An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘ebooks’

Introducing Writer and Playwright Janice Fosse

Today’s interview is with Janice Fosse, a children’s playwright and writer who is a connection of mine on Twitter (never underestimate the power of social media in networking!) Here, in her charming and comic style, she discusses her love of writing, the difficulties of writing for children and her optimism in the face of a very difficult publishing market…

The colourful and lovely Janice Fosse

The colourful and lovely Janice Fosse

Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your career.

I have been telling stories my whole life. From organizing make-believe on the playground to circulating stories in serial format to devoted readers in high school via spiral notebooks, I mistakenly thought my love of telling stories translated into a love of performing, and for many years my educational focus was on acting, with writing stories nothing more than a diversionary hobby.

After completing the requirements for a BFA in Acting from Augustana College in Rock Island, IL, I found myself with one more year of school to go, and decided to pursue a second BA in English with a creative writing concentration. I finished the degree in one year, and found that writing had been the underlying passion all along. While performing is fun, you are always saying someone else’s words. It turned out that I wanted to be the one to make the words, the worlds, and the rules. You could call it creative megalomania, I suppose!

Upon graduation I secured a job in the public access department of a small-town cable company as a producer. I wrote scripts for commercials, did voiceover work, produced television shows, and even helped create and was chief question writer for a local-access game show that gained modest popularity. Writing was always there in the background though.  

After eleven years at the cable company I became an asset, which led to me being liquidated when the cable company sought to purchase a larger media outlet. With eleven weeks of severance pay, I found myself with the free time I needed to finally write a book from beginning to end. I managed it in eleven weeks, completely hated every word and abandoned the work without revising it. During that time I also organized an improvisational comedy troupe and skated with the local roller derby league, where for a time I led the league in ejections for poor sportsmanship. Still, writing was there. By this time I had created the basis of a fantasy realm called Ethia, to which my current series of novels refers. With eleven years of dabbling, I’ve managed to come up with a rich history and mythology for Ethia, which has been an invaluable resource from which to draw. I hope someday to novelize some of the incomplete snippets I’ve written about Ethia’s history into some sort of cohesive work.

The trick is writing a play that the children can understand and appreciate, while still providing something that will be entertaining for the parents to watch.

There are now far more writers than there are places for them in the market. What made you realise that your writing might be commercially successful one day?

A friend of mine sent some of my unpolished science fiction to an editor for critique without my knowledge, and the editor was impressed enough to suggest that, with some tweaking, my story could be quite successful. I’ve been working on that story for the last couple of years (with a rather large hiatus due to the birth of my daughter), and have one novel in the series in revision, and a second over halfway through the first draft.

How did you get into the theatre industry and what is the biggest challenge in writing for children?

I met the owner of Stars of Tomorrow, a company that teaches acting and play production to school-age children, through my work with the improv comedy troupe. I became one of their senior instructors, thanks to my theatre degree, and began writing plays for the classes. To date I have had over a dozen plays performed by students in classes throughout the Northern Illinois area, which have been extremely well-received by their audiences.

For the most part, when children are performing a play the audience is going to be largely comprised of parents and other adult family members. The trick is writing a play that the children can understand and appreciate, while still providing something that will be entertaining for the parents to watch. I write comedies, and I try to find that tricky place where the humor is appropriate and entertaining for both adults and children. Many of the characters I write in my plays are wryly self-aware, and the whole play comes off as a little bit cheeky, which usually fits the bill for all parties involved.

Why do you enjoy writing for children?

I enjoy the opportunity to be silly, to stretch my imagination and sense of humor without having to cater to the inherent cynicism of adulthood. It’s also important to write things for children without pandering to them. Kids will rise to the intellectual level with which they are presented, and I enjoy the opportunity to teach, through writing paired with instruction, various aspects of comedic theory, so that they know why what they’re saying is funny.

Why is it so important for writers and publishers to engage in social media now?

With the current market saturation and the ease of creating an online presence, writers and publishers must engage in social media if they are going to get anywhere with promotion and publicity. Unfortunately, one of the things I’ve noticed happening, particularly with Twitter, is that some authors misunderstand the difference between using social media to build an online following and simply spamming adverts about their book every few hours. Social media is an absolute necessity for writers and publishers because there is no freer and more easily accessible marketplace for your book than the Internet, but it should be used wisely. Sharing blog posts, thoughts about writing, and anything else gives what would otherwise be nothing more than a faceless advertising machine a human feel and more of a sense of connection with potential readers.

How do you maintain confidence and motivation in your efforts to become published, especially if you’re ever rejected by a publisher?

For many years I thought that nothing I wrote would ever matter if it wasn’t picked up by a mainstream publisher, got worldwide distribution and a movie option, possibly a spinoff TV series, a theme park, etc. However, the more I’ve gotten into my story and learned to love the characters and the world in which they reside, I find myself caring less and less about the end result, as long as I get to tell the story. When the story is the most important thing, success comes from within, and no amount of outside rejection can touch it. I hope.

What do you think your writing can offer readers that others might not?

