Tag Archives: books

book launch!

It’s funny the twists and turns life takes. When I began this blog a few years ago it was with the dream of becoming a published author, yet this weekend when I finally found myself holding a novel bearing my name, it was as an illustrator!inside cover

As you can see in the photo, the book is The Mystery of The Disappearing Underpants by Nikki Young. It’s aimed at 8 – 11 year olds and centres on Harry, his best friend James and neighbour Stacey who form a spy club and spend their summer holidays solving mysteries. The premise immediately appealed to me because my brothers and I often pretended we were spies when we were kids and I loved the way the story started off light-hearted but ended up with a real mystery that’s genuinely exciting.

The book was released last week and on Saturday I went to the launch party! The journey down to Kent from up here in Northumberland was a bit of a trek – especially with a  two and a half hour train delay which led to me arriving rather more than fashionably late – but it was worth every moment. The launch was brilliant with pink fizz, book signing, cupcakes with my illustrations on them and conversations with some really lovely people. I’m so impressed with Nikki for all the hard work she’s put into the book and really happy to have been able to work with her to add that little extra something.

book launch

I left the launch full of optimism, cupcakes and bubbles and, as if that wasn’t enough, then went immediately to London and met my oldest friend for a meal. A night away by myself is a rare treat indeed – with no kids tea or bedtime to have to think about, I was so giddy I could barely find my way to the restaurant, but I got there in the end and we had a wonderful evening. I then went to check-in to my hotel, was told I’d had a free room upgrade and found myself with this view:

kings cross at night

Wow. It was a little louder and brighter than the moonlit fields of home but for the one night it was totally perfect! The next morning I had a leisurely breakfast (avocado and scrambled eggs on toast, freshly squeezed orange juice and not a child in sight – not my usual experience!) and then strolled off to meet my writing friends for lunch. And when I say ‘lunch’ I mean a six hour long food and drink fest where we utterly put the world to rights. Ah, bliss.

What I'm Writing meet up May 17

Finally, on the train home I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for years and had a really good catch up. It was the perfect end to my weekend way. I arrived home and was able to give my sons a copy of Nikki’s book each. My middle son was so excited he’s now cleared a shelf of his bookcase for “Books illustrated by Maddy Bennett (my mum)”. If that’s not a reason to keep on drawing in every spare moment, then I don’t know what is. I fully intend to make sure he ends up with some books written by me on that shelf too. One day.

You can find out more about The Mystery of the Disappearing underpants (and buy it!) here.

books illustrated by Maddy Bennett

illustrating for the Story of Me

cameron's dragons cropYou know the feeling you get when you’re involved in a particularly inspiring project? Something that’s not only fun, interesting and exciting but that bit special too?

I’ve had that feeling recently about an illustration project I’ve been working on. It’s called The Story of Me and is the brainchild of a friend of mine who’s a primary school teacher in Scotland.

Sus – or, as she is generally known by a classroom of children, Mrs Jeffries – is one my oldest friends and someone who never fails to amaze and inspire me. She’s not only a teacher and a mother of two, she also writes for the TES, sits on the boards of creative companies and is studying illustration. I don’t know what powers her (although I suspect creme eggs or party rings might play their part!) but to top it off she’s always full of amazing ideas. The Story of Me is no exception.

The idea is based on a study which found that children were more likely to recall target vocabulary if it was used in sentences where they themselves were the subject of the sentence. In other words, when you’re teaching kids to read, they’re more likely to remember words in stories about them.

Knowing how well children respond to images as well as words, Sus designed a project where the children in her class would work (remotely) alongside illustrators to create stories that they were the subject of. You can read more about the details and expected outcomes here but the basic idea was that the children would provide sentences for the illustrators to work with and by the end of the project, each child would have a short illustrated book about themselves which would help them learn and remember target words. A book that they’d co-created – how cool is that?!

I was one of the twenty illustrators who were a part of this project and I worked with six-year-old Cameron. He wrote a sentence or two a week for me to illustrate and the project evolved as it went along – I was never sure what Cameron would write or how I might respond and was often surprised… by both of us! There was something so lovely about illustrating for a specific child and feeling I was helping to create a story that meant something to him. I’ve heard from Sus that he loved what I did and that means loads to me.

