‘How I got published’ – Interview with author Gabriela Houston

The Slavic folklore writer Gabriela Houston is one of my dearest friends.

We first ‘met’ on Twitter through a shared appreciation of the regality of our maine coon cats, and then bonded further when we realised that our debut novels were being published by the same publisher (Angry Robot) within a month of each other.

Gabriela’s star is rising high at the moment, with acclaimed recent releases for adults and children, and more exciting projects on the horizon. Gabi and I chat every day, but I thought I’d sit her down to find out the juicy info that aspiring and emerging writers would like to know about how she reached where she is now.

So get ready to meet Gabriela Houston!

Gabriela Houston is a Polish, London-based writer of Slavic-folklore-inspired novels for children (The Wind Child, out from Uclan Publishing) and adults (The Second Bell, out from Angry Robot Books). She has a short story in an upcoming anthology, The Last Horizons, a collection of stories inspired by the climate catastrophe.

Gabriela is represented by John Baker from Bell Lomax Moreton Agency, and is the cohost of a YouTube channel, Bookish Take, which focuses on a writer’s journey from the initial idea through to the publication process and beyond.

Hello there, Gabriela! How are you?

Smashing, thanks!

With a whole world of genres out there, what inspired you to write Slavic folklore-inspired tales for adults and children?

I’m Polish, and as an adult I found myself drawn to the folklore and mythologies of pre-Christian  Slavic regions. It’s such a rich and under-explored source of inspiration! I think there is just so much there.

What’s your day-to-day life like as a full-time author?

Apart from being a writer I’m a mum of two small kids, so life is hectic!

I can luckily write anywhere, anytime, so I try to reserve a couple hours every day to fit my work in.

I also have a couple of local writing buddies and it’s absolutely crucial for me to have that support. We meet regularly for writing sessions, and their insight is often invaluable.

And how do you feel about beta readers?

I haven’t really had any beta readers or support till I started writing The Second Bell. And it made a huge difference.

Was publication always your writing goal?

I think it’s always the goal, if you’re being honest with yourself. It is a rare person who produces art without the hope of it being seen!

I remember first trying to have a short story published at 19, or so. But those attempts were sporadic and not very well thought out, until I started searching for an agent in earnest at 31. It took another four years for my debut novel to see the light of day.

What was the first thing you wrote, and what happened to it?

I can’t say. It was probably some of the very bad poems I wrote at 7 or 8. My dad actually collated them into a little book and printed the whole thing on our home printer. Nobody will ever be allowed to see that volume. It’s delightfully awful.

How different is it writing fiction for adults and children?

For me the main difference is the directness. A child will generally tolerate fewer subplots and digressions. Everything has to serve the story, or it has to go.

Beyond that, I don’t believe in over-sanitising children’s fiction, or patronising the reader by avoiding the hard subjects. But I do try to handle those subjects (like grief in The Wind Child) with the care and the dignity they deserve.

You’re represented by John Baker at Bell Lomax Moreton, how did this come about?

John was actually a brand new agent, just given the green light to start collating his own client list.

He liked my pitch tweet during a PitMad Twitter event, and pretty soon after he offered me representation. We went for a coffee and I remember he brought all those notes about his vision for the book, and the editors he would talk to. His enthusiasm and energy were infectious! I’m very proud to be the first client he signed!

Any top tips for authors seeking an agent?

Trust your gut, more than simply your desire to sign with just anybody. This is a long term relationship, and you really want to have someone in your corner who you trust.

Always be upfront about what you want from your career. I wanted to write for different audiences and potentially in different genres, and I told John about it when we first discussed representation. For some agents it would be a deal breaker, while others, like John, enjoy the challenge. Your long-term goals have to match.

I couldn’t agree more! And what are you working on at the minute?

I have two unannounced projects coming out next year, so I’m currently doing some edits for those. I’m also working on another children’s book and a slightly different adult one. Can’t say any more, I’m afraid!

You tease! Thanks Gabriela!

Find out more about Gabriela Houston and her books on her website or Instagram.

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