I try to blend emotional honesty in my characters with fantastical situations, while incorporating elements of almost-believable science fiction. I’ve been told my greatest strengths are in my humor and my characters – they are very much alive, and likeable (even the villains, in their own way), and they are, I hope, realistic. Even when the situations surrounding them are anything but. I like to think of my characters as atypical heroes – they are insanely human (even when they aren’t); they’re flawed and not necessarily pretty, a little bit dorky and absolutely relatable. My books are for the kids who read books but never see characters all that much like themselves reflected back in the pages.

I enjoy the opportunity to be silly, to stretch my imagination and sense of humor without having to cater to the inherent cynicism of adulthood. 

What are the biggest differences between playwriting and writing novels? Do you have a preference between the two?

For whatever reason, playwriting comes much more easily for me than novel writing does. I can kick out a final draft of a play in a matter of days, while novels are far more arduous. However, I enjoy novel writing far more than playwriting. In a novel, you get to climb into the characters’ heads and see the world from their perspective. In a play, motivation is implied and not directly discussed, where it is one of the main foci of writing a novel.

What is your personal view on self-publishing?

It’s tempting, for sure. It offers the possibility of total creative control – everything from the story to the cover and all publicity. Which is a double-edged sword, because it means the author is responsible for everything from the story to the cover and all publicity. The more I read about self-publishing, the more tempting it sounds. However, in the YA market, I think it’s a bit more difficult to self-publish, because metrics show that YA readers still prefer print books to ebooks, which presents a larger upfront cost, plus figuring out ways to get your book into the major retailers. They get grouchy when you just stick copies of your book on their shelves!

And finally, what do you like to read?

Right now I’m reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series from the beginning, as well as Parkland by Vincent Bugliosi. I read anything I can get my hands on; science fiction, fantasy, YA of all sorts, histories and philosophies, books on writing and folklore and utter trash. A writer needs to have a deep well from which to draw, including books that are so awful they serve as a reminder that even bad books get published. I do hope that my books don’t end up on that list for anyone. But, hey, if they do, at least they serve as some sort of inspiration.

You can follow Janice on Twitter @JaniceFosse and learn more about her and her work at janicefosse.com

Do you have any questions for Janice? Post in the comments below and I will get your questions answered!

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Introducing Publisher, Author, Editor and Blogger Samantha March

Today’s interview is with a woman who completely blew me away when I interviewed her. Her motivation, efforts and work ethic are really to be admired, I don’t know how does it all. Her experience in publishing is vast, and she spends her days editing, writing, blogging, publishing, and proofreading – my dream career! Here she explains how she pulls it all off…

Samantha March, editor, blogger, author, publisher.

Samantha March, editor, blogger, author, publisher.

Please tell me a little bit about yourself and all the different projects you work on.

Oh, where to begin! Maybe chronologically? I started Chick Lit Plus in 2009, a book and lifestyle blog. I was hoping to gain some connections in the publishing industry as I had high hopes of publishing a book, and I also simply enjoyed writing and giving my feedback and thoughts on a variety of topics. From there, I did succeed in becoming a published author. My first novel, Destined To Fail¸ released in 2011, and I also started my publishing company, Marching Ink, at the same time. I have since published two more novels, The Green Ticket and A Questionable Friendship, and Marching Ink has ten titles total between myself and four other authors.

Let’s see…somewhere in between all of that I started CLP Blog Tours, a blog tour company. I love being able to connect authors and bloggers and readers, and the first tour was ran in 2011, and I love that I am still able to do something I love so much.

I am also a freelance editor, offer manuscript critiques and other promotional services via Chick Lit Plus. I work in marketing for Booktrope Publishing, and I also have an Instagram yoga page with my best friend, The Cheeky Chicks. But for my most important roles, I am a wife to my husband of almost two years and a puppy mom to our adorable Vizsla, Aries.

Tours are a great way to help increase exposure, make a connection with book bloggers, get more reviews for your book, and get more social media presence.

How did The Cheeky Chicks come about? How much success have you had since you started?

Oh, The Cheeky Chicks! My friend Holly and I had been trying to think of something fun to do for months before we decided on joining the Instagram craze. We actually started talking about fitness and beauty, two things we really love, but once we started we quickly fell in love with all things yoga and decided to dedicate our page to showing our daily practice and progress. We started in September and we’ve had an absolute blast. It’s fun, it’s good for our health, we’re learning new things, but we get to do it all together, which really is the best. As friends get older and get married and get new jobs, etc, sometimes friendships can slowly fizzle out or not be as strong as they once were, and this gives us another reason to talk pretty much throughout the day and see each other often for practice 🙂

How did you get into publishing? In what area of publishing do you work as an editor?

I first got into publishing when I released my first novel, and I also bought the rights to my own LLC, Marching Ink. My goal was to maybe one day publish for other authors too. Cat Lavoie was an editing client of mine, and I fell absolutely in love with her debut novel, Breaking the Rules. I put it out there to her that I was brand new but I felt passionately about her book and would love to publish for her, and she said yes! She also has published Zoey & The Moment of Zen with Marching Ink, and I’ve been so fortunate to meet her in person twice!

I do freelance editing with Chick Lit Plus, offering my services through the website. I also do proofreading and manuscript critiques!

You’re an author – tell me a little bit about your work and your journey into becoming an author.