Anyway, as the project draws to a close, I thought I’d share our little story:

Cameron's dragon's 1cameron's dragons page 2Cameron's dragon's page 3Cameron's dragons 4

I have to admit, when I got the first sentence I wasn’t sure how to illustrate it at all and figured all I could do was draw Cameron (I had a photo to work with). After that it became easier; the dragons came to me the moment I read his ‘dun dun duuuuuuuuun’ – I mean, clearly there was something exciting going on so… dragons!

I absolutely loved the way Cameron took the dragon idea and ran with it. Dragons playing hide and seek was loads of fun to draw (and apparently the whole class of kids enjoyed looking for them in the picture) and the idea of a dragon that would trick him with a drawing of itself was brilliant. He really gave them – and the whole story – personality!

The kids are all going to receive their final pictures and finished books after the Easter holidays. I’m looking forward to finding out what Cameron and his classmates think about them! It’s been a fab thing to be involved in! :)

Illustration news!

I’ve been quiet online recently for various reasons but, listen up, I’ve got some exciting news to share!

Remember how I said I’d been working on an illustration commission? Well, I can now announce that ‘The Mystery of the Disappearing Underpants‘ by Nikki Young will be published on April 28th, complete with illustrations from my very own pen!

Nikki’s book is aimed at 9 – 11 year olds and centres on Harry, his best mate James and neighbour Stacey who form a spy club and spend their summer holidays solving mysteries. Things start off fun and light-hearted but then events take a sinister turn…

You can find out more about the book (and see my own review of it) here but I can certainly recommend it. My nine-year-old son is desperate to read it and I can’t wait to give him a copy!

dog and people final for instagram

 

Nikki has also written a short story introducing the characters from her novel. This is called ‘A Special Day’ and is available as a FREE ebook over on Nikki’s website with cover illustrations by yours truly. Why not pop over for a read?

I’ve loved creating the illustrations for both books, and working with Nikki was a joy. I can’t wait to attend the launch of ‘Underpants’ (as it is affectionately known) next month! It might be worth keeping an eye on my instagram feed as I practice making underpants-themed cupcakes… undercakes? Cup pants? Erm… maybe I’ll just stick to biscuits.

Book Review – Quiet by Susan Cain

quietI’ve just finished reading Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I’ve been reading it for a month which I know is a long time to be reading one book but it made me think so much I kept having to stop and reflect. It’s so interesting!

I was drawn to the book as I’ve long classified myself as an introvert. I’m someone who needs time alone to re-charge my batteries, who prefers socialising one-on-one or in small groups (rather than big parties), who can feel overwhelmed if there is too much stimulus – too many loud noises, different demands on my attention, or a new or changing environment. I like reading and writing and drawing and thinking. I need time to reflect. I want to really get to know people and am utterly frustrated by (and useless at) small talk. These are all classic introvert traits.

Despite being aware of all this upfront, I still found the book eye-opening. Cain has done so much research and explores the extent to which western society has promoted the ‘extrovert ideal’ and has, over the last century, set itself up in a way that often undervalues the many different strengths that introverts have, making it more difficult for them to thrive. It sets out to redress the balance proving what this group – one third to one half of people – have historically done for society and looking at ways in which we can support rather than undermine them now and with our next generation.

Having read the blurb on the back I thought it was going to be a rather one-sided book and yes, as an introvert, you do read it thinking ‘blimey, we’re awesome, hooray for us!’ but nevertheless, the author makes a case for the necessity for both introverts and extroverts in society. Extroverts bring us boldness, risk-taking, the ability to bring people together, to socialise on a large scale, to inspire, to enthuse and excite. They love being surrounded by others and thrive on the energy of groups. Who hasn’t been drawn to an extrovert’s warmth, charisma and social ease?! I know I have!

But introverts, ah, introverts, they bring so much to the table – quiet courage, fortitude, resolve, creativity, reflective intelligence and an ability to form deep bonds with others, to inspire and guide through connection and understanding. Introverts populate the arts and have been responsible for amazing scientific break-throughs. Who hasn’t been drawn to an introvert’s passion, dedication, or desire to forge a meaningful relationship? I really, really have!

