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An Interview with Claire Hatcher-Smith upon receiving an offer of representation.

08/25/2022

Claire Hatcher-Smith (clucky1966 on QT) has signed with agent Chloe Seager of The Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
I've worked with kids with Down Syndrome for thirty years and really wanted to give them a hero who looks like them. I also just fancied having a stab at writing a Christie-esque mystery! MIZZY MAYPOLE was born...
How long have you been writing?
Seriously, for the last 6 years, but off and on since 2000. Before that, I scribbled in a lot of diaries and dreamed a lot.
How long have you been working on this book?
From first thoughts to completion of this latest draft, 4 years.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Oh, the number of times I've wanted to give up! But every time I gave myself permission to stop, I was even more miserable! So, I just kept plodding on...
Is this your first book?
No. I wrote two terrible women's fiction manuscripts in the early 2000s, which quite rightly never saw the light of day. I also made some disastrous attempts at PB texts. Then I remembered my first love, books like the Secret Garden and Ballet Shoes and Narnia. MIZZY is my second MG novel.
Do you have any formal writing training?
No.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
Not really. I'm lucky enough to only work in the afternoons, so I slump at my desk every morning and somewhere between Facebook and Twitter, I manage to write something. Most days. Other days, I walk the dog and clean the toilet and think really hard about what I'm not writing.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Currently on the 5th draft and I know Chloe has some brilliant ideas for the next revision...
Did you have beta readers for your book?
Not beta-readers, but two fabulous critique partners. I cannot stress enough the value of a really good writers' group.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
This was the first book I outlined. Hmm. Seems to have helped!
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Now, this is the scary bit. Or the encouraging bit. I began querying MIZZY in 2019, in a very different version, but after a few full requests realized I'd jumped the gun. I have revised and re-queried twice since then. With this revision, I sent out 25 queries (between April and May 2022) and received 5 full requests.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Ouch. Altogether, counting all the different drafts, I sent out 196 queries, with a total of 18 full requests. I suppose the moral is, never give up. And if you're getting encouraging feedback, never stop revising either.
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Dream agencies plus new, enthusiastic agents with promising sales. I also focused more on boutique and smaller agencies, rather than the massive machines. And of course, I mugged up on particular agents' wish-lists and no-nos.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
I tried to, as much as possible, even it was just noting their interest in MG fiction with strong female protagonists. Later, I began to research who repped books similar to mine (though if too similar, this can backfire).
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Don't give up. The really heartbreaking rejections, when someone loves the manuscript, but doesn't love it enough, mean you're getting close. Oh, and if someone takes the time and trouble to give personal feedback, take it on board. At least think about it. At least, if you don't agree with their suggestion, think about why they might have suggested it.
Would you be willing to share your query with us?

With your interest in...., I hope MIZZY MAYPOLE INVESTIGATES (Upper MG Mystery 45,000 words) will be a good fit with your list. Twelve-year-old Mizzy dreams of being a detective, like her great-aunt Miss Maypole. But with her reputation for tall-tales and an embarrassing fear of escalators (not to mention her Down's Syndrome), no one believes Mizzy is capable of solving anything. Dumped for the summer with cousins who've outgrown her, Mizzy feels even more sidelined than usual. But when her great-aunt's ghost makes a midnight visit to the spare room and claims only Mizzy can solve the mystery of her unsuspected murder, everything changes. Armed with her brand-new set of Pipsqueak markers and, under the guise of a family tree project for school, Mizzy sets about proving herself to her cousins—and the world. Problem is, the only people present on the night Miss Maypole died were her family. Which means...one of Mizzy's relatives is a murderer.

MIZZY is the result of my tween-age Agatha Christie addiction and a career-long desire to give young people with Down Syndrome a hero who looks like them. The manuscript could be pitched as Miss Marple meets Wonder and as a stand-alone with series potential, combines the old-school mystery of Robin Stevens' series Murder Most Unladylike with the more contemporary concerns of Sharna Jackson's High-rise Mystery.

I have worked with children with Down's Syndrome for 30 years as a speech and language therapist. Some of my clients have generously read the manuscript and support my endeavour, along with the Down's Syndrome Association (UK) who are excited by the manuscript's potential impact. I have completed two other MG novels, one of which (THE LOOKERS)was long-listed in the Mslexia Children's Novel Competition 2018 and earned me a selective place on Curtis Brown Creative's Writing YA and Children's Fiction course. I currently live on Vancouver Island, with my husband, our fourteen-year-old son, and a Korean rescue dog.