I was nine years old when I knew I wanted to be an author. I always loved reading and wrote my own stories for years, and even though I still had the dream when I was in high school, I thought being an author was not very achievable. I told myself to get a “real” degree and if I still wanted to purse writing after graduation, I could. Well, one year prior to receiving my Bachelors degree in Business, I started writing Destined to Fail. Two years after graduation, it was published 🙂

With so many successful projects going on, how do you manage your time effectively? (I know I find maintaining a blog alongside a full-time job challenging, let alone working out and hosting a number of social media channels!)

It’s hard. Time management is by far the most challenging part of my day. I have myself to think about, but then my Marching Ink authors, my Booktrope authors, my blog tour clients, my editing clients. I need to be reading for book reviews and writing blog posts and keeping my social media up to date. It’s all me, I have no virtual assistant or anyone else helping me out with my social media feed, though I do have a team of reviewers with CLP and they totally rock. Little things I do to try to help is make lists and don’t turn the TV on while I work. No really! But my lists are a huge help. I have so many to-do lists and calendars it’s comical, but they really help keep me on track and not miss a deadline or special project. I also have my own office in my house, so I don’t work on my couch with my laptop on my lap with E! turned on. I have specific hours (that I make myself, yes, but I hold myself to them) and do regular things like give myself a lunch break and only a lunch break during the day. I try to remember this is my full-time job, and I need to treat it like that, not like a hobby. That really, truly helps me. And I love what I do 🙂

clp button

What work is involved in organising blog tours? What are benefits of blog tours?

When booking a tour, there are several packages to choose from. Authors can select tours with only reviews, release day blitz tours, tours with interviews and guest blogs, etc. I try to have a little of everything in there, because each individual case is different. My part is getting book bloggers interested in joining the tour, which means sharing a post on their blog on a particular day. Tours are a great way to help increase exposure, make a connection with book bloggers, get more reviews for your book, and get more social media presence. CLP Blog Tours sets up a tour page for each tour and promotes it even before the tour starts, and tweets 2-4 times in a day on each specific tour.

Which part of your vast career and experiences do you find the most rewarding?

Oh boy. I love making connections with readers and other authors. I think it’s really rewarding with blog tours to help authors gain that connection as well, because these are really so beneficial in our line of work. I love being able to meet someone online, and after months of chatting and finding all these bookish things we have in common, be able to call them my friend. I have met several authors and other bloggers at book events through the years, and that is probably my favorite part. It’s amazing what the internet gave us, truly.

I have met several authors and other bloggers at book events through the years, and that is probably my favorite part.

What would you say is the most effective way to market your book blog?

I think social media is huge. No doubt. Daily content is really big too. I have at minimum one new post a day on CLP, but more like 2-3.

Do you like to read other genres?

I do! I love a good mystery or supernatural book – those are probably my next favorites 🙂 And I would love to try a supernatural!

A Questionable Friendship, Samantha March's novel.

Happy Publication Day, Samantha!

Today is the publication date for Twenty-Something: A Collection, published by Marching Ink! The first collection from Marching Ink features three full-length novels in Twenty-Something. From the good girl that is tired of playing by the rules in the new adult novel from Laura Chapman, to the friendship between two women that isn’t what is seems in the women’s fiction novel from Samantha March, and then the loveable Roxy that will give us plenty of laughs and touching moments in the chick lit novel from Cat Lavoie. While all characters are indeed Twenty-Something, we believe this collection can be enjoyed by readers in a variety of ages.

20%BlogTours

Samantha’s blog tour company CLP currently has an offer of 20% off blog tours until 30 April! Check out http://www.clpblogtours.com/ for more information.

Connect with Samantha!
http://www.samanthamarch.com/

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Chick Lit Plus Links
http://chicklitplus.com/
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Buy A Questionable Friendship:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble – eBook

Introducing Red Button Publishing

I am extremely excited to share with you all my interview with Caroline of independent publishing house Red Button Publishing. She has kindly taken time from her busy schedule to share with us insights into the independent publishing world, information about their upcoming titles and a wealth of knowledge and experience gained over her years working in the publishing industry…

Caroline Goldsmith, one of the lovely ladies behind Red Button Publishing

A shelfie from Caroline Goldsmith, one of the lovely ladies behind Red Button Publishing

Please introduce our readers to yourself and to Karen Ings. What are your backgrounds and career journeys?

I met Karen nearly fifteen years ago when I started in my first job in publishing at Aurum Press where she was Commissioning Editor. We’ve been close friends ever since. We both moved through various roles over the years. Karen curated her list at Aurum Press for ten years before moving into a freelance role and working for companies like Penguin, Macmillan and Quercus. I worked my way through various departments including sales, rights, marketing and publicity for companies like Tate Publishing and finally DK where I worked in International Sales.

Tell us about Red Button Publishing. How and when did the company begin?

One of our regular conversations, usually over a glass of wine, over the years has been about how we would run our own publishing house. In 2012, Karen was freelancing and I was in the process of leaving my job in International Sales and moving from London to the countryside. We had both taken a keen interest in how digital technology was changing our industry and we saw opportunity. We had little funding but we had nearly three decades worth of experience between us and a lot of energy. We drafted a plan for Red Button over lunch one hot August day and decided on a name the following day. Red Button Publishing was born.

The big guys still rule the roost, but this is really the age of the independents.

What kind of literature do you focus on? How successful have you been so far?