Cain is American and it sounds like the ‘extrovert ideal’ is even stronger there than it is here in the UK, with extroversion as the desirable expectation, introverted qualities often frowned upon and with schools and businesses set up in ways which benefit the former at the expense of the latter. But still, a lot rang true for this country too. Open plan offices? No good for introverts who need time on their own to think, reflect and plan. Lots of group work in schools and an expectation of speaking out in front of the class? Exhausting and overwhelming for introverted kids who function much better on their own or with one or two others, and for many of whom, speaking out is terrifying.

The book looks at ways to bring out the best in introverted children and how to understand ourselves as introverted adults. It shows how understanding yourself can help you deal with all sorts of situations. It explores solutions for possible stumbling blocks in introvert/extrovert relationships and also makes clear that there are various different aspects to personality and that shyness and introversion, though they often go together, do not have to. Oh, and the myth that introverts are ‘antisocial’ is kicked to the curb. Yes, introverts don’t require lots of social interaction the way extroverts do but human connection is another thing entirely. Introverts love to talk meaningfully and really get to know people.

I didn’t identify with all the points Cain makes about introversion (to the extent that I’m honestly wondering if I’m actually an ambivert – yes, really, it’s a thing). I think I’m rather emotionally upfront and feisty and not enough of a ‘delicate orchid’ (yes, that term is really used.. hmmm) to truly fit the bill. I also think I have more need for social contact than the classic introvert Cain describes – one of my groups of friends refers to me as their ‘social secretary’ because I’m so keen to get us all together (I love them, so who can blame me?!) and I’m forever texting and emailing friends, arranging to see people and making time for my besties. There was also a bit in the book about conflict within romantic relationships which was all about introverts avoiding arguments and not really saying what they felt and I was like, ‘difficulty expressing emotion?! Er, haha, no that’s not me at all!’ Let’s just say I burn hot!

But then again, as Cain states, you’re highly unlikely have all the traits of a specific category. We all differ and there’s no need place ourselves in a category and let it define all our actions and expectations forevermore. I think like many things in life, it’s a spectrum and you can have some attributes and not others. Also, we all have to be free to feel and react differently in different situations. Cain discusses the possibility of adopting an ‘extroverted persona’ to get through certain tasks and I can well imagine this persona becoming a familiar part of yourself if well used enough. For me at least, the book is less about ultimate classification and more about gaining a better understanding of ourselves and our fellow human beings.

There’s so much in this book, I’m just skimming the surface here and all I can really do is recommend you read it for yourself. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert there’s lots to learn. If you’ve never understood certain aspects of your personality or your relationships with others it could be massively eye-opening – life changing, even – and it’s very interesting to read as a parent too.

I’ll finish with a quote from the book:

“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk.”

Quiet might just help you find your light… and let yourself shine.

bedside books

As much as I love my Kindle (it’s revolutionised my reading!), I don’t think anything can really replace having actual, real books to look at, hold and and lose yourself in. I love the sight of bookcases in houses and our sitting room bookcase, which is loaded with wedding presents (we asked for books that meant something to the giver :) ), makes me really happy. I also love having a pile of books on my bedside table and, given it’s about to be the summer holidays and you might be looking for book suggestions, I thought I’d share what’s currently sitting there with you. Maybe you can share what you’re reading with me too?

book pile

Nice looking stack, hey? Here we go – top to bottom:

The Space Between – Poems by Jonathan Barnes

This is a book of my Dad’s poetry. He’s a talented poet and I’m not at all biased in saying that! Oh, ok, I’m biased but I am also right. He has a gentle but powerful way with words. He gets to the truth of things the way all good poets do – his words always speak to me. Last night one of the poems in this collection made me cry. It’s a funny feeling reading the poetry of someone you know so well – you see more of their heart, mind and soul than you otherwise would, but at the same time it’s very much recognisably them too. Anyway, I love having poetry on my bedside table.

Moonfleet – by J Meade Falkner

This is an adventure story for kids (about pirates and smuggling), first published in 1898. It used to be hugely popular and has been made into a film and been adapted for TV and radio several times over the last sixty-odd years. My mum gave it to me recently for my eldest son (who’s just turned nine) to read. She said it was fantastic, that I should read it too and that it has in it the best chapter of any book she’s ever read. I’m hoping to read it soon!

