First Book Friday: Tansy Rayner Roberts

It’s been six months since the last First Book Friday post, where authors talk about how they wrote and/or sold their first novel. Previous entries in the series are indexed here, and the submission guidelines are over there.

Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twitter, LJ) is, in her words,  a writer, a mum, a doll merchant, and in her spare time (ha!) likes to cut up fabric and sew it back together in an amusing fashion. She’s also one of the three voices of the Galactic Suburbia podcast (which is currently on the Hugo list for Best Podcast!)


I had only just turned twenty when my first novel, Splashdance Silver, was published.  It sounds like a dream come true, but while there are some amazing benefits to being published so young, there are also some fairly grim realities.  When asked to give advice to new authors, I almost always say “A debut is a terrible thing to waste.”  And I am well aware that it’s often those authors who debut later in their lives who manage to turn that first lightning moment of luck-and-timing-and-good-book into a solid career.

But I hope I also stand as an example of how a less-than-stellar debut can be overcome.  Eventually.

The media surrounding Splashdance Silver used my age as a hook for readers, which I think caused as much backlash as it did awareness.  The book was the inaugural winner of The George Turner Prize, a contest designed to select and publish a new manuscript of science fiction or fantasy.  The prize ran for three years (with a female winner every year, my successors being hard science fiction writers Maxine McArthur and Michelle Marquardt) before quietly disappearing into the sunset with a swag on its back and a sad song in its heart.

As the first prize winner, receiving an advance for a whopping $10,000, which would still be considered an exceptional novel advance for a first time author in Australia today, I was under a lot of scrutiny, and there were rumblings in the SF community about the fact that a prize named after George Turner, an eminent Australian writer of serious science fiction, had been won by some girl’s funny fantasy novel, featuring more girls, and frocks, and exploding pirates, and that sort of thing.

Then there was the award ceremony itself, badly handled, where I discovered on the night that while *I* had known for months of secrecy that I was the winner, and had been busily editing the book for its imminent publication, none of the other shortlisted authors had been told that the race was long over.  They did figure it out, I suspect, when I was seated at the table with the guests of honour, well before the official announcement.  I cringe now to think about it – and am terribly grateful that many of them were not only forgiving, but have become very good friends since.

I had some lovely, supportive readers, and still hear from fans (mostly young women, who discovered Splashdance then or now as a teenager) but in 1998 the Young Adult fantasy boom had yet to take off, and my little book struggled to live up to the substantial advance, which turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing.  A sequel, Liquid Gold, was put out the following year, when Australia was hosting the Worldcon, but the third book never made it to the shelves.

I’ve been working to overcome my first false start for many years now, making friends and allies in the SF community, teaching, studying, having babies, reviewing and learning to craft short stories, podcasting at Galactic Suburbia, and writing, writing, writing.

My debut might have been less than stellar, but our industry can (occasionally) be more forgiving than we give it credit for.  In 2010 I was relaunched as a writer of dark fantasy at HarperCollins Voyager with The Creature Court trilogy. This time I have been widely reviewed, receiving a great deal more critical attention and support.  With community goodwill behind me, I hope this time to be able to launch a career that will stick to the wall, and keep climbing.

So, here we go again!