Our aim has always been to give a voice to really outstanding fiction that might be overlooked by the mainstream. This idea was encapsulated in our first publication, The Human Script by Johnny Rich, a poignant story of a doomed love affair and also a mind expanding journey through philosophy, science, art and religion. Johnny had written the novel over a decade ago whilst on the acclaimed Creative Writing MA course at the University of East Anglia. It had been heaped with praise by writers like Ian McEwan and Tom McCarthy and was signed up by one of the top London agents. The book continued to meet with praise from commissioning editors at the major publishers but never quite made it past the commercially minded sales departments. As a sales person, I knew that a lot of good writing was deemed too risky and never saw the light of day. This was what had happened to The Human Script. We read it, we loved it and we published it in April 2013 as an ebook. It’s again been met with almost universal praise from people who’ve read it and we hope that when we publish it as a paperback later this year it will be discovered by even more readers.

Since then we’ve published three more titles and they’re all very different. The Anchoress by Paul Blaney is an exquisite novella about Maggie, a woman who locks herself in her wardrobe. As the story progresses you find out why Maggie has really decided to escape the world. It’s a very moving story about memory, childhood, grief and acceptance.

We followed this with Home by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, a powerful and dark novel about a caretaker at an old people’s home who discovers something horribly disturbing about his workplace. It’s a compelling and chilling novel that asks questions about how we treat our elderly and what it means to be forgotten.

And then we published Mockstars by Christopher Russell which is a comic, coming-of-age novel best summed up by author Alex Marsh as “The Inbetweeners meets Spinal Tap’. It’s a brilliantly funny story about a group of friends trying to make it as a band, based in part on Christopher’s own tour diaries with his rock band.

Red Button Publishing's upcoming paperbacks.

Red Button Publishing’s upcoming paperbacks.

Your website states that you publish ‘fantastic fiction.’ What, for you, constitutes fantastic fiction?

We’ve often said that we’re looking for fiction that really jumps off the page, stories that are just crying out to be published. When we read a submission we’re looking for something that we would recommend to others. We both have to be completely on board to make it work. We have similar tastes in many ways but we also differ. I am a sucker for a horror story and Karen has still never quite understood my distaste for Jane Austen. We challenge each other and that’s a good thing for the list. I think it means that the books we publish are really special.

What has been the most rewarding part of the Red Button Publishing journey? Just how difficult (or indeed easy!) has it been carving a way for yourself as an independent publishing company when the competition in publishing is so large and dominating?

It’s always going to be hard for smaller companies to make their voices heard. We don’t have the marketing budgets that we were used to working with in our previous publishing lives. I think there’s an appetite for something a bit different though. People seem to like what we’re trying to do and we’ve been really overwhelmed by the support we’ve received from readers and publishing colleagues. The big guys still rule the roost, but this is really the age of the independents. We really take inspiration from other independents like Galley Beggar Press, Salt and And Other Stories who are out there doing great things for fiction.

Writers are very much front and centre of the publishing industry today, in a way that they haven’t been before.

What upcoming titles (that you’re allowed to mention!) are you really excited about?

Currently we’re working on bringing all four Red Button titles out as paperbacks. The Anchoress and Home will be published in paper on April 9th. The Human Script and Mockstars will follow over the summer. We’re big advocates of digital reading but the paperback remains a strong format for fiction and we want our books to reach as many readers as possible. We’ve also got another book from Paul Blaney lined up later in the year. It’s another challenging piece of writing that will raise questions about parenthood and biology.

Do you find that you receive a lot of submissions? If so, why do you think more and more people are looking to get published?

We read every submission that comes into our inbox so yes, it sometimes feels that we do receive a lot. I don’t think that there are more people looking to get published than before though. I just think that there are more options open to writers than there ever have been. They are very much front and centre of the publishing industry today, in a way that they haven’t been before.

You also offer consultancy services. How successful has this been?

Writers have a lot more choice in how they publish their work these days. Essentially you don’t need a publisher to get your work out there. We’re grateful that some writers still prefer to work with a publishing team but we’re also aware that many writers prefer to publish independently. But good publishing still requires work, it’s not, as some commentators have suggested ‘simply pressing a button’. And that’s where we can come in. We offer a range of services including editorial, typesetting, ebook formatting, book cover design as well as guidance through the publishing platforms. We’ve worked with some lovely writers and it’s always a good feeling to know you’re helping someone achieve their dream.

The online book community is huge and if you’re not engaged with it you’re missing out.

What do you feel are the most important skills needed for independent publishers who do all of the work for their companies themselves?

Adaptability. Things never stay the same in any industry but the pace of change in publishing has really accelerated in recent years. I have learned more in the past five years than at any other time in my career. You have to keep taking on new ideas, learning new skills, challenging your preconceptions and trying new things.

And lastly, how important is having an online presence for publishers today and why?

Hugely important. It’s not just about book discoverability either, it’s about being part of the publishing dialogue. 

Red Button floating logo

Discover Red Button Publishing online:
Twitter @RedButtonPubs
Caroline and Karen are also on Twitter (@goldcaro and @ladykarenza respectively)

Introducing Library Assistant Rebecca Morris

Today I’m interviewing Rebecca Morris, a fellow Hull University English graduate and currently working as a library assistant near Cambridge while studying for a Masters degree. I lived with Becky for a year and her love and passion for reading and books rivals mine – and that’s saying something! I’m very excited that she’s attending this year’s London Book Fair with me. Here in this interview she discusses her love of literature and shares her experiences and views on how libraries are coping in this challenging and ever-changing industry…

Showing off her knitwear!