Yes Please – by Amy Poehler

As a huge fan of the hilarious Parks and Recreation (in which she stars), I’ve been really enjoying reading Amy Poehler’s autobiography. She’s a really smart, funny and inspirational woman and it’s the sort of book where you’re constantly thinking ‘oh that’s a great quote!’ (check out this list for examples). I loved the preface where she describes her experience of writing the book (I know – the preface – you could say she had me at ‘hello’) and how hard it was, and not to believe that writing is anything but hard:

“Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing away dirt from a fossil. What a load of shit. It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver.”

Yes, I know that hacking feeling! She’s very straightforward about it, saying that you just have to write, despite the other draws on your time and attention, and despite the voice of self doubt, because “Writing the book is about writing the book”.

The War of Art – by Steven Pressfield

My brother gave me this book for Christmas. It’s all about breaking through blocks and getting your work created. I read the first sections at the start of the year and was all, “Yes! I ‘m going to do this thing! Come on!” and I had a real creative surge for a good few months. Then I stopped reading the book – it was starting to get a bit religious and I couldn’t connect with it as much… even though the publishers pre-empted this possible reaction with a foreword written by an atheist. I haven’t gone back to it, but I will because there was so much in there that made sense.

How to Be a Husband – by Tim Dowling

I was lucky enough to meet Tim Dowling at a blogging conference last November. I can reveal that he is every bit as funny, honest and down-to-earth as his Guardian columns show him to be… and also a lot more handsome in person. I really was thrilled to meet him (could my excitement be any more obvious in this photo OF HIM WITH HIS ARM ROUND ME – I doubt it.) Anyway, sorry sidetracked there… the book… the book is also very funny. As with all non-fiction I tend to dip in and out of it (with a novel I always carry or I’d just forget the storyline) so I haven’t finished it yet, but so far I’m finding it honest, witty and wise.

Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times – edited by Neil Astley

This collection is absolutely what it claims to be: “500 life-affirming poems fired by belief in the human and the spiritual at a time when much in the world feels unreal, inhuman and hollow.” My husband gave me the book last year and, frankly, this year the world has felt more ‘inhuman and hollow’ than ever (is anyone else wishing they could press the ‘reset button’ on 2016?). So this collection feels even more important now. I dip into it when I need to.

Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft – by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

This is a graphic novel that my husband recommended to me. I’ve never read a graphic novel in my life and it’s about time I started. I think as a writer and wannabe illustrator it makes a whole heap of sense to explore a new area of writing (as a reader). I haven’t started this yet *feels guilty* but I will, I will, I will!

You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes – by Chris Hadfield

Astronaut commander Chris Hadfield spent five months in 2013 aboard the international space station, where he used social media to capture the interest and imagination of millions of people world wide (I’m sure he was doing important astronaut work too… ). This is a book brim full of incredible pictures he took of earth from his vantage point in space, punctuated with his thoughts and observations – it’s amazing. My husband took our eldest son to meet Commander Hadfield last November so this is a special signed copy – a fact which makes me very happy!

So that’s my ‘dip in, dip out’ reading stack! What’s on your bedside book list? I’d love to hear any recommendations!

***

Oh, and before I go – I think I’m going to step back a bit from my blog over the summer. I’m already down to just one post a week but time is going to be tight to even get that written, what with having three kids around the place, a diary that is fast (and happily) filling up with meet-ups with friends, and the fact that I want to draw where I can. I’m not saying I won’t post at all, I’m just saying it will be completely ad hoc. I’m going to pause #WhatImWriting over the summer too – I’ll write more about that in the linky post.

Have a great summer!

Writing Bubble

Book review: Runaway Girl by Emily Organ

Runaway-Girl-cover“London, 1352. A girl is missing and someone doesn’t want her found.

After the death of her family, Alice has chosen a quiet life of seclusion in a monastery. But she is hit by a personal tragedy which forces her to confront the dangers of medieval London.

When her 14 year old friend, Constance, vanishes, Alice’s life is turned upside down. Is Constance’s disappearance linked to a dead girl pulled from the Thames? And another girl is on the run – but who is she running from?

Alice’s desperate search stirs up something sinister and soon her own life is in danger. Powerful forces are at work to ensure the truth will never be uncovered.”

Having enjoyed Emily’s first two books, The Last Day and The Outsider, I jumped at the chance to read and review an advanced copy of her latest novel, Runaway Girl. And I’m glad I did. This was a gripping read – part mystery, part adventure, part historical novel and with more than a whiff of romance too!

