Tag Archives: reading

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… ”



reading and waiting – #WhatImWriting

Last week was one of those weeks. It wasn’t all bad, but the bits that were sapped most of my energy. Safe to say, not much was achieved on the writing front.

books and pen

I did read though. I seem to be able to distract myself (from stressful situations) with reading more easily than I can with writing – do you find that? When there’s a lot going on in my head, dealing with my own characters can feel too much; I can’t find my way through the maze to make sense of their story. Reading is different – a story in someone else’s words just rushes over me and is easy to get lost in. Since my last #WhatImWriting post I’ve devoured two books by Jodi Picoult (The Pact and My Sister’s Keeper) both of which kept me suitably gripped. Reading is an excellent way to learn about the craft of writing anyway… so it kind of counts as writing research doesn’t it? I think so. :)

But as for my actual writing, well, I was waiting for feedback on my picture books which was due in the middle of last week. I had geared myself up to receiving it and then to putting my energies towards making changes to those manuscripts. But the feedback didn’t arrive (turns out the place I submitted them to hasn’t had the chance to read them yet – argh!) so I now have to wait another few weeks. Sigh. I am not the world’s most patient person and I’m dying to know what they think! But I guess I’ve waited this long (seven weeks) so what’s another couple?

So what do I fill the next few weeks with instead? Well, the state of my diary suggests I won’t have much time for writing anyway (everything seems to be happening all at once!). I’ll try to squeeze a limerick or two in somewhere though, just to keep my brain ticking over.

Aside from that, I’m just hoping for an emotionally-calmer week!

Writing Bubble

reading – #WhatImWriting

I love reading – always have, although I did go through a period of, ooh, close to two decades where I didn’t read more than a couple of books a year. I intended to read, I even wanted to read but somehow just didn’t seem to get round to it.

All that changed a couple of years ago though when I got a kindle (well, I nicked my husband’s if I’m honest) and found myself going from book to book. I read any time, anywhere… in the dark while breastfeeding, while drying my hair, even when brushing my teeth. I never thought I would give up paper for an electronic device but I have to admit it revolutionised my reading life. In the past two years I’ve read well over a hundred books which I don’t think is bad going!

Anyway, this is my #WhatImWriting post – what does any of this have to do with what I’ve been writing this week? Well everything and nothing. It’s occurred to me that my increased reading pace has co-incided exactly with the period of my life when I decided to pursue my dream to become a published writer. These past two-and-a-bit years have been a major voyage of discovery for me in the literary world both as a writer and a reader.

So maybe the gear change in my reading wasn’t all about getting my hands on a kindle, maybe some of it was to do with just launching myself into another part of life? Then just as the more I wrote the more I wrote (writing breeds writing, right?), the more I read the more I read… and then the more I wrote the more I read, and the more I read the more I wrote (phew!) and it all piled up into a huge bonfire of magical worlds and other lives with sparks of creativity flying around in every direction.

And now the bonfire is ablaze and I’m dancing round it clutching books and journals and pens (and electronic devices but that doesn’t really fit with the image I’m trying to conjure up, so forget that bit) and toasting my hands before a fiery fictional frenzy.

Or something.

Anyway, I can certainly say I’m learning a lot from my reading and that’s not just – or at all – because I’m reading great serious works of literature it’s because my brain is constantly assessing everything it’s engaging with. Some books I love, some books I… tolerate but along the way there’s loads I’m learning about style and narrative and what works and what doesn’t.

Actually a brilliant learning experience for me recently was reading a book so badly written it was like a massive, flashing, neon sign saying “DO NOT WRITE LIKE THIS. EVER.” And I’m convinced it’s not just a matter of taste (because some books don’t work for me but I still can see that they’re well-written and others might like them) I really think it was just weak. It read like a first draft that needed editing (and to be fair, perhaps with some decent editing and story re-shaping it could have been fine), so much so that I actually found myself editing it as I read it – good practice for when I finally get to the editing stage of my book!