Showing off her knitwear!

Talk to me about your background in English and writing.

I’ve enjoyed reading books and writing stories ever since I was a child. English was always my favourite subject at school although I hadn’t originally planned to do it for my degree. At first,  I was planning on studying law at university as I felt it would set me up for a future career but when I started my AS levels and ordered some prospectuses I couldn’t help reading the sections about the English courses and my instinct told me to go for it. Looking back, it was definitely the right decision. Even though I wasn’t entirely sure what I would do with the degree, I felt it was important to do a subject I genuinely loved, and I would advise others to do the same.


What made you come to Hull University for your degree?

Choosing universities to apply to was a very difficult task especially for my course as you could do it at about 120 institutions so I couldn’t possibly read every single prospectus. I asked family for advice and I found out one of my aunts had gone to Hull University. After checking the English department’s website, I felt reasonably confident that I could achieve the grades they asked for and I liked the look of the course as I had the opportunity to choose all my modules in the second and third year. I loved that aspect of it because I was able to choose several interesting modules from the Victorian period and twentieth century. I did have to do some pre-1800 modules but I enjoyed the ones I took. I am pleased I made the decision to go to Hull.

A library provides an extremely valuable service and can be a lifeline for people who are lonely or might not have a lot of money.


What do you most enjoy reading?

I am prepared to give anything a go. As I’m studying children’s and young adult literature, I do feel it’s important to read books from that genre. I’m currently reading Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel, a fantasy novel set in Victorian England. I’m quite into historical fiction, particularly texts set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, though I tend to vary what I read a lot. I think the most important thing for me isn’t necessarily the genre but if there is a character I can strongly empathise with. When I was reading the last Harry Potter book, I remember getting very emotional and not wanting to read the end because I was convinced Harry was going to die. I practically begged my sister to spoil the ending for me just so I knew but I was glad I was brave enough to read on in the end!


Talk to me about your MA, and why did you choose to study that subject?

I was in my final year as an undergraduate and had to decide what to do after finishing. I actually came close to opting for law again as I found out I could do a conversion course for a year after finishing. However, I felt that it was a shame to leave studying English behind, as despite doing it since school there still seemed to be a lot to learn so I decided to apply for an MA course at the University of Hull. I had a choice of different programmes but because I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to specialise in at that point I chose the generic English Literature MA. The modules I took were in my favourite periods of study, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I even developed an interest in art, as one of my modules examined the relationship between Victorian art and literature. My favourite module was Modern Children’s Literature and that inspired me to start exploring girls in children’s books for my PhD topic.


You are now currently studying for a PhD. Did you always want to stay in academia?

Whilst doing my first degree, it hadn’t really occurred to me that I would stay in academia but after starting my Masters, I thought that I would like to continue to PhD level and see if I could get into lecturing afterwards. For the first year of doing my PhD, I had been looking at potential conferences and journals to apply to so I could get relevant experience and I still do so now but I think I’ve changed my mind about academia. I don’t regret starting my PhD and will continue to study afterwards but I am hoping to pursue other career options.

What do you love most about being a PhD student?

Definitely being able to revisit old books from my childhood and read ones I missed out on! I’ve written two chapters so far. The first one compared Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz and the latest chapter analysed Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women series. I particularly enjoyed this chapter and I hadn’t read the sequels as a child so it was lovely to get an opportunity to read one. I also learned more about Alcott when reading her diary and letters which was fascinating. Aside from the studying aspects, I enjoy the fact that I’m doing it part-time as it makes it easier for me to work, volunteer and pursue my hobbies. It means it’ll take longer but I feel the extra benefits make it worthwhile.

There is no substitute for a physical book


You currently work at a library. Tell us more details about this.

After finishing my MA I decided to do my PhD from home as I felt I would have more opportunities to work and still spend plenty of time with my family. I went onto a volunteering website and saw that my local library were looking for volunteers so I sent an application in. My role was a Self-Service volunteer and I was responsible for shelving returned books and helping customers find books or use the library equipment. Eight months ago, I acquired a paid Saturday job there. I have more responsibilities on the front desk and I am getting more confident using the library’s circulation systems. I still do my volunteering there as I love my job so much. There is something really special about being around books and seeing customers with huge armfuls to take out.

What do you most enjoy about working for a library?

That’s actually a really difficult question to answer because I love all aspects of my job. I like being able to interact with the customers and I find it very satisfying when I am able to help them find the books they’re looking for. I also enjoy the shelving, as I’m really interested to know what other people are borrowing and it’s given me a few reading ideas. My to-read list has become very long since working at the library!

Is there a real community atmosphere there?

I would say so. We have a lot of regular customers who come in to borrow books, use the computers and attend activities, which is lovely to see as you get to know people and what their interests are.


What do you feel a library needs to do to keep the interest and involvement of the local community?