The central premise of the story – that of missing and runaway girls – was a compelling one which had me rooting for the characters against the horribly patriarchal society in which they lived. I rarely read historical novels (I’m more of a modern day, psychological thriller kind of girl) so I was initially unsure how I’d feel about a book where no one could so much as pick up a phone let alone be constantly socially-connected the way most of us are these days.

However, the two central female protagonists, despite being firmly rooted in their medieval setting, had a modern enough flavour for me to identify with them. Indeed, the fact that Alice can’t set up a FB page or #FindConstance hashtag for her missing friend but has to rely almost entirely on her own instincts and abilities out on the filthy, dangerous London streets, only upped the ante for me. In a society where ‘covering things up’ and putting the blame on women was widespread, who couldn’t root for these strong female characters who had so much to fight against?

Especially – and I’m giving him his own paragraph here to emphasise his monstrousness – the hideous Sir Walter! I do love a novel with a villain to truly loathe and this character was certainly one of those. I can’t over-emphasise how much I yearned for him to get his comeuppance and I also can’t give away whether I got what I hoped for!

Although it works as a standalone novel, Runaway Girl is the first in a trilogy and I can’t wait to find out what happens next for Alice. Her story is clearly not over yet!

Runaway Girl is OUT NOW .

To read my mini reviews of Emily’s previous novels along with an interview please click here.

Read With Me

five MORE great books I read in 2015

Just before New Year I shared five of my favourite books from 2015 (that is, books I read in that year – I can’t promise you it was their year of publication – I read to my own, random schedule). I promised to share another five in the new year so, here we go!

open books in a pile

1. The Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins

I read these over Christmas and New Year 2014/2015. I was late enough to the party reading them then (they were published in 2008 – 2010) and I’m even later writing about them now but I just HAVE to include them in this list because they were unputdownable. I even walked into a wall once while reading the second book. On the off-chance you don’t know the story, it’s set in a dystopian future in a nation called Panem. This is divided into twelve districts who are forced, each year, to send two of their teenagers to take part in the ‘Hunger Games’ – a televised fight-to-the-death in a huge computer-generated landscape. For seventy-three years this forced massacre has occurred, but now it’s the seventy-forth Hunger Games and Katniss Everdeen is about to enter the arena…

These books are brilliant but I won’t lie, I found parts of them hard to read – I’m a bit of a softy, many of the deaths really are grizzly and I almost couldn’t bear it. But the characters felt so real and the world they inhabited so vibrant that I got totally pulled in. It’s a Young Adult series so, of course, there was romance thrown into the mix and I found I really cared about this too (I was ‘team Peeta’ in case you’re wondering)! The third book didn’t reach the dizzy heights of the first two but overall it was totally gripping. I remain a little bit in love with Finnick to this day.

2. The Love Song of Miss Quennie Hennessy – Rachel Joyce

Oh, this book, this book! It is a sequel (of sorts) to the award-winning ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ which was a best seller back in 2013. It’s told from the point of view of Queenie who, in her hospice, discovers that her old friend Harold is walking the length of England to reach her. Unsure if she will still be alive when he gets there, she decides to write to him. Her letter is “the truth, the whole truth” and she hopes that in revealing her secrets she will atone for her sins.

I’ve written before about how highly I rate Rachel Joyce as an author and this book is another example of how she weaves magic into the every day, and beauty into the mundane. The book is, in many  – perhaps most – ways, a heart-breaking tale but it’s also overflowing with warmth. The characters in the hospice are beautifully described and there is a lot of humour in their interactions. It is their story too and, as such, a story of the strengths and frailties of the human spirit. A book to be treasured. It goes without saying that I cried like a baby at the end.

3. Stranger Child – Rachel Abbott

This is Rachel Abbott’s fourth book and, while I’ve read and enjoyed two of the previous three, this was a stand out for me. It’s about Emma whose husband David is still haunted by the death of his previous wife in a car crash and disappearance of his six-year-old daughter at the scene of the accident. It’s now six years later and Emma and David have a good life together and a baby son… until a stranger walks into their lives and everything starts to unravel.

This is a gripping psychological thriller – I raced through the pages wanting to solve the mystery and find out how it ended for all of the characters. Although it is a stand-alone story I also enjoyed being reacquainted with Tom Douglas, the detective who’d starred in Rachel Abbott’s earlier books – a character who I think can ably carry a series. I’m planning on reading her next book soon!