The best thing about reading though is being transported to other worlds and different lives where there are adventures to be had, mysteries to be solved, great emotions to be tussled with, tears to be shed and laughs to be sprinkled all around.  As a reader, books transform my life, as a writer they are my biggest source of inspiration.

How about you – do you read much? What impact do you think it has on your writing?

gin and ruin: an interview with Aimee Horton


Ever heard of Dottie Harris? The creation of Aimee Horton, she’s a chaotic, engaging, thirty-something mum, and heroine of three books. Survival of the Ginnest (the first in the series) is an innovative novella entirely in the form of Facebook status updates, Survival of the Christmas Spirit is a short story and Mothers Ruined (the latest addition to the series) is Aimee’s first full length novel.

I read the first two of these earlier this year and as soon as Mothers Ruined came out in May I snapped it up! Dottie is very easy to identify with (reassuringly prone to getting herself into scrapes such as accidentally dyeing her children green!) and the books are enjoyable and funny – highly recommended if you’re looking for a light-hearted read this summer.

Aimee is a member of the lovely community of writer/bloggers that I have found myself a part of since starting my blog ten months ago. I love finding out about other people’s writing processes and, as I am currently working on my first book, I was particularly interested to hear about Aimee’s experience of writing and self-publishing her work. I was very pleased when she agreed to an interview:

Hi Aimee, Mothers Ruined has been out for two months now. How did it feel to publish it and what has your experience since then been?

Publishing Mothers Ruined (or Dottie as I often refer to it!) was terrifying. The two previous books I’ve published were small, I could kid myself that negative feedback was ok, but this time I was terrified. The last month I’ve been floating. Nothing productive has been achieved! I’ve just been twitchy waiting for reviews!

As a mum of three young kids (who likes the odd gin!) I found it very easy to identify with Dottie. How much of your own personality did you put into her?

Ha, I think she’s a nicer more dramatic version of me! I think Dottie came from my attempt to laugh rather than cry at the more trying points of motherhood, and she just developed into her own person.

I’m currently writing a book and keep finding my characters surprise me – did you find that when writing this book? Or as it was your third Dottie book, did you already know all there was to know about her?

I think I know Dottie so well she just flowed, it was the other characters, her husband and her friends (and enemies!) which surprised me! I’m very much keen to develop a story for Jane Dottie’s best friend who has touched me a bit!

How long did it take you to write Mother’s Ruined? Do you write every day?

It took about two months to write the full draft, I started officially at the beginning of February after playing about during January. Then with final edits etc. it was done the day before publishing! AHHH!

I don’t write my stories every day (right now), but I do try and write something,even if it’s an idea for a blog post! When I have a mission I try and write 3 school days a week.

Did you write lots of drafts? What was your editing process?

I often write the first three or four chapters a few times, then just go for it and have one draft, and then HOPEFULLY it’s just a bit of moving around.

I’m lucky to have some lovely people I trust, who put up with me sending words whether it’s on a chapter or a daily word basis – they give me honest feedback, then they help me with editing. Either from a “I would perhaps look at that” or “AIMEE – COMMAS SERIOUSLY?!”

Dottie was really easy to edit and write to be honest, I’m interested to see how this next book comes out with a totally new character.

What made you decide to go down the self-publishing route?

Honestly? Impatience. I wanted it NOW NOW NOW. I know how long it takes to get a traditional deal most of the time, and I’m not very good at waiting. I needed to just publish and move on!

What’s next? Will we be seeing more of Dottie in the future?

I do have more ideas for Dottie, but I want to visit a few other stories first. Dottie has a sequel already lined up, and as I’ve said before I’d love to write about Jane too.

However, right now I’m writing about Lucy and her story so can’t wait to see what happens there!

Sometimes writing a book seems like a massive mountain to climb… and that’s before considering editing, publishing and promoting! Do you have any advice for those of us just starting out?  

Set deadlines and targets first of all. Otherwise you may never do it. Also, grow a thick skin and surround yourself in good, honest people who you trust. Be prepared for people to say “I don’t like that” both in the draft and the final released version. Listening to advice is good, but also go with your gut.

