Ebony McKenna likes exercising… her ability to write fantastical works of young adult fiction, that is. The Australian author of Ondine was drawn out of her creative shell a few years back by films and television series such as Dynasty, Dune and The Princess Bride. But it wasn’t until she got her hands on a copy of the book by the same name as the latter that Ebony found the gumption to write. And boy did she!
“When I first started seriously trying to write a novel, I knew nothing about structure, tension, internal conflict or establishing believable motivation for characters. I wrote up to 5,000 words a day… and it was terrible! These days, the editor-filter has well and truly kicked in and I’m averaging 500 words a day. It’s much slower going, but I’ve ended up with fewer drafts and revisions later.”
Even so, it wasn’t by intention alone that Ebony started writing young adult fiction.
“[It was] a pure fluke. I’d written six manuscripts in genres ranging from contemporary romance to overblown space operas without much of a thought about who the audience would be.
“When I wrote the first Ondine novel, about a girl whose pet ferret starts talking with a Scottish accent, I didn’t specifically write it for teens. All I new was this cheeky ferret had a story to tell and I had to keep up or he’d drive me mad!”
Ondine is like a fairy tale, wherein 15-year-old Ondine de Groot discovers that her pet ferret, Shambles, is really Hamish McPhee, a boy cursed by a witch (who happens to be a relative of Ondine’s). Once Shambles turns back into Hamish for a brief moment, Ondine knows that it’s her lot in life to help him break the spell. Not to mention he’s hot and her one true love. He can’t remain a ferret forever, right?
While Hamish might remain a feral friend (or not), for Ebony the dilemma of writing an effective query was questionable. In one of her first query letters (not for Ondine), she mentioned that it took her nine months to write the story (according to Ebony, it was one of those space operas) and she didn’t edit anything properly. Ebony’s in-box was also replete with the standard rejections received by most authors, but she did get one request for a full from UK publisher, Voyager… followed by a single page rejection a few months later.
Ahh, rejection letters. The bane of every writer.
By the time she solicited Ondine, Ebony had started “doing things right for a change.” In 2008, she had six failed manuscripts and had worked all the drek out of Ondine. The student was ready. Where was the teacher?
“I was in a writer’s group and was reading widely – loads of fiction, but also craft books and agent websites.
“A writer has to tailor each query to each individual agent or editor and follow their submission guidelines. I read some great advice on an agent blog around this time – waste some of your own time before you waste someone else’s. It’s harsh, but true.”
It was then that an agent from London-based Peters Fraser & Dunlop picked up Ebony and the Ondine book (a series, actually), which went on to be published in the United Kingdom, Australia/New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. Although not available in the United States, copies can be obtained via bookdepository.com with free postage).
What has become of Ebony and Ondine since both broke through the publishing ceiling? Ebony is busy concocting book three of the series right now, wherein Ondine and Hamish (the talking ferret) find themselves in all kinds of struggles. As for Ebony, she keeps herself distracted with writing and caring for her family.
But does she have a ferret? We do not know, but what we do is that the Ondine books are available in stores across the UK, Australia-New Zealand and South Africa, and in the United States via bookdepository.com. While you’re awaiting your own copy, visit Ebony online at http://www.ebonymckenna.com.