Origin Story: Siobhán O’Brien Holmes

1024 601 Writer and the Wolf Editorial

Hello, folks! I’m really excited today because I’m starting a new series on the blog where I ask published middle grade and YA authors to share five books that made them the writer they are today. Think of it like a cross between Desert Island Discs and The Guardian’s The Books That Made Me but designed specifically to help and inspire emerging kidlit authors like you. A lot of my clients tell me they never read their own genre or target age group or that they actually don’t read at all, which is a huge shame because we all know you have to be a reader to be a writer! I hope this series will get you thinking about the stories that brought you this far and demonstrate how the books you read throughout your life are like a trail of breadcrumbs leading up to the author you’re going to become.

To get us started, here’s my Origin Story. If you’re a published author (self or traditionally published) and you’d like to play along, please get in touch!

1. Create Your Own Magazine by Barbara Taylor

When I was about nine or ten, I discovered this book in my local library and immediately made up my mind to become an editor. Alright, I wanted to be a magazine editor rather than a fiction editor but that decision set my entire career in motion and led me to my current profession. The book had me utterly transfixed and I used to borrow it from the library a few times a year (if only we’d had the internet back then I could have just bought the damn thing online!). Making my own publication was something I’d already done a few times as a child – at six my friend and I scribbled pictures and nonsense on A4 pages and asked our mums to staple them together into magazines, and a couple of years later I formed the ‘Animal Savers Association’ which came with a monthly newsletter and badge for all three of its members. But reading Barbara Taylor’s book was the first time I really realised I could actually work in publishing for a living. I would pore over the pages for hours and dream I ran my own magazine, eventually settling for making zines and then, after university, becoming a magazine journalist.

2. The Invitation by Diane Hoh

Point Horror was my life. When I was nine, my two best friends and I went to WH Smith and bough a copy of Diane Hoh’s The Invitation between us (we paid £1 each) and took turns reading it. I’ve never raced through a book so quickly. It was so full of tension, mystery and pure terror that I couldn’t believe it had been written for children. I read the entire Point Horror series throughout my childhood and teen years and anything by R.L. Stine I could get my hands on. I then progressed to Stephen King (of course) and have been hooked on horror since.

3. The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger

I read this when I was about ten and completely fell in love with Paula Danziger. It was the first book I’d read that really reflected my own issues and emotions back at me – Marcy is a shy, self-conscious teen who doesn’t get on with her dad and dreams of being a writer. Ding, ding, ding! It was as though Danziger had written the story just for me and the hopeful ending (and sequel) really helped me through a rough time. I went on to read everything she’d ever written and I connected with every protagonist because Danziger is a master at YA voice. Despite being a genre editor I’m currently writing a realistic middle grade novel about a girl with social anxiety and there’s no denying Paula Danziger influenced me enormously.

4. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hannf

I think I fell out of love with reading a little for a few years after university but this book reminded me how exciting and all-consuming books could be. Hannf’s letters are so full of passion and lust for life that I was just dying to go for cocktails with her.

5. From the Beast to the Blonde by Marina Warner

Marina is an utter genius. I studied a lot of her academic fairytale work on my Children’s Literature MA and it was the first time I’d ever really looked critically at the stories from my childhood. The whole degree course made me explore the ways we have historically written for kids and injected that writing with moralistic messages, and to think about how we as twenty first century authors can do better. But Marina Warner’s books in particular really captured my imagination. Not only was her analytical feminist approach to fairytales fascinating and eye opening but it also introduced me to the world of dark, macabre folklore, something I now seek out whenever possible! Although I’m supposed to be editing my middle grade work in progress right now I’m spending a lot of time dreaming up ideas for the dark YA fantasy in my head and Charles Perrault, the Grimms and Marina Warner have all given me lots of food for thought.

One book I’d recommend to aspiring middle grade and YA authors

Cheryl B. Klein’s The Magic Words

The book I’m reading right now

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (YA fantasy)

The last book I loved 

I fangirl over this book a lot but I utterly adored Amy Lukavics’ YA horror Daughters Unto Devils when I read it last year and I don’t think I’ve read anything quite as brilliant since.

My favourite book

It changes constantly but for now I’d have to say We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.

Thanks so much for reading, lovely writer! Want empowering, feel-good writing chat and fairy dust in your inbox? Plus receive a PDF of my recommended writing craft books for children’s and YA writers (including go-to genre guides and Children’s Lit MA reading list) AND £20 Wolf Credit to spend with me! Sign up today!

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes is a developmental editor working with middle grade and YA authors. She specialises in speculative and genre fiction, particularly horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi and anything with a dash of magic or macabre. She is a member of the SfEP, EFA, ACES, British Fantasy Society, Horror Writers Association and SCBWI. She has an MA in Novel Writing and an MA in Children's Literature.

All stories by: Siobhan O'Brien Holmes