WHEN Ellie Phillips was 12 years old her parents bought a Surrey book store and moved the family into the small flat above.
“I spent hours reading everything in that shop,” she says. “From then on all I wanted was to be an author and write books for teenagers.”
It has taken 23 years, several unloved jobs – including, bizarrely, working for an arms magazine – and a plethora of JK Rowling-style knock-backs.
But this month a manuscript, written while balancing young motherhood, adult education courses and part-time work, has finally seen her dream become reality.That manuscript was so well thought of by bosses at major European publishing house Egmont they immediately offered the mother-of-one a five-figure two-book deal.
Now Dads, Geeks & Blue Haired Freaks – about a 15-year-old girl searching for her real father – is receiving rave online reviews from teenagers after being released just last week.
“It’s exciting,” says Ellie, 35. “I had the idea for the story while I was doing a course in children’s writing. The tutor said it was a good concept but when you send it to publishing companies you’re always aware you’re probably going to be rejected. I have been before. So to get this deal was thrilling. And they want to extend the series which is great.”
And the secret of her success, she reckons, is... “I think it’s because in my head I’m still 15,” laughs the mother-of-one of Frickley Road, Nether Green. “I still love teen movies and young fiction so I find it easy to think from that perspective.”
Now, she’s writing the sequel, provisionally titled Scissors, Sisters And Manic Panics, while also working on a book for younger children – set in Nether Green.
“It’s about a boy and his mynah bird getting into mischief,” she says.
“I’ve based it here because I find Sheffield so inspiring.”
She hasn’t always lived here. From that Surrey book shop, she wound up in London working in a series of journalism jobs including staffing on Jane’s Defence Weekly magazine (“I was a member of CND at the time,” she notes). She continued writing and sending off stories but received several refusals before deciding to attend night classes at London’s City Lit college.
There she had that defining idea for her breakthrough novel before, last year, she and partner Saul Freeman left the capital to move north.
“It’s too expensive to be a writer in London,” she notes. “We had family in Sheffield. I love it.”
And now, after all those years, the best thing about finally fulfilling that dream?
“I had an old friend who got in touch on Facebook,” she says. “She told me her 12-year-old daughter had loved the book. That was lovely to hear.”
Dads, Geeks And Blue Haired Freaks is in bookshops now.