it out to publishers. Thankfully, after all that hard work, two publishers really liked it and wanted to take it on. I chose Walker Books, because of their rich history, and because I think they make books that are beautiful objects as well as doing a fantastic job of editing.

What are you working on now?
I am working on another comic adventure for the same age group. It’s not a sequel, (I think I’ve stretched the phartling joke as far as it can possibly be stretched…), but it does share my first book’s sense of irreverence. It tells the story of a boy named Tom Paine and his quest to discover the ‘rarest rude word in the world’. It features a fashion loving dictator called General Bling; kung fu fighting Monkey monks and elephants in leg warmers, and that is all I can say at the moment, as I am just about to send it to my editor!

Do you have any tips for budding writers?
There are only two secrets I know of: read… and write. The hardest bit is having the discipline to keep at it. So many people have ideas for stories, but it’s the ability to keep going back to your desk, day after day, and wrestling the words from out of your brain and down onto the paper, until eventually you can write ‘the end’, that really counts. One thing that can help a lot is joining a local writer’s group where you will have regular deadlines to share work for feedback. Another thing, I would highly recommend is going on an Arvon course – that’s the best way I know to recharge your creative batteries, after a long period of ‘not writing’.

What do you like to do when not writing?
I love to garden, it’s the perfect antidote to long hours staring at a computer. As well as growing our own fruit and vegetables, my husband and I are working with the local conservation organisation to turn the fields around our farmhouse back into wildflower meadows, to feed our six hives of honeybees. We are also organising a new festival called Niddfest to celebrate nature in writing, for adults and children, which will take place in Nidderdale next summer, so that keeps us very busy!

Thank Megan!

Look out for my review of The Fabulous Phartlehorn Affair, which is coming up soon.