The success of a certain JK Rowling has led many people to wonder whether they might have a children's book lurking in them somewhere but few actually get round to writing one.
Jill Marshall is an exception. She chucked in a well-paid corporate job to follow her dream of writing for children.
Thousands of words and many rejections later, she is now up to book three in her Jane Blonde series. The stories, about mousy Jane Brown who suddenly discovers she is actually a sensational spylet, are crammed full of enough cool gadgets and death defying-adventures to thrill little girls aged nine to 12.
Marshall describes her books as, "almost like Enid Blyton with gadgets" and says they are intended as pure fun.
"I'm allowing people to escape, not driving home messages like, yes home life is awful and your parents are likely to split up. I don't want to go there at all. I just want to have adventure."
Nevertheless, the character of Jane Blonde has more than a hint of girl power about her. She's resourceful, brave and fabulous.
"I think of her as normal but what we could all be if we had special spy powers,' says Marshall. 'Jane is actually quite shy and lonely but has an alter ego that allows her to be the things she isn't in her everyday life. And I think there are a lot of kids like that, who are struggling and feeling like a bit of an outsider. I'd like them to think, 'oh this could be me'.'
As a child herself, Marshall loved scribbling down stories. But then at 16 she told her career adviser she wanted to write novels. 'She was reasonably encouraging but said I should go off and be a journalist. From that moment I stopped writing because I didn't want to do factual stuff at all, I wanted to make things up. I didn't write anything for almost 20 years.'
It was when she hit 35 that Marshall realised something was missing in her life. So she quit work, took an MA in Writing For Children at Winchester University and has written solidly since. She gave herself two years to get published, failed but kept going. 'I just had this feeling in my sternum that this was what I should be doing,' says Marshall whose third book, Jane Blonde: Twice the Spylet (Macmillan, $17), was released recently.
Four years ago Marshall decided to move from the UK to Auckland in search of a better quality of life for herself and her daughter Katie, now 10. While much has been made of the 'lucrative' deal she has with British publishers Macmillan, she is far from JK Rowling status. She fits in her writing around freelance work as a business trainer, does manuscript assessment and has just completed her first three scripts for Shortland Street. She also has a 'hen lit' novel being published here by Penguin next year.
Her advice to would-be children's writers is to get the tone of your voice right for the age group you are writing for. "That was the first feedback I got when I sent off my first 25,000 words,' she recalls. "My voice was at times incredibly adult and at other times too young."
- Detours, HoS