4. The Good Girl – Mary Kubica

This is a debut novel and one that I was thoroughly impressed by! When twenty-something Mia Dennett goes missing the police are called and the search begins. But where has she gone? Why? And will she be found in time?

The story alternates between the point of view of Mia’s mother, that of the Detective in charge of the case and, most interestingly, Mia’s kidnapper. What I enjoyed about the book was not only trying to solving the case but all the emotions that surfaced along the way. The book takes the reader on an interesting journey. I’ll say no more (apart from, I’ve just realised Mary Kubica’s next novel is out so I’ll be purchasing it shortly)!

5. A Boy Called Christmas – Matt Haig

The blurb says: “You are about to read the true story of Father Christmas. It is a story that proves that nothing is impossible. A Boy Called Christmas is a tale of adventure, snow, kidnapping, elves, more snow, and a boy called Nikolas, who isn’t afraid to believe in magic.”

Ok, I admit it, I haven’t actually read this book but both my older two sons did so last month and they LOVED it. My eldest (who’s eight) said it’s the best book he’s ever read apart from Harry Potter. As he’s obsessed with Harry Potter and is a real book worm who reads masses of books, that’s really high praise. My six-year-old also loved it and, for us, the whole thing was made all the more exciting by the fact that we actually got to meet Matt Haig and have the books personally signed at an event run by our local book shop! All in all, I couldn’t miss it off the list.

I fully intend to read the book for myself next Christmas as its reviews suggest it captures the hearts of grownups too. Oh, and if you fancy a book for adults by the same author, I can thoroughly recommend The Humans – brilliant, funny and thought-provoking.

***

I’m planning on reading lots more books this year so I’ll no doubt be recommending more soon!

MamaMummyMum

mysterious thrills

I’ve always loved that feeling of really getting drawn into a book – I love to be gripped by them and pulled along and emotionally entangled. When that happens to me, I usually read another book by the same author and if I like that too, I can end up quite a fan of theirs!

reading, fireplace

I feel this way about Rosamund Lupton. I read her second novel – Afterwards – in 2013 and absolutely LOVED it. It’s a mystery/thriller told from the point of view of a woman in a coma whose disembodied spirit moves around the hospital, unobserved, trying to figure out who caused the fire that nearly killed her and her daughter. But WAIT, if I lost you at ‘disembodied spirit’, don’t decide this book isn’t for you because, honestly, I think that notion sounds a bit ridiculous too. There was just something about this book though that was really engaging and emotive. I wanted to solve the mystery but was also drawn in by the fact it had love at its core. It’s well worth reading.

Having loved her second novel I then launched into her first – Sister. This is another mystery/thriller about a woman whose world is turned upside down when she is informed her younger sister has gone missing. When she sets out to try to find her, she uncovers potentially sinister goings-on and discovers she didn’t know her sister as well as she thought she did. I didn’t love this as much as Afterwards but it  was still pacey and gripping. I was particularly impressed by the fact it’s Lupton’s first novel.

the quality of silenceThis summer, her third novel The Quality of Silence came out so obviously I snapped it up! It’s a thriller set in the frozen wilderness of Alaska where a little deaf girl Ruby and her mother travel the lonely (and horrendously treacherous) highways in search of Ruby’s father. The dark is suffocating, the cold outside the truck would kill them in minutes and all the time someone is watching them… but who? And why? This book was haunting and creepy and compelling and beautiful all rolled up in one quirky package and confirmed to me the talent of the author.

What I like so much about Rosamund Lupton’s books is that they’re not quite what you expect – even Sister which feels the most conventional of the three has… well I don’t want to give the game away! The author definitely has skill with both mystery and emotion. She has the ability to engage my mind and my heart which all my favourite books do. Go on, give one – or all three – a go!

What have you been reading? I’m always looking for recommendations!

Nikki Young Writes
Linking with Friday Fiction and The Prompt – this week the theme is ‘slumber’ and this post (kind of) fits because I always read books before I go to sleep…
mumturnedmom


MamaMummyMum

Oy Yew – an interview with Ana Salote

Oy Yew front cover 300dpi scaled

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!

Oy Yew was published  in June 2015 by Mothers Milk Books and is available to buy here. The kindle version is also available here.

