creativity / funny / GHB / inspiration / inspiring / life stuff / writing

Ben Davis – My Journey from Rags to Slightly Nicer Rags

Hello there! I’m Ben Davis and this is my very first post here at Girls Heart Books. For those of you who haven’t heard of me (most people) I am an author for teens and older children. I write the Private Blog of Joe Cowley series, as well as one-off books like Danny Dread and My Embarrassing Dad’s Gone Viral.

Anyway, I thought I’d use my first post to introduce myself and tell the story of how I became a published author. I know many of you will be budding writers and maybe this will be useful to you. At the very least, it’ll pass five minutes and it’s not as if there’s anything else to look at on the internet, is there?

Now, I’m used to having super-talented illustrators making my work look good, but unfortunately I’m flying solo today so you’ll have to make do with my stick figures. Don’t worry though, they’re the best stick figures you’ll ever see. Here’s my author pic:

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Hello, handsome.

I always loved the idea of being an author, but thought it was one of those pipe dreams like headlining Glastonbury or playing up front for Man United. In other words, never going to happen. Having said that, I’d have probably stood a chance last season.

Anywho. I decided that if I couldn’t write books, I could do other forms of writing, like comedy. So for six years, I was a stand-up comedian. I played all over the country for audiences as big as ten thousand and as small as two. Not two thousand. Just two.

At the same time, I also had a day job as a postman.

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And it was there that I got the inspiration for my first book. I was delivering to the house of a lad I knew at school and noticed, by being nosey and looking at the envelopes, that his dad was now in a relationship with a woman who had the same last name as one of the worst school bullies.

I thought, ‘Imagine if that is really his mum. Maybe they would all have had to live together. Maybe the lad and the bully would even have to share a bedroom.’ It sounded perfectly nightmarish and a great idea for a story, so I wrote it down on one of those red cards. You know, the ones we put through your door when we pretend to knock?

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Yeah, one of those. As soon as I got home, I set about writing the story. To begin with, I found it easy. Words came quicker than I could type them, but then I hit a brick wall.

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Not literally.

I knew the basic premise of the story, but then what? Frustrated, I put it to one side and carried on with regular joke writing. But I found myself growing bored and my mind would often wander back to that story idea. I knew there was something in it.

After about six months, I had another go at it, but this time I wrote it as a play script. This allowed me to strip away all the description and focus on the dialogue and the characters. By the time I was finished, I had a much better idea of who everyone was and was ready to write it as a book.

This time, it was much easier and within weeks, I had a polished first draft ready to go. Now, you can’t just rock up to a publisher willy-nilly and say ‘print this bad boy’, there’s a process to these things. First, you have to get an agent – so I sent my first three chapters off to about a few agents and waited.

In the meantime, my fiancée and I were jetting off to the Dominican Republic to get married. Now, this was in the days before every hotel had free wi-fi, so it was a week before I checked my email in the lobby. When I did, I saw that all the agents had replied.

I checked one. It said:

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I checked the next one. It said:

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Then I checked the third one. I thought it would be the same as the first two, but I wasn’t going to let it spoil the holiday. It would just be back to the drawing board when I got home. But it wasn’t like the first two. It was an actual reply that someone had written!

It was from Penny Holroyde at the Caroline Sheldon agency. She said she really like my sample chapters and wanted to read the rest. I think I actually shrieked out loud and startled the elderly German man sitting next to me.

I then noticed that the email was sent three days earlier and I shrieked again and frantically bashed out a reply. Then, just as I was about to hit SEND, the power went out. NOOOOOOOOOO! Luckily, the power came back on, and a few months later, after a meeting, we agreed to work together on the manuscript.

This process took about a year. In that time, the book went through many different permutations. It was a third-person, dual-perspective, diary form, and finally blog form. Characters that had been in there since draft one were brutally chopped (RIP Dr Shelacki) and new ones were thrown in late. Finally, it was ready to be sent out to publishers.

Now, this was an incredibly tense time. I think I wore out the F5 on my keyboard. But eventually, Penny got in touch to say that three publishers wanted to meet me.

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Terrifying. See, I’d never met any publishers before so I thought they’d all be like Buddy’s dad in Elf. Thankfully, they weren’t and in the end I had the choice of two publishers. It was like being on the Voice when both Boy George and Will I Never turn around and you’re the one who has to pick. It was an incredibly tough decision, but I ended up opting for Oxford University Press. I loved their idea for Joe Cowley (or Tom as he was known back then) to be illustrated teen fiction and target a post-Wimpy Kid audience who weren’t necessarily being catered for.

When I signed with OUP, I was paired up with an editor (the brilliant Claire Westwood) to work further on the book, while the design team made it look pretty and sourced an illustrator (the equally brilliant Mike Lowery). Eighteen short months later, it was an actual book in the shops.

But there was no time to waste. I was contracted to write two Joe Cowleys. But how could I write a second book in a few months when I had my entire life to write my first one? I just had to sit down and do it.

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Since then, I have had four more books published with a further two to follow, which means I am writing books ALL THE TIME. In fact, I should be writing one right now, so I’d better get back to it.

If you’d like to get in touch, I’m on Twitter @bendavis_86 and on good old Facebook. My website can be found here.

4 thoughts on “Ben Davis – My Journey from Rags to Slightly Nicer Rags

  1. Thanks everyone, glad you liked it! Of course, us posties only read envelopes. Oh and postcards. We read the hell out of those.

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