When (two of) your Family Members are Published before you are

A couple of recent Royal Mail arrivals kicked off a round of excitement in our household.

Before I start, I should say we’re not great with the old snail mail – most of our household admin is taken care of online – so if a letter doesn’t have the hallmark of ‘Important-looking Official Thing that Requires Immediate Attention’ or family / friend correspondence, it can languish in the to-be-read pile until one of us has a spare minute to wade through.

So this is how we discovered Mr C, aged ten, was going to be published in the local Young Writers’ anthology. His letter was caught in an early round of ‘Important-looking Official Things’. There was a live read-out, lots of laughter and quite a bit of ‘Mum, I’m going to be published before you!’ going on. It was awesome.

Then, during a tidy-up session – I don’t want to say how many weeks later – I opened another ‘Important-looking Official’ letter. This letter was a ‘friendly’ reminder that the date to provide consent for our child’s publication was looming and could we go online and ‘confirm approval as soon as possible, thank you very much’. Thinking my husband had already done that, I looked closer and realised the letter was referring to Miss C, aged nine!

This time around, there was even more laughter – mostly at our terrible admin – and a tonne of celebration over Miss C’s achievement. We were absolutely blown away by her piece, which was (true to form) dark and suspenseful. It was all the more sweet because two years’ ago, Miss C could barely read a word. From the time she could talk, she’s always been an imaginative story-teller, but the physical act of reading and writing were a massive struggle. We’ve always been keen bedtime readers, but the true credit has to go to Miss C’s school, who implemented a raft of strategies to help her concentrate, and Miss C herself, whose sheer determination to read helped her push through the obstacles. Now she’s the one we’re most likely to see tucked up in a corner on a Sunday afternoon, nose in a book.

When our kids went to bed, my husband jokingly asked, ‘How does it feel to know two of your family members are getting published first?’

I thought about it, and realised that honestly, I think it’s pretty fantastic. It reminded me of a moment a few weeks’ ago when the family took the train to the Oxford Literary Festival (it was snowing…in March!) and sat in on the talk with Anthony Horowitz. During question time, my son asked, ‘Do you have any rivals?’


Horowitz did a double-take for a moment – up until then, all the questions had been around future Alex Rider books, and imaginatively gruesome ways to kill off villains. He asked what Mr C meant by the question. Mr C meant did Horowitz have any writer-rivals – people who challenged him in his own genre. His response was pretty damn inspiring. He said, although there were other writers who wrote similar action books for boys, and might attract a huge readership on that basis, he thought that was a great thing – that all writers whose work encouraged kids and teens to read, were on the same side, working toward the same goal.

I feel the same about my two soon-to-be-published family members. Ultimately, any one or all three of my children may choose a traditional career path. Secretly, I hope they don’t. But I love that in today’s world, anything feels possible – that a creative’s life is not limited to those born into it, or who fit a certain mould. Social media certainly has its dark moments, but it has opened up doors too and I’m grateful for that. I’m also excited about all the writerly fringe and not-so-fringe events going on. Despite the snow and risk of the rail service going down, the entire family had a ball at the Oxford Literary Festival. Mr C and I attended a screenwriting session together and it was one of the most special mother-and-son moments we’ve shared to date.

‘My mum’s writing a book,’ he declared to Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler as they signed his copy of their book, DEFENDER OF THE REALM. They were really sweet and asked about it, but the thing that stuck with me, was how thrilled I felt that for my son, his world is one where publication doesn’t feel like an impossible dream. He believes this will happen and that’s something pretty mindblowing (and humbling).

I’m off to YAShot next week in London – the kids are a little young to be taking them along to this one – but I hope in a few years’ time they’ll be there in the audience with me, asking questions, feeling the buzz of listening to creatives talk about what inspires them. Being a writer is great, but sharing the love of writing and reading with your family – well, that’s just unbelievably awesome.


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Alison Whipp

Lawyer. Writes Middle Grade and YA. Known to cackle raucously at 13 y.o. boy-humour. Partial to baked goods of the sweet variety.
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