I was recently given the opportunity to read and review Oy Yew and interview its author Ana Salote. Yes, a free book and an opportunity to find out more about an author’s writing process – naturally, I jumped at the chance!
Oy Yew is a fantasy book (the first in a trilogy) with a classic feel, aimed at children from ‘8 +’. As the back cover tells us:
‘Lay low and grow,’ is the motto of the waifs of Duldred Hall. The only way to escape their life of drudgery is to reach the magical height of 5 thighs 10 oggits. But Master Jeopardine is determined to feed them little and keep them small. When the master’s methods grow more sinister the waifs must face their doubts. What is kept in the Bone Room? Why is Rook’s parlour locked? A new waif arrives and the fight for survival begins. But this child brings another mystery: who is Oy?
A realisation I had early on in the book is that the ‘+’ part of the ‘8+’ readership aim is very true. While I can well imagine younger readers being entranced by it, this is not a book that ‘babies’ the reader and is certainly one that an adult can enjoy. Jeopardine (with his bone obsession – eek!) is a genuinely creepy character and from the first page the reader is firmly on the side of Oy and the other waifs and desperate for them to escape.
As the story progresses and the waifs explore the mystery behind a series of – rather grisly – ‘accidents’ that have befallen their friends, the sense of peril kept me gripped while the sweet, tough, familiar, unusual characters of the waifs drew me in and had me genuinely caring about them. Despite the danger and the darkness in the book, the love and warmth in their relationships and the dashes of humour that run through the story ensure it is neither to heavy nor too scary for its young readership. Ana Salote has created a fantasy world with a dash of magic, a slosh of danger and a bucket-load of hope. I’ll be giving it to my 8 year old son to read soon!
And so to the interview!
Hi Ana, congratulations on the publication of Oy Yew!
Could you tell us a little about yourself?
My background is a bit of a mix. My father was a heavyweight boxer from Tonga, my mother was a Derbyshire miner’s daughter. I grew up among strong characters with constant drama. It was a mine of material. I went to a comprehensive school where the teachers were much to be pitied. I left at 16 and went to the university of life as they say, and all the time I was reading, reading, reading. Now I live in Somerset. It’s a beautiful, magical place. I’m drawn to the dusky, the fey and the nether. I’m allergic to jargon, corporations and the ubiquitous ‘should of’.
I think we all go on a bit of a journey to becoming writers – whether we leap out of the womb with pen in hand, or discover our dormant writing gene in middle age while deep-sea diving. What’s your journey been?
I was born at home otherwise I might have scribed my own name tag. When I was too small to hold a broadsheet I used to spread it on the floor to read. I read whatever I could get: oldBrer Rabbits, my grandad’s JT Edsons, my mother’s Catherine Cooksons. I ate most of Bolsover library like a caterpillar on speed. I kept journals from my late teens onwards and wrote stories and poems. I wrote my first novel in my 30s. It was a middle grade timeslip. My daughter loved it. Then came Tree Talk, an environmental parable written from the viewpoint of a tree. I self-pubbed before e-books. My teenage son photo-shopped the cover (yes, I know it shows) but I stand by the writing. Oy Yew is my third novel and the first to be traditionally published.
I loved Oy Yew and thought you created an intricate magical world – what inspired you to write it? How long did it take you to get from the idea to a finished book?
I think some things are intrinsically magical. Acorns, seahorses, teapots and owls are magical. Carrots, house flies, coffee pots and pigeons are not. Chimneys are on my magical list. Chimneys seeded the central mystery of Oy Yew. My sweep, Alas Ringworm, quickly introduced himself. I knew that he was scared of something. I began writing to find out what it was. The character of Oy is based on a real person: a shy, sensitive character with a voice you strain to hear. It’s difficult to get to know someone like that. Others force their worlds down your throat. I’m more interested in the inner worlds of the shy. What qualities are they hiding?
Another thing that fascinates me is nature and nurture. At the start of the book Oy is all nature. He recalls no human interactions. His only connection with the people he observes has been through empathy. I took the unformed Oy and dropped him into the middle of a life-threatening mystery. I waited to see what inner qualities would emerge to help him deal with it.
The first draft took 2 years. The submissions round ran into years mainly because each positive response put things on hold while they considered and asked for rewrites etc. From first words to publisher’s acceptance was more than 5 years.
I was glad to find out that it’s the first book in a trilogy – how are you getting on with the next books in the ‘Waifs of Duldred’ series?
Things have speeded up greatly with the next two books set for release at yearly intervals. Book two needs final edits. Book 3 is at second draft stage so I’m on track to deliver in December.
What’s your writing process? Do your characters evolve and surprise you? (was the marvellous Jeopardine always that horrid?)
I’m a pantster. I kick off with a trigger then I run with the scenes that excite me, the delicious ones, the ones I long to put words to. I end up with a lot of islets formed in play. Plot ideas form as I write. Characters deepen. I begin to drag and drop into sequence. A shape emerges.
The characters evolve quickly once I know what drives them. Jeopardine started with a name and a strong visual. His parents formed him in a Larkinesque way, so he wishes for success in the manner of a predatory, bone-fixated hawk. It doesn’t make him less horrid; it does make him more interesting. My publisher sees him as a young Daniel Day-Lewis; she’s a little bit in love with him.
What’s your editing process? How many drafts did you write?
- Draft 1 – Jumbled pools of inspiration with varying degrees of polish, loosely linked.
- Draft 2 – Big cut and paste job.
- Draft 3 – Interrogation. Is it necessary? Authentic? Rhythmic? Varied in pace and mood?
- Draft 4 – How does it read? Does it flow? Does the brain catch on anything? Does it satisfy?
- Draft 5 – Disengaged continuity check and proof reading.
One of the things I liked about Oy Yew was its ‘classic’ feel – did this make it easier or harder to find a publisher?
Harder. Commercial is the mantra. The big publishers are looking for mass appeal hence the slew of celebrity names attached to books. The voice of Oy Yew is unlike the current high-selling titles. The big presses were complimentary but unwilling to take a risk. There are some fantastic small presses out there who tend to be more adventurous. Thank you Mother’s Milk Books.
How have things been going since publication? Have you been doing a lot of promotional work?
We launched at Lowdham book festival near Nottingham. I have other events lined up for August and September in Lincoln, Nottingham and the wonderful Melton Bookshop. Promotion is hard and time-consuming. Scattergun promotion isn’t very productive. There are readers of all ages out there who enjoy crossover fiction, who immersed themselves in Harry Potter, His Dark Materials and Titus Groan, and are looking for their next read. All I want to do is wave to them and say ‘try this’.
Do you have any advice for those of us at an earlier stage of the writing process?
Beliefs are a placebo effect that shapes reality. If you want to be really creative stop taking the pills.
What hopes and plans do you have for your future as a writer?
I’ve been marinating an adult novel for a long time. I want to celebrate the Northern matriarchs I grew up with. I know the title of the book, the characters and the setting. I’m not yet sure of the arc. I wanted to serve my apprenticeship as a writer before attempting this as it means so much to me. I want to do justice to their lives.
Thanks Ana! I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy and your adult novel (when the time comes) too. Good luck with all your writing and marketing.
Thanks to Teika Bellamy at Mothers Milk Books for my copy of Oy Yew and the interview opportunity.
Linking up with #The prompt at Mumturnedmom – this week it’s “to read… ”