As a writer hoping to have my own books published one day, I’m always interested to hear from published authors – there is so much I can learn! So, when I was recently contacted by Di Castle asking if I would like to review her ‘Grandma’s Poetry Book’, I said I’d be happy to (there was a free book in it for me, after all… ) and asked if I could interview her too.
I’m pleased to say Di’s answer was yes! The interview is below (and Di was very generous with her responses so it’s well worth a read) but first, here’s a bit about the book:
Grandma’s poetry book is a collection of poems by Di Castle about her experience of being a grandmother. Each poem is individually illustrated by Denise Horn.
As Di has been been a grandmother for fifteen years and writing since before the birth of her first grandchild, the poems cover a huge range of milestones, from the first pregnancy announcement, through births, toddler troubles, school days and on to the teenage years.
The poems have a light touch but capture a whole range of experiences and moods. They’re often humorous but also moving and they feel very honest and real. They are all in rhyming verse so if you’re after a more serious, heavy-weight sort of poetry this might not be the book for you, but personally I found Di’s style very readable and enjoyable.
The book itself feels like a quality product and Denise Horn’s illustrations blend perfectly with the poems. I enjoyed dipping in and out and it was often the pictures that drew me to read a particular poem, which I think is a sure sign of a successful collaboration.
The poems have brought both a smile to my face and, at times a tear to my eye. There is a deep current of love that runs through the whole book and having read it, even though I am many years from being a grandmother myself, I have a genuine sense of what it might feel like. I can imagine it would make a great present for any grandmother!
Hi Di, thanks for sending me a copy of your book (I hope you like my review!) and for agreeing to this interview.
The book contains poems about your – many and varied – experiences of being a grandmother. How long did it take you to write them? Did some flow out of your pen more easily than others?
It took 16 years from start to finish. I began writing them before my first grandchild was born – in fact when my friend became a grandmother. My own first granddaughter was born in 2000. I wrote thoughts and rhyming couplets in my notebook which I later developed and eventually realised I had enough for a book.
Some poems were easier than others. Some had been in competitions so were fairly well honed. Some were done at the last minute to make sure all my grandchildren were included. I struggled with one or two of them but the mothers helped me with ideas. It is true though that some poems seem to write themselves while others have to be crafted.
What is your editing process? Did it vary with each poem?
They all start off in my writers’ notebooks and then after some alterations and additions I put them on the computer, print them out and then carry them around with me when I am travelling e.g to grandchildren by train. I read and reread, scribble over them and put them away. They evolve really and I return to them over and over to re-read, read aloud and polish them.
What made you decide to compile your poems into an anthology?
I really wanted to publish my memoir of growing up with a deaf sister but have run into various difficulties getting agents (although I do have a few interested now). I was impatient then to get into print and realised I had sufficient material in my poems to publish a book. Also I wanted to get them published for my grandchildren as a gift from me. They love them. I am now keen to get my memoir published for them as well but editing and revising takes so much time. Grandma filled the gap really.
Your book contains lovely illustrations that blend well with your poetry – how did you go about finding an illustrator?
I tried a few local artists but some declined as they felt their type of art would not do the poetry credit. Eventually someone recommended Denise Horn. She asked to see my poems then replied by return not to let anyone else do it as she wanted to do it. Right from the start I felt she captured the essence of each poem. The rest is history. She is my greatest fan and I am hers. We now have a fantastic friendship.
Why did you decide to self-publish (rather than go down a traditional route)?
It is very difficult to get an agent or a publisher for poetry. You have to be Carol Ann Duffy or dead! No-one wants your poetry if you are not already well known. It is a chicken and egg situation really. You have to be published before anyone looks at you and no-one looks at you until you are. I felt at my age I could not wait, and heard of other writers who had self published and then had been picked up by a mainstream publisher. That is still my dream! Also, I soon discovered that if I did find a mainstream publisher they may not take Denise as the illustrator but would get their own and I wanted Denise to do it.
What has your experience of self-publishing been? Do you have any tips or recommendations?