I think it’s important to ensure that customers are aware about the services libraries have to offer. The system we have at our library is excellent as we are able to order books from other libraries in the county free of charge if a customer is unable to find them on the shelf. Stock displays are useful to help people find inspiration. I have recently organised one in the children’s section to do with witches and wizards. We also have several regular activities for the children including a Rhyme-time session for toddlers and babies and a Summer Reading Challenge for those in primary school. For people over 50 we have an Engage talk once a month and there have been discussions on a wide range of subjects including local history, health and crafts. I am a regular attender of the knitting group and we usually have a large number of people particularly in the evenings. I think all of these things help to encourage people to come to the library, as they have opportunities to meet people and the activities are free unless people choose to make a small donation for tea and coffee.

Do you find that there is a particular kind of literature or publication that is more popular than others in your library? Why do you think this is?

Crime and adventure seem to be the most popular genres with our customers at the moment. Not having read a lot of crime myself, I can’t really comment as to why but I imagine that the novels have a very gripping plot. Our cookery and craft books are also frequently borrowed. I think people have been inspired by programmes like The Great British Bake Off and Sewing Bee. Our knitting books in particular are always appearing on the returned books trollies which is always nice to see as I’m a keen knitter and I like to think other people enjoy it too.

It’s important to ensure that customers are aware about the services libraries have to offer.


Where do you stand on the debate that is currently raging on whether or not prisoners should be allowed books in jail? Do you agree that books/education/reading can be vital to to a prisoner’s rehabilitation, or do you believe that they, as criminals, should not have access or the rights to books?

This is a very difficult question as I know that this subject divides opinion. I believe that prisoners should be treated humanely but I think there does need to be restrictions on privileges such as televisions and Playstations. However, I do feel that they should have a right to an education and to work whilst inside, as the vast majority of prisoners are going to be released into the outside world and there is a chance they could end up reoffending if they have no purpose once they come out. I believe that having educational opportunities could potentially provide rehabilitation to criminals and if they had something to do in prison it might stop them from committing other crimes whilst inside. I appreciate this wouldn’t work with everyone but even if it only made a difference to one person’s life, I’d still be in favour of prisoners having books.


Where do you stand on the argument that libraries are becoming obsolete in the current market?

I don’t feel that is the case with our one as the people in the town make use of it but I know that libraries in other areas of the country, particularly rural ones are having difficulties as I have seen several petitions about saving them on social media. I strongly believe that a library provides an extremely valuable service and can be a lifeline for people who are lonely or might not have a lot of money.


Tell me about your thoughts on borrowing/lending e-books and how this might affect libraries moving forward?

Our customers have the option to borrow e-books e-audio and e-magazines if they own a Kindle Fire, iPad or tablet. I own a Kindle myself and find it is useful for my studies as I have saved money on classic texts and been able to read books that are no longer in print. However, I feel that there is no substitute for a physical book and I’m sure that a lot of customers would share my belief so I think the digital books will help the library to move forward, as it will give people more opportunities to borrow books and they can have them in any format they prefer.


What are your goals for the future?

I still have three years to go on my PhD so I will be spending a lot of time focussing on that. I hope to pursue a career in librarianship once I finish it so I probably will start applying for courses once I’m in my final year. I have also had a novel idea for ages but I haven’t started writing yet so I think I’ll probably try to make some time for it and at least get something written this year!

Becky's display at the library - encouraging children to read!

Becky’s display at the library – encouraging children to read!

You can follow Becky on Twitter @xBecki_Morrisx

Introducing Children’s Author Annie Dalton

I was extremely excited to conduct this particular Q&A. Today’s interview is with a children’s author Annie Dalton, a woman who can I say with complete confidence is probably the reason I am who I am today: a book lover, passionate about publishing and writing.

I first came across Annie’s books in my local library when I was eleven years old. I can still picture it now; I know people have always said you should never judge a book by its cover, but I was eleven, and that’s exactly what I did. What child doesn’t? The bright, vibrant, happy, colourful front cover called out to me the moment I set eyes on it. It was the first book in the Angels Unlimited Series: Winging It. From that point onwards, I was hooked.

winging it

The beautiful artwork on the Angels Unlimited Winging It book. Here is my (well-worn and read!) copy that I’ve had for 13 years.

Growing up in high school was an extremely difficult time for me. My triplet sisters and I were heavily bullied; it was one of those situations where, if you were different or stood out like a sore thumb as we did, you were either destined to be very popular or the victims of bullying. Sadly, we were the latter. Identical triplets could have been ‘cool’, but we were far too obedient and hard-working and we stayed true to ourselves, rather than changing to fit in. And in a rough, working-class, badly-performing school, that was a recipe for disaster. (It turned out to be the best thing later in life, but kids can be very cruel.)

Annie’s books were the absolute perfect form of escapism for me. That may sound cliché, but clichés exist for a reason. I was immediately drawn to Melanie Beeby, the time-travelling angel. I identified with her because despite the fact that she was an angel in the most sublime place in the universe (Heaven itself, in fact!) she still often felt insecure, isolated, and inferior. All emotions which I felt on a daily basis. But the fact that she could become something so special – and surrounded by people so special – gave me some kind of hope for myself. It was the promise of something special for me, a girl who felt ordinary, mistreated and inadequate, that drew me back to the Angels Unlimited world over and over again.

My collection of (first edition) Angels books. For later novels, the covers were re-designed and renamed Agent Angel.)