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… ”

mumturnedmom


MamaMummyMum

An interview with Emily Organ

The Last Day ebook coverLooking for a mystery/suspense novel (or two) to immerse yourself in this summer? I can recommend ‘The Last Day’ And ‘The Outsider’ by Emily Organ. 

‘The Last Day’ was published in 2014. I was drawn to the tagline – “He predicted when he would die. That day has now arrived.” and read it late last year. It was a quirky tale and one that really drew me in. I empathised with the main character George, was even in tears at the end (which isn’t a spoiler – I cry at happy stuff and sad stuff)!

The Outsider is Emily’s latest novel which she published in March of this year. It’s about Yasmin, a young would-be journalist who meets Daniel, a rich businessman and falls for his charms. His wife died recently though… under mysterious circumstances… eeek. This was a twisty-turny tale and things didn’t turn out as I expected for all the main protagonists which is something I appreciate in a novel!

I’m really impressed by Emily’s books and the way she has gone about publishing and marketing them. I’ve also loved following her creative journey on her blog. Always keen to pick the brains of an author, I was thrilled when Emily agreed to an interview:

Hi Emily, thanks for agreeing to an interview and congratulations on publishing both of your books!

It’s been a few months since the publication of The Outsider. How did you feel when you hit the ‘publish’ button (and how does that compare to your feelings now)?

Hitting the publish button is a combination of excitement and nervousness. And to be honest that feeling never really goes away. When I hit ‘publish’ I always worry there’s a typo or continuity error which hasn’t been picked up in the endless editing and proofreading process. Or that some chapters got accidentally left out. And I get nervous about people reading too, even though the whole point of writing it is for people to read! I sometimes need to remind myself that writing a book in the first place is a major achievement.

How long did it take you to write each of your books? Was it easier the second time around?

The first book, The Last Day, took me two years to write and the second one, The Outsider, took one year. So yes it was quicker and easier to write the second one. I’ve learnt lots each time I’ve written a book. Second time round I was able to pull myself out of the writing doldrums much easier because I knew I would get there with it in the end. I suppose I had more confidence with it.

How many drafts do you write? What’s your editing process?

About three or four, it’s hard to know exactly because the reworking and tweaking feels rather continuous. The first draft is fairly easy because you can brain dump your story knowing that you’ll come back to it and remove the unnecessary chunks and refine it. After the first draft is done I print it all out and then go through it all with a red pen which is quite time consuming. All the re-reads I do on the next drafts are on my Kindle because that’s how the majority of my readers read my books. I actually find it easier to proofread on a Kindle now, although I can’t scribble on it with my red pen! When I’m editing I’m always looking to see what can be removed – excess sentences, paragraphs and even sections of chapters. I aim to write more than I need then prune it.

What made you chose self publishing over traditional publishing?

I like to be in control! Although writing the book is my favourite bit, I do like working on a cover design, researching the book market and coming up with a marketing plan. I like the thought of a traditional book deal and all the fanfare and kudos that comes with it, but I’m not sure how I would deal with other people making the decisions about my work. Perhaps I’m a bit over protective. Or a closet control freak. I have in my mind an imagined day in the future where I’ll start approaching agents but so far I haven’t got round to it. I’ve spoken to only one and haven’t sent a manuscript to any agents yet.

It’s time consuming to pursue the traditional publishing route and I think the reason I haven’t really done it yet is because I’m enjoying self-publishing at the moment. Perhaps one day I’ll be a ‘hybrid author’ when I do both. I think in the future many authors will be hybrids. Traditionally published authors can get dropped by their publisher and some self-publish after that and become hybrids (that’s such a weird sounding name).

Do you sell printed versions as well as e-books? How does that work? (I’m imagining a spare room full of copies of your books… )

Yes I do, I sell these via CreateSpace which is an Amazon owned company which prints books on demand. The paperback version appears alongside the Kindle version on Amazon. I don’t sell many paperback versions, I find family members and close friends like to get a paperback copy. And I do give away a few signed copies to my loyal e-mail subscribers. 99% of my readers read on Kindle.

Do you have any advice for those of us considering self-publishing our work?

