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How a student helped me follow my passion to write fiction

Jenny McLachlan is an author based in Sussex. She has written six novels, including Flirty Dancing and Truly Wildly Deeply.

I love reading, and for as long as I can remember this has been the case.

When I was little I would spend the entire day lying on my back, my feet on the radiator with a book in my hands.

I read during school lunch time, on holiday, and every morning and evening.

Read more: How I became an author aged 15

In the words of Annie the narrator of Truly, Wildly, Deeply, ‘I read everywhere and at every opportunity, even when I probably shouldn’t be doing it at all.’

A lack of confidence

Despite my passion for books, when I was at school I didn’t have the confidence to imagine that I could ever become an author.

At 16, I won a local poetry competition, but I was too shy to go and collect my prize.

I studied English at university, I did a literature MA, I became an English teacher, I married an English teacher. Except for actually writing a book, I did everything I could to fill my life with stories.

Inspired to write

It was another shy teenage girl who gave me the impetus I needed to put pen to paper and start to write.

I taught a student who was incredibly witty, intelligent and sharp, but she rarely shared this side of herself with the other students.

I knew what a special person she was from the stories she wrote, but she avoided speaking in class; in fact, she avoided speaking full stop.

I spent a long time hiding the real me from the world. Yet here I could see a talented young woman doing exactly the same thing. That’s when I started to write.

Getting published

My first book, Flirty Dancing, was the book I needed to read when I was a teenager.

It’s about a girl who tries to disappear. At home she can be her own wonderful self, but when she leaves the house, her lips close and she falls silent. She doesn’t stand up for herself. She watches life from the side lines. Then she learns to jive and finds the confidence to let down her armour, showing the world who she really is; that’s a difficult thing to do!

I wrote the book over many years. When it was finished I took it to Winchester Writers’ Festival to share with editors, agents and authors.

I had to get up early to arrive on time, and as I drove along deserted roads, the sun rising over fields, I felt both nervous and content.

I’d swing between knowing my book was special and that it had a message lots of girls would want to hear, to wondering if I’d be laughed at for thinking someone would care about a shy girl who wants to dance.

They did care and the day was fantastic.

It’s up there with my very best days. I got an agent – the brilliant Julia Churchill – and a few months later signed a four-book deal with Bloomsbury.

The ‘write’ choice

Since then I have written six books for teenagers which have been published all over the world.

All of these books have teenage female protagonists who, in very different ways, learn to love and accept who they are.

The protagonists overcome challenges and fight to be recognised for their intelligence and strength. They jump off cliffs, run, dance, make friends, lose friends, fall in love, stand up to injustice. They are my heroes, and I hope they inspire my young readers.

My next book, The Land of Roar, is published in September. This book is narrated by a boy, but he has a twin sister, Rose. She’s awesome. She flies dragons.

To find out more about Jenny McLachlan and her novels, visit: https://jennymclachlan.com/

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.
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