My collection of (first edition) Angels books. For later novels, the covers were re-designed and renamed Agent Angel.)

I became such a huge fan of these books that I did a little digging and found Annie’s email address on the HarperCollins website. I emailed her, telling her of my love of her books and Melanie’s world. To my astonishment, she replied! We began talking and BOOM! Ever since then I have had a strong friendship with my most favourite author on the planet. This woman got me and my sisters through some dark days. She then did the most amazing thing – she based some characters in one of her books on the three of us! In the sixth book of the Angels Unlimited series, Fighting Fit, a set of identical triplets based in Ancient Rome were separated at birth, and now lead completely different lives. Mel Beeby’s job is to reunite them or the future of the human race will be in grave danger!

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A form of me finally lived within the pages of my favourite books in the world! I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy as a child.

Throughout my teenaged years, into adulthood and the real, scary, world, Annie has been a true friend and a constant support to me. I’m extremely happy to share her story with you in this Q&A.

At what point did you realise that you wanted to write professionally?

Some people have more than one string to their bow, but I am not one of those people. The only thing I have ever known how to do is to write stories and it took me thirty plus years to get up the courage to do that! Writing for me has always seemed like a natural extension of reading but also of being a compulsive talker and daydreamer. I was always getting in trouble for talking, day-dreaming, or not concentrating at school. I never secretly dreamed of being a published writer when I was a child, as some writers apparently did, simply because (and this is rather embarrassing) I had absolutely no idea that books were written by people! To me, books and the stories inside them were some kind of glorious natural phenomenon that I never thought to question; like apples and clouds, they just were. I did however have an immediate and intense feeling of connection with the world of children’s fiction. Something inside me said, ‘Oh, yes!’ And like a struck tuning fork this childhood ‘Yes’ carried on reverberating over the years, sometimes louder, sometimes pushed into the background, until one day, when my youngest daughter was at school, I sat down at the kitchen table and finally gave into an increasingly powerful impulse to attempt to write a book of my own. 2014-08-10 18.22.59

How did you get into writing, and how did your first book deal come about? How did you feel?

Becoming a writer was a gradual process. There wasn’t any one big epiphany, more like an accumulation of moments and influences. I grew up in 1950s Britain when few families owned a TV, and entertainment was commonly via the radio. After school, I listened to Children’s Hour on the Home Service, particularly dramatisations of popular children’s books like John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk and Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth. At bedtime my mum read to me from our book of Grimm’s Fairytales. To be honest, she did mostly out of duty and stopped reading to me just as soon as I learned how to read for myself! But I didn’t care about her motivation, I just soaked it all up, the magic dog with eyes like cartwheels, the little boy who was murdered by his evil stepmother slamming down a chest lid on his head, everything! And during the short time he lived with us, my father actually made up stories in which I starred as the main character. So before I became a reader I was a listener, simultaneously creating the story in my imagination as I listened. Then I learned to read and my imagination was fired in other new and wonderful ways.

My first effort turned out to be a rather baggy fantasy for older children/teens called Out of the Ordinary and was rewarded with serious beginner’s luck. I immediately found an agent who sent my manuscript to Miriam Hodgson, the now legendary children’s editor, who saw some potential in my writing despite its flaws, and persuaded Methuen, as it then was, to publish it. I have been lucky enough to earn my living from my writing ever since.

I was not a clever or academic child. I failed my eleven plus and went to a secondary modern school where our teachers seemed irritated and resigned at the thought of having to teach us. It wasn’t an environment that was very conducive to love of learning. We basically just endured, teachers and pupils alike. Any education that I managed to glean, I owe almost entirely to my local library. But by the mid 60s, change was in the air. It was the totally opposite process of what is happening to young people today when so many doors are closing. A fresh breeze was blowing in the 60s and new opportunities were becoming available for educational misfits like me who would never have ticked all the old boxes. Despite my uneven A Level results, I managed to talk myself into the English department at the University of Warwick. When I handed in my first essay, my tutor commented, as school teachers had commented before him, ‘You write so well, but you never answer the question!’ I wasn’t being deliberately subversive. I just always felt that I would rather write about something that excited me and usually the set questions didn’t! I eventually left with a degree but my three years at Warwick had actually driven my vague longings to write even further underground. It was only once I had children of my own and discovered exciting new children’s writers like Diana Wynne Jones and Margaret Mahy, that I suddenly felt compelled to try to write my own. I always feel slightly embarrassed that my first book deal came about with virtually no effort on my part. A neighbour’s photographer son had recently written a children’s book using his own photographs as illustrations and had acquired an agent at Curtis Brown. When I told him that I was writing a book for children he offered to introduce us and did. That was it! It’s over twenty years ago now but I will never ever forget the feeling when my agent phoned me to tell me that Methuen were taking my book. The joy! Followed by rather less joy when the manuscript came back and I saw all the dozens of red scribbles – every scribble representing a crucial change that my editor wanted me to make!

Did you always set out to become a children’s writer?