Thanks Aimee! Good luck with your next book and I look forward to reading about Lucy and Jane as well as Dottie in the future.

Aimee is currently running a competition on her blog where if you download and review Mothers Ruined on Amazon then you can win a fab print. Go and check it out!

I’m off to crack on with my writing – having found out that Aimee wrote Dottie in three-and-a-half months I feel I should up the pace on my my novel!


cropped-books.jpgEvery so often I read a book that’s so good I want to shout about it from the roof tops, to grasp strangers in the street by the lapels and exhort them to read it, and to phone all my friends and shout: “YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK!” at them ’till they relent.

I’ve just finished such a book and thought that instead of putting myself in slippery house-top peril, or at risk of being arrested, or deafening my friends I would blog about it.

It’s called The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

It’s by Claire North.

And it’s amazing. Huge in scope yet beautiful in detail. About the whole of humanity and yet also – at its heart – simply about one human relationship. It’s about hate and love and ambition and sacrifice and…

Well, that’s basically all I’m going to say about it. I could tell you the bare outlines of the story but (apart from the fact you could read that elsewhere) I think this is a book that it’s good to just dive in and read. I could try to suggest that it’s one genre of book or another but actually it’s one of those books that is very hard to categorise. And categories can be misleading: in fact, even with what I’ve just told you, I may have suggested something about it that it’s not.

So, if you’re reading this then go, now, and read something else. Read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.

Go on.

books, glorious books

As a child, I loved reading. I could happily spend hours tucked into a big armchair with a book, the sounds of the house fading into the background as I disappeared into another world. My brothers and I also listened to masses of audio books, and I’m pretty sure that our nightly bed time stories went on for far longer than our poor sore-throated parents wanted them to!


As I got older though, I found myself reading less. Or at least, I read what I was required to for school or university and then didn’t feel much like reading anything else. TV and films gradually took the place of my beloved books. From time to time I would feel sad about that, but mostly it was just how it was. I still thought of myself as ‘a book lover’ but I rarely read for pleasure.

By my late twenties my first son had arrived, followed by his brother two years later. I was running my own business and the resulting racing around and tiredness left me struggling to even finish an article in a magazine some days. Deep down I felt I was missing something, but my ‘book worm’ days felt so far behind me it was hard to recapture them.

Then at the beginning of this year something changed. I was just starting maternity leave with baby-number-three, and – with my sons in school and nursery – my mornings were child-free. I was heavily pregnant so moving around was becoming less and less fun. My childhood memories of hiding in an armchair began calling to me. So I got my hands on an e-reader (and by ‘got my hands on’ I mean ‘swiped from my husband and he’s yet to get it back’), read a few book reviews, found something I fancied and off I went. I finished that book and started another, then another.

The months went by, and I read whenever I could. At all the times that I wasn’t writing (or dealing with kids, or housework… ) I’d grab my Kindle and slip quietly into whatever wonderful fictional reality awaited me. I read in labour (remember how I said mine went on for ages? I had to have something to do!) then I read while feeding the baby.

And now it’s early October and I’ve read nearly fifty books this year. That’s nearly…oooh… forty-nine more books than I read last year! And I’ve loved it. I won’t lie, they haven’t all been serious works of fiction. They weren’t all War and Peace. In fact, NONE of them were War and Peace. There have been many times – staggering around bleary-eyed after being up a gazillion times in the night – when I’ve just wanted something light and cheerful to distract me. But I’ve read some really fantastic books; books that have made me laugh and cry and some that have really made me think.

And as a writer, all of them have had value. They’ve helped me realise what I want to achieve, showing me everything from what I would love (in my wildest dreams) to emulate, to what I’d rather avoid. And sometimes what I’m just plain not interested in.

So I’ve decided I’m going to use this blog – over the coming weeks and months – to write about some of the books I’ve read. In part, as a written reminder for myself about what I learned from them, but largely just to talk about some books that I’ve really loved and to share them with anyone else that is interested. I’ve really got some gems to recommend!