I first met Margot McGovern back when she was living in Perth. We had coffee in Kings Park and looked over the wonderful views of Perth City together. We chatted about books, writing, and bicycles. Margot has since returned to Adelaide and recently made two exciting announcements – the first, she’s expecting her first child and the second, her YA debut novel, Neverland has been signed with Penguin Random House Australia. Neverland is due for release in April 2018 and I can’t wait to read it.
NLK: Why did you decide to get an agent and was it difficult to get signed?
MM: This is going to sound terrible, but I wasn’t specifically looking for an agent when I signed with Danielle Binks. I’d tried and failed to find an agent for my first manuscript, which I wrote for my PhD and now lives in a drawer. I found the whole process pretty disheartening; it seemed almost harder to land an agent than a publishing deal. Then my second manuscript, Neverland, was shortlisted for the Text Prize and I was in the process of reworking it after receiving a few rejections from publishers when I heard that Danielle had become an agent at large with Jacinta di Mase Management.
I was a huge fan of Danielle’s. I loved her book blog, Alpha Reader; I stalked, ahem, followed her on Instagram; and I was really excited by all the incredible work she was doing with #LoveOzYA (among other things, she’s the editor of and a contributor to Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, which launched earlier this month). Suddenly, the idea of having an agent was super appealing. It took me several weeks to work up the courage to send her a pitch. I was so nervous!
It wasn’t an instant match. Danielle liked the manuscript, but thought it still needed work. She gave me some really useful feedback and invited me to resubmit when I had another draft. Which I eventually did.
By the time I signed with Danielle, we’d talked a lot about my manuscript. I knew that she really ‘got’ what I was trying to do with the story, that she was invested in it and that she was going to be a fantastic champion for it when submitting to publishers. We also click really well and, aside from all the hard work she’s put in, she’s also been incredibly supportive. And that’s so important.
It’s a daunting thing to handover your manuscript to someone else and trust that they’re going to care about it as much as you do, so while it can be really difficult to find an agent willing to take you on, the process goes both ways.
NLK: What’s the most exciting thing about signing a book deal? Do you have any learnings from your process of being accepted that you can share with us?
MM: The most exciting thing is that I’ll get to share Neverland with readers! I’m just absolutely thrilled that this story is finally going to be out in the world. And what I’ve learned about publishing deals is that I wouldn’t have got one without a great agent and a whole lot of luck. Danielle pitched the manuscript earlier this year and brought it to the attention of Zoe Walton who heads up the Random House Young Readers publishing and editorial team at Penguin Random House Australia. If I’d been the one submitting, it’d likely still be on the slush pile. Zoe liked Neverland and took it to an acquisitions meeting, which is where editors present a business case for a manuscript to the larger publishing team. I spoke to Zoe before the meeting and she warned me that a lot of manuscripts don’t make it through, even if the team really like the story. It was incredibly nerve-racking knowing that meeting was going on! But Neverland got the green light and Danielle got to work negotiating the contract. Even if, by some miracle, I managed to wrangle myself a publishing deal without an agent, I wouldn’t have known how to handle the negotiations. This is where having an agent is really helpful.
Now the manuscript goes into editing and I’m thrilled to be working with Zoe and her team. I know I’m going to learn a lot.
NLK: What sustained you during your journey to publication?
MM: Chocolate and whiskey. I’m only half kidding. Mostly it was having a really supportive group of writing friends. I’m not part of an official writing group, but I’m really lucky to have met a bunch of incredibly supportive and talented writers through my time studying at Flinders Uni. We bonded through years of creative writing workshops and can have really honest conversations about our work. But more importantly, they’re the kind of friends who make you feel like a superstar, even on days when you’ve had a hard rejection.
My family is also very supportive, especially my husband. When I told him I wanted to go part-time at my magazine job to work on Neverland, he was all for it even though it was a stretch for us financially at the time. He’s really the one who keeps me going.
NLK: Are you able to share anything about Neverland with us? When can we read it?
MM: Yes! Neverland is the story of seventeen-year-old Kit Learmonth, a girl who’s struggling to move on from the tragic events of her past. It’s a bit of a twist on the traditional boarding school novel, filled with late night adventures, sailing, secrets, smuggling and a little forbidden romance.
The story came from a feeling of being stuck. I was living in Melbourne at the time and really homesick, so I made a trip back to Adelaide thinking I’d find comfort in the familiar. But I’d been gone a long time. Many of my friends had moved away and a lot of the places we used to hang out had changed; the Adelaide I wanted to return to didn’t exist anymore. And perhaps it never had; revisiting my old journals I found my entries didn’t always match up with my memories. Around the same time, I also reread the books I’d loved as a kid: Peter Pan, Treasure Island, The Famous Five. I remembered them as cosy bedtime stories, but actually they’re pretty scary. In Neverland, I wanted to explore this idea of how we romanticise and even misremember the past, and how that can keep us from moving forward.
The story is quite dark in places, but also playful and ultimately hopeful. If it sounds like your kind of thing, you can add it to your Goodreads shelf, and it’s launching in April 2018.
NLK: Can you tell us about your writing process?
MM: My process is totally inefficient. I spend a lot of time ‘moodling’ before I write anything. (NLK: I love this word ‘moodling’ especially as I realised I do quite a bit of this too!) When I have a vague idea for a novel, I start scavenging and building up a collection of bits and pieces for it: images, quotes, song lyrics—I stick them up on my wall and gather little trinkets for my desk. I read a lot. Watch a lot (films, docos, clips). Sketch my characters. And I keep a notebook for each manuscript where I jot down thoughts about the narrative itself. Finally, I make a plot map, which is a kind of conceptual sketch of the story’s ‘world’ with lots of notes about the major plot points. Then I write a terrible first draft. (My first drafts are always clunkers.) And from there, I just keep chipping away at it. At the end of each draft, I go through the manuscript from start to finish with my editing hat on and make a big check list of everything that I want to rework. Eventually, I get to the point where I can just tinker and tweak. That’s my favourite bit.
NLK: Why do you write YA?
MM: I’m drawn to YA partly because the YA novels I read as a teenager were and still are so important to me. I grew up on John Marsden, Melina Marchetta, Robin Klein, Gillian Rubenstein, Isobelle Carmody, and I loved how their stories spoke to my experience as a young Australian. Also, reading those authors at a young age shaped the way I think about narrative. YA feels very comfortable for me as a writer, and it’s also still my favourite thing to read.
YA is also one of the few spaces where young women are really empowered, and that excites me. Samantha Forge recently wrote an excellent piece for Kill Your Darlings about this, and I urge everyone to read it. In the wider world, girls are encouraged to make themselves small and take up as little space as possible. They’re objectified and often not taken seriously when they do speak up. And they carry those experiences into their adult lives.
But in YA girls get to be loud. You see young female protagonists narrating their own stories and taking control. They have the space to make mistakes and build resilience and their interior lives are given lots of weight. I love that.
NLK: What keeps you from writing? What are your biggest distractions?
About Margot McGovern
Margot McGovern is a YA author based in Adelaide, Australia. Her contemporary YAmanuscript, Neverland, was short-listed for the 2015 Text Prize and will be published by Penguin Random House Australia in April 2018. She is represented by Danielle Binks.
Margot is a former associate editor of Ride On cycling magazine. She holds a creative writing Ph.D. from Flinders University, South Australia, and her book reviews have appeared in a number of Australian literary publications. She blogs at Lectito.me.
Pic Credit Ron Langman