It's always a good idea to have the next story in mind. I'd be very worried anyway, if whilst working on one project, I hadn't got the idea for the next one. Nick's Gallery grew out of a need to have a new project ready to go once I had finished the 30,000-word novel I was completing for my MA in Writing for Children. I also needed something to enter for a competition in the Winchester Annual Writers' Conference. So, I wrote the first five hundred words of Nick's Gallery in June 2000 and was awarded second prize. The MA was completed in September 2000.
It's perhaps hardly surprising that grief is a big theme in this work. My mother died right at the beginning of 2000. I had for some time been interested in examining the stages of grief. As I write for young people, I needed to give that grief a context that some young adults at least would know. I had met several youngsters who met the same issues as Barney when I taught at a local school, which had mainstream pupils but which was also designated for the physically disabled. There was a Nick there, who also had muscular dystrophy, who in my mind's eye looked like the one in Nick's Gallery, but who was otherwise a totally different character. That Nick also died quite young, but he had left school by then. At the same time as I wrote the first draft, I also became close friends with someone who, albeit for different reasons, was being pulled in different directions, just as Barney was.
A book like this needs a lift. It needs a spot of humour. That was where Cynthia, the glorious punky hard girl, came in. Everyone loved her. I shared her with a critique group and a writer's workshop. Everyone wanted more of her. She was the light relief. She surprised me by not being quite as hard as she seemed to be at the outset. She really cared about Nick, but saw Barney's weaker sides.
I finished the first draft by May 2001. Then came several more drafts. I even took myself on a homemade writer's retreat. We own a time-share, and they often sell off weeks they've not been able to exchange. I managed a week in a four-star hotel in the Austrian mountains for £140. It was fantastic having that time to myself. I did lots of writing, but I also had time to swim, walk and meet friends in the area. I added some more chapters and added some more about Cynthia. I did then send it out to a few publishers and agents. It came close several times, but didn't quite make it. In August 2002, I worked on it with Marina Oliver on the Advanced Novel Course at the Caerleon Writers' Holiday. She introduced me to the ten stages of revision I have used ever since.
Nick's Gallery was finally published in May 2004. We launched it from the University of Portsmouth, where I am completing a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing. That got a little media hype - mainly local and the book soon had a ranking on Amazon.
It has since been approved by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign and reviewed by disability web sites in the UK, America and Australia. It has also had good reviews by another children's writer, a school librarian and another writer who would not normally read children's books and says it is not a book just for children anyway. Perhaps the best review, though, was from my daughter, who said it made her cry and even better, it made her boyfriend cry.
I hope it keeps on going. I'm rather fond of it myself as well.