Actually I started out writing really bad poetry! And I wrote a lot of first chapters for novels, some of them for adults and all fairly hopeless, though maybe not as bad as the poetry! But the first book I ever finished and had published was for children. My first love as a child was fantasy, though I never thought of fantasy as a genre when I was small. But I instinctively gravitated to books with some kind of magic in them – I’d include time slip stories in my personal magical category – so my initial instinct was to write the kind of novels for children that I had loved to read. I never really believed that I’d become a professional writer of any kind to be honest. With my first book I thought more in terms of giving something back, having been given so much. Like you I was pretty much saved by reading as a child. I thought of myself as just adding my small contribution to this already existing sea of stories. I didn’t think there would necessarily be any more where that came from! But over the years I have written in different genres and for different age groups of children. I was blessed with some wonderful reviews early on and have been shortlisted for various prizes including the Carnegie and the Nottingham Oak. But it wasn’t until I was asked to write a short story for a HarperCollins anthology to celebrate the millennium that I stumbled on the elusive holy grail of commercial success. The anthology was called Centuries of Stories and my contribution featured a thirteen-year-old time travelling angel called Melanie Beeby. HarperCollins loved the character and decided she deserved her own series. The series ran for twelve titles, became an international best seller, and was optioned for a feature film by Disney. As so often happens with options, this film was never made, and the books eventually slipped out of print – but, thanks to my daughter, they have recently been given new life as ebooks.

What would you say is your favourite of your books/work?

I think it’s probably true to say that whichever book I am writing, at the time of writing, is my favourite! This is because writing a book takes huge commitment and energy, or, to put it in simpler terms, love. While you’re writing and experiencing the inevitable ups and downs, frustrations and downright terror that go with writing, it’s that love, that totally irrational belief that this book is worth writing, that gets you through; just as love for your child will get you up in the night even when you are bug-eyed with exhaustion and can barely put one foot in front of the other. At different times I have been in love with all of my books. Then time passes and I tend to see only the flaws. Then more time passes and I fall back in love! I recently wrote a book for Barrington Stoke called Cherry Green, Story Queen, a kind of remix of Scheherazade, set in a foster home. I still love it. I once wrote three books about a small girl called Tilly Beany whose ungovernable imagination innocently causes havoc at school and home. I am still proud of that book. I am still very fond of some of my angel books. But I am also looking forward to falling in love with future books that I hope will be completely different to anything I have previously written.

How would you say, from your perception and point of view, the publishing world has changed from when you began writing to the present day? Anything changed for the better, or worse, in your opinion?

My perception is that today it tends to be sales departments that call the shots, where publishers were once more editorially led. When I started out, my editor Miriam would listen patiently as I talked through an incoherent tangle of ideas for new books, before carefully tweezing out the single tiny seedling of an idea that struck her as having most potential. ‘Just put a few words down on paper,’ she’d say cheerfully when we’d finished, ‘so I can run it by Acquisitions.’ And a week or two later I’d have a contract! This would never happen today. In those days, editors would often take a chance on an unknown writer, nurturing him or her along, investing time and energy that might or might not pay off. But children’s books were not such big business then, and there were fewer children’s writers trying to make a living than there are today. I don’t want to get into things being ‘better’ or ‘worse’. The changes are here now as our current reality. We’ll have to learn to adapt, to reinvent ourselves, possibly several times over, in order to survive. It’s no use being precious about it – no one asked us to be writers after all! – but I sometimes feel like a bit of a dimwit for not sufficiently appreciating my good fortune, for not realising that it was just a passing era, rather than a life-long magic ticket for being an author.

Can you describe the challenges and benefits of being a full-time author?

I have had times of feeling stuck in a writing desert or no-man’s land; wanting and needing fundamental changes in the way I work but not knowing how to bring this about. It’s a hideously familiar rerun of all those initial doubts and fears that paralysed me when I first started out, doubts and fears that I had foolishly imagined to be gone forever! People assume that with several published books under your belt, you must have acquired an unshakeable level of confidence. Sadly creativity doesn’t work like that. Rowan Colman, a hugely successful novelist, talks about a phenomenon she names ‘The Fear,’ a creativity-sucking terror, which is all the more terrifying obviously if writing is also how you feed and clothe your family.

On the other side of the scales is that incomparable excitement which comes with finally breaking into new writing territory; or the thrill of those rare but glorious days when both sides of your brain are suddenly joyously in synch and you feel as if you’re flying; or, yes, an unexpected film deal; or receiving a letter from a thirteen-year old girl confiding that reading your book is helping her to heal from the death of a sibling. On the benefits side of the scales I would also include being sent a bright pink working clock (complete with sparkly winged angel logo) made by eleven-year old triplet girls, now grown up, one of whom is hosting this blog!

You’ve recently re-released your Angels Unlimited books as ebooks, with new cover artwork and under the name of Angel Academy. Can you describe the challenges and benefits of republishing your Angels books as ebooks?

Republishing the Angels series has just been win-win all round. The first four books particularly were written to very strict deadlines, and often I was writing other books alongside. This meant that the writing wasn’t always as tight as I’d have liked. As part of the process of converting them to e-books I’ve been able to re-read and re-edit, taking out any extraneous fluff and also bringing them up to date. My daughter designed new covers, giving these books a more contemporary – and I hope more powerful and grownup – look. It makes me very happy to know that Mel’s cosmic adventures are being read by a new generation of readers.

 

To find out more about Annie, visit www.anniedaltonwriter.co.uk

 

 

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