How I Became An Author: Amanda Mitchison

Amanda Mitchison
Category: Writing

How I Became An Author gives you a fascinating insight into a writer's journey towards publication. For this installment, we caught up with children's author Amanda Mitchison.

Amanda Mitchison was born and raised in Scotland before she headed south to study English and begin a career as a journalist. She wrote her first children's book just after her first son was born - and then kept on going! 

Amanda's newest book, Crog, follows the London-to-Scotland journey of a Bronze Age boy who finds himself in the present day. The book has just been released by Corgi Childrens.

Follow Amanda on Twitter @amandamitchison


What was the first thing you wrote?

A truly terrible, pretentious poem about a piece of driftwood I’d seen on the beach. I wince when I think of it.

What was the first thing you wrote that you were really proud of?

In my twenties I got my first newspaper job on the Egyptian Gazette, the English-language daily paper in Cairo. I remember being thrilled when they published my first editorial. It was about a Westerner's impressions of the Orient. I wince again.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I think I always secretly knew that I wanted to be a writer. My grandmother was a writer and I loved novels as a child. But the idea of writing a whole novel all by myself seemed impossibly difficult. So I did the next best thing; I became a journalist.

Which authors inspired and inspire you?

In terms of children’s writers I remain in awe of Ursula Le Guin who wrote the wonderful Earthsea books and has written a couple of truly masterful works of adult science fiction.

I return time and time again to the essays of the Annie Dillard. I think Hilary Mantel is one of the most skilled, agile and innovative writers alive today. And I love the savage wit in the travel writings of  Jonathan Raban.

Did you ever doubt yourself?

A day does not go by…

What’s the worst job you have done?

When I left school I worked as a waitress in a Wimpy bar (on Nicolson Street in Edinburgh; it's long gone). The pay was so miserly, the food so unspeakable and the manageress so disagreeable that the only way we could prise a little splinter of joy into our lives was by setting ourselves contests. So: how much air could you incorporate into a knickerbocker glory by wedging a curl of ice cream in the middle of the glass? How many times could you re-deep fat fry a Bunty Burger before the customer complained?

This was over 30 years ago so hopefully fast food places are very different today.

How did you first get published?

I worked as a journalist for many years—firstly with The Egyptian Gazette and then later at the Independent and The Sunday Telegraph. Then two journalists I knew set up a small publishing house and asked me to write a biography for children.

Can you tell us about some of your writing habits?

I am a slow writer and I have poor concentration. When I am writing I live in my fridge. I nibble and graze and peck. Even if my mind is running with wolves, my fingers are rummaging for biscuits.

Occasionally, very occasionally, the writing flies, but usually it is a slog. I know better than to let myself get distracted by dusting wainscots or pairing up socks. But I am as susceptible as every other writer is to stupid little YouTube films about two legged cats and goal scoring collies.

When I get stuck I take a walk around the golf course. A walk is always good.

What would you be if you weren’t an author?

I’d be a school teacher.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you have ever received?

‘Just let it flow.’ Writing is like anything else; you have to work at it.

Do you think it’s possible to hold down a full time job and become a writer?

I think it is possible, but you have to choose your job. I spent many years trying to combine working as a journalist with writing a novel. For me that never worked—the writing part of my mind was always taken up with the journalism which was always more immediate and, because of deadlines, had to take precedence.

With other sorts of jobs—particularly jobs that are not too demanding and have regular hours—I think it is much easier.

If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers what would it be?

Think about every word you write; it has to count. And half the work is in the editing. And when you have finished editing and think your book is absolutely word perfect, put the manuscript in a drawer. Leave it there to bake for a week. Then bring it out and re-edit.

Read more Author Confessions, including Michael Grant, Laura Marney and Doug Johnstone here.