I cannot speak highly enough of Matador. Their staff loved my work from the time I handed over some sheets of poems and some illustrations at the Winchester Writers’ Conference in 2013. I had visited other self-publishing stands and they wanted me to go through hoops e.g produce a PDF of the poems. What? And to get the illustrations professionally scanned. I had already paid Denise and that route would have been too expensive. I was not overly impressed with the quality of the books produced by other self-publishing companies and have been absolutely delighted with the quality of Grandma’s Poetry Book. I see people pick it up and they are immediately taken with it.
The process was so smooth with Matador. Every email is answered within 24 hours and they are so helpful and treat you as if you are the only author they have!! The personal touch helps. It has cost more money but in the end I had a superior product and I am sure Grandma will be around for many years so it was worth getting the best I could for her!
How long did the publishing process take?
It took about 10 months from start to finish. I began with enquiry emails, asking more questions and more and more until we got to the contract stage. All the time I was polishing the poems, reading them at open mic nights to test the water and getting them the right length. Then I had to write the preface and Denise and I had to write our bios which was new to us. I uploaded the files in early May 2024 but it took until the end of October to get the first delivery of books.
How have you been marketing your book? Has your focus been with online sales or in your local community (or both)?
As far as online or local community, I have done both. I have done a lot of local signings and have talks booked over the next year in the area with WI and over60 groups plus evening talks at a local hotel in the summer season. I have have booked myself into every available local summer fair and other events which are in a good cause further afield – I think it will be a lovely way to spend a day and I have a willing chauffeur!!
I have nurtured a relationship with my local bookshop which has sold about 30 books since Christmas. The book is also in two other Dorset bookshops and I now have a supplier ID for the National Trust. This has taken time with personal visits, follow up emails and using contacts.
I was very green about social media but I have grown my twitter following from 200 to 1500 in six months by contacting mummy bloggers and mums groups, asking for follows, reviews and retweets. I am now one of the 100 authors on the Henpicked site which publishes articles of informative interest to women over 40+. They have 6000 followers and likes on Facebook and are great at retweeting. I have my own website with more information about the book and also have a Writer page on Facebook. Any social media is good.
Has the experience of writing, producing and selling a book been as you imagined?
It has been better than I imagined. I cannot explain how much difference it has made to my life. It has been a life-long dream to be published and I am lucky to be in the generation where the awful term ‘vanity’ publishing has been banished and the ‘indie’ author term has grown. It has allowed me to be involved with local charities, giving free copies for raffles and I have got to know so many people through this venture, so many lovely people. One buyer is reading two poems a night to her mother who has Alzheimers and they talk about when the children were small and it acts as reminiscence therapy. That brought a warm feeling to my heart. I get so much praise in reviews and via email and it is good to know I have made people ‘laugh and cry’ as they say.
Have you got any advice for those of us writing poetry (or anything else for that matter) who are wondering about publishing it?
I would say ‘go for it’ but think about your audience and how you are going to promote it. I think I have a very receptive target market. The illustrations have helped so I would say do try to get an illustrator or do your own. For poetry, self publishing is probably best although there are poetry presses which may take your work. You can look through Writers and Artists’ Yearbook.
Further, do build up a good network of writers and people who could be your readers. Join a poetry group and read your work aloud. Find an open mic night. Send poems to the local paper. Enter competitions such as those at Winchester Writers’ Festival. Attend Festivals, read other work (especially in the genre you are writing) and listen to what they tell you in writing workshops.
If you have produced something creative it should be out there being read and if no publisher wants it that does not mean it is not any good. Poetry now forms a large part of the GCSE English Literature and your work may be welcomed in schools with talks and readings. Have faith in your abilities and just get on and do it. But after that, keep writing. Apparently you are more likely to get sales if you have more than one book on Amazon. So write, write, write and don’t give up. And keep the faith!
Thanks Di and good luck with book sales and all your future creative endeavours!
I’m linking this up with The Prompt at Mumturnedmom. This week it is ‘confidence’ and I hope the confidence that allowed Di to publish her work can inspire others to do the same!