If you want to self-publish then I think it’s crucial you find a professional editor to edit your work for you. At the very least try a manuscript evaluation service. But I think the minimum you need is a professional line edit to remove typos, repetition and tidy up your work. I opted for a structural edit which costs more but the editor gives you feedback on your story structure, characters and gives you ideas for improving them. It’s invaluable. Even if you’re an amazingly talented writer, you still won’t spot your own commonly over-used words and phrases in your work. And you become so familiar with your book that perhaps you don’t emphasise a plot development clearly enough or make a character interesting enough.

Your new book covers look great… but I also loved your old ones – what made you change them?

It was a difficult decision because my original book cover designers have been so hard working and helpful. Listening to designers and publishers at the London Book Fair made me realise my covers needed to change. Firstly, I had to consider who was buying my books. Because most of my readers buy on Kindle, they only really see the cover as a thumbnail image on Amazon. Therefore my covers needed have lots of impact at thumbnail level. My original covers looked very pretty as paperbacks but they didn’t work as a thumbnail.

Secondly, I learnt that a cover needs to show ‘membership’ of your book’s genre. So if you click through the categories on Amazon you will see strong similarities between book covers of the same genre. I had to align my books with my chosen genre. And I have to be prepared to change them again as trends change. If you’re a fan of Kate Atkinson you’ll notice the covers on all her books are re-done pretty much each time she publishes a new one!

I imagine marketing your books is quite a responsibility – what’s your approach in this area? Do you focus on online marketing or ‘real world’ things (like attending events and trying to generate sales in your local community)?

It’s purely online at the moment and it can be tough as many people are suspicious of an unknown self-published writer. I quickly learnt that repeatedly mentioning a book on social media doesn’t sell it! A few lovely bloggers have reviewed my books on their blogs and I’ve recently started using paid advertising on BookBub. BookBub is notoriously fussy about who they feature so it’s flattering to get your book accepted by them. Facebook is proving to be a lucrative place to advertise books too because you can target customers so well on there. I haven’t progressed much with that myself yet, but I do know a number of writers who have.

In the future I like the idea of attending some literary festivals and events. If my books do well enough people might be interested in me. I’ve shied away from doing anything local such as a book launch party or similar. Mainly because I’m shy and hate being the centre of attention but also because I don’t think it boosts your book sales by much. I have to think about where my readers are and at the moment, like it or not, they’re on Amazon. I like the idea of doing something community focused when I’m more established such as chats in schools and libraries.

Are you pleased with how your book sales are going? Are they better or worse than expected?

Sales can be hard to predict when you’re starting out as a self-published author. Your books are competing with traditionally published books which have publicists, editors and agents behind them and all the industry connections they bring. For this reason I don’t think I’ve ever expected a certain number of sales so any number is good! Reviews matter as much as a sale, if not more so. Reviews from real readers can help cement your reputation as a writer. Especially if you’re unknown – readers need to know they can trust you with the money they spend on your book. That said, sales of The Last Day are doing brilliantly at the moment, it’s floating about in the Top 200 on Kindle store right now, when you consider there are over three and a half million Kindle books on the UK store that’s something I’m hugely happy about! I couldn’t have predicted that.

What’s the best thing about being a published author?

The best thing is people reading and enjoying your work. And it’s lovely when they get in touch to tell you they’ve enjoyed your book, you can’t beat that feeling.

… any downsides?

The downside is people not enjoying your work, although obviously you can’t write for everyone. In fact, having no one read your work is probably worse. Someone who’s taken the time to read your book, not enjoyed it and taken the time to leave a critical review is actually a positive because at least your work made them think. If no one’s reading then that can be dispiriting. And makes you question why you’re doing it!

What’s next for you? Is novel no. 3 in the pipelines?

Yes it is and it will be a mystery / thriller with a historical setting. I’ve spent some time on the ideas for it and there’s a huge amount of research to do but hopefully I can start writing it very soon.

What would you say to people wondering whether to pursue their writing dreams?

It’s clichéd, but never give up on your writing dream. If you’re not getting anywhere with it then change the way you approach it. Look at what you can do differently. If you want to make a career of it then you need to take it seriously and be completely determined and learn to get over the self-doubt which cripples all writers. That said, lots of people write for pleasure and may not want the world to read their work. In that case you should just enjoy it. In fact you should always enjoy it, even on the bad days!

Thanks Emily and good luck!

Linking up with The Prompt at Mum Turned Mom – this week it’s ‘To be a…’ which fits nicely with this interview: ‘To be a… published author’.

mumturnedmom
Nikki Young Writes