My Editing Journey (‘Writing is rewriting’) by Helen Lipscombe

Milly yearns to dance like her ballerina mum – but during the biggest performance of her life, she messes up and her mum disappears. Six months on, Milly receives an unexpected invitation to join the Swan House School of Ballet. Thrilled, Milly accepts, only to find that Swan House is no ordinary ballet school: it’s a ballet school for spies. Can her new skills help her discover the truth about her mother’s vanishing act

PERIL EN POINTE is Ballet Shoes meets Murder Most Unladylike with a fun, contemporary twist.

My Editing Journey (‘Writing is rewriting’)
by Helen Lipscombe

Me: It all started with a story about a boy called Arthur . . .
You: But isn’t Peril En Pointe a story about a girl called Milly?
Me: Yep.
Me: Low moaning sound.

PERIL EN POINTE started life as a story called Memory Boy. The protagonist was Arthur, a ten-year-old savant who is unable to forget anything he sees or learns, making him the perfect witness to a crime. Alas, the (hapless) secret agent assigned to interview him, was seventeen-year-old Millicent Kydd. She rudely interrupted Arthur in chapter two, sabotaged the plot in chapter three, and proceeded to take over the book and my life.
That was six years ago and about five thousand words in. A year later, thanks to The Golden Egg Academy’s Imogen Cooper, my manuscript was with Chicken House and they were interested. I was in shock.
‘We love it, but it needs a bit of a rethink,’ they said.
They were very kind. Their tone was gentle. ‘Fine,’ I said. ‘That doesn’t sound so bad. What kind of a rethink?’
‘Well, Milly’s too old,’ they said.
I sighed. Imogen Cooper had said the same thing.
‘It’s definitely middle grade,’ they said.
Imogen had said that too.
‘And there’s a lot going on, isn’t there?’
Really? Only every idea I’d ever had.
They went on. ‘Your villain – what’s his motivation?’
‘Um . . .’
‘Plus, with all the spy stories out there, it needs a hook.’
‘A hook?’
‘And maybe you could take another look at the over-arching plot? Oh, and Milly’s narrative.’
‘Er, what do you mean by ‘narrative’, exactly?’
I went away. I removed two kisses and a swear word. I looked up ‘narrative’. I took out a plot line. In all, I rewrote about two-hundred words. It was a challenge, but I was happy. That should do it, I thought.
They said, ‘Let’s wait until you’ve finished your MA.’ They pushed back the pub date.
Eighteen months later, I had a fresh new manuscript. I’d hung on to my favourite bits and ditched the rest. But deep down I knew Milly’s narrative was still shaky. Deep down, I knew it still wasn’t working.
Once again, the response was kind and encouraging but there was no ignoring the ‘what if’s?’ and ‘how about’s?’.
They pushed back the pub date.
This time, I accepted all of my editor’s advice and started again from scratch.
I reworked the villain, redefined the hook, reimagined the setting. But everything only fell into place when I allowed Milly’s narrative to drive the plot.
A year later, I took a breath and sent it back.
WE LOVE IT, they said. But . . .
BUT???
Happily, the ‘buts’ were tiny in the scheme of buts.
I was delighted.
So, what did I learn?
To trust my editors, particularly if they’re as brilliant as Kesia Lupo, Rachel Leyshon and Barry Cunningham. To axe every character, every scene, every line, a story can do without. To spell out my protagonist’s thoughts and feelings. And above all, to let her, or him drive the plot.

PERIL EN POINTE by Helen Lipscombe is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and follow Helen on twitter @Helen_Lipscombe

 

Helen Lipscombe grew up in Wales, studied at Exeter College of Art and Design and went on to work in agencies in London, Singapore and the Caribbean. She recently obtained an MA in Creative Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University and now lives in the Cotswolds with her family. PERIL EN POINTE is her first novel.

Follow Helen on twitter @helen_lipscombe


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