An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘fiction’

Introducing Karen Sullivan, Publisher at Orenda Books

I am so honoured to host an interview today with Karen Sullivan, publisher and founder at Orenda Books, a fantastic independent publishing company based in London. Orenda Books published one of my favourite books this year, How To Be Brave by Louise Beech and in less than a year has achieved great success. Karen is a wonderful person and clearly a talented publisher. Here Karen discusses her journey into becoming an independent publisher and what independent publishing can bring to the industry…

karen sullivan

Please can you introduce yourself and give a brief overview of your own career.

I’m Karen Sullivan, publisher at Orenda Books. I moved here from Canada when I was 21 (ostensibly to travel around the world) and worked for a small publishing house for a couple of years, before leaving to forge a career as a health editor and writer. I wrote quite a few books about raising children, emotional health, discipline, bullying, nutrition, and that sort of thing, while having three children of my own, and did some TV. I unexpectedly arrived back in publishing when I took a part-time job in a small independent, which soon became full-time. That move was more about a need for change than anything else, but I realised how much I’d missed ‘front-line’ publishing. When a restructuring of the list took place about a year ago, I decided to set up my own publishing house, and the rest is history!

Orenda Books is just under a year old. How did the company come about and how many staff do you have?

The company came about when the shareholders at my previous job (where I worked for about 18 months) decided to undertake a restructure of a list in which I had not only an enormous amount of faith, but a personal sense of responsibility. I chose this time to go out on my own. It was a long-held ambition, in fact, dream! I have no staff, as such. My husband looks after the contracts and finances in his spare time. I have a brilliant freelance editor, West Camel, who works alongside me on some of the titles, doing second reads of submissions, helping with structural and copy edits, and generally covering when I am away, which is frequently the case. He knows my taste completely, which makes things much, much easier. Liz Wilkins (Liz Loves Books) helps to arrange blog tours and provide feedback on potential titles, as well as other useful things. A wee girl, Emma Clifford, has helped out when she can to chase up publicity things. The community in general has been amazingly supportive, and that is the reason why things have gone in the right direction.

orenda letterhead red

 What kind of literature do you publish?

I publish literary fiction, with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, about half in translation. Having said that, I have two books on my list this year that fit in neither category. They resonated and I loved them, so I put them on the list! Next year I have a couple more, and you’ll see why I bought them. Great books deserve to be published, and that’s what I’m aiming to do.

 What would you say has been your biggest success so far?

I would love to narrow it down to one book, but the truth is that every single book has exceeded expectations. I have four debut authors on my list (of six), and the reception has been astonishing. My first-ever book was Paul E. Hardisty’s exceptional thriller, The Abrupt Physics of Dying. Not only was it shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, but it’s gained over 150 five-star reviews online, and hit the ‘best book of the year’ spot for a number of bloggers and hopefully also reviewers. I don’t think that I’ve read anything like it, and I don’t think I could ever forget it!

David F. Ross’s wonderful, music- and politics-driven debut novel The Last Days of Disco, has not only been a massive bestseller north of the border, but he’s been called the most ‘exciting new Scottish voice’ and compared to John Niven and Irvine Welsh. Rights were almost instantly sold to Random House in Germany. Funny, sad, heartwarming, it’s just amazing – coming of age cum humour cum WOW.

Snowblind, by Ragnar Jonasson (translated by Quentin Bates) has been our bestselling title this year to date. This unknown, completely amazing Icelandic crime writer managed to hit the number one spot on Kindle, knocking off The Girl on the Train, for the first time, and selling brilliantly in all markets. He blends Golden Age crime (a la Agatha Christie) with the modernity if Nordic Noir, and it’s created a storm!

And then there was Gunnar Staalesen’s We Shall Inherit the Wind, translated by Knausgaard and Nesbo supremo, Don Bartlett. Gunnar is not only one of the fathers of Nordic Noir, but an internationally famous author whose time for recognition in English has come. I breathe a sigh of pleasure when I read his books! We’ve had brilliant reviews, and very strong sales, and his festival appearances and the tour we took in September were sell-outs!

The autumn brought Kati Hiekkapelto’s stunning crime-thriller The Defenceless (translated by David Hackston)Not only did this win the Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2014, but Kati is also up for the coveted Glass Key (previous winners include Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo) for a book that is scarily timely. This book takes crime fiction to a higher level, and I am so proud to publish Kati, whose distinctive voice has already earned her a spot on the Petrona shortlist!

My final book of 2015 is another aberration. A compelling, moving, astoundingly evocative debut novel called How To Be Brave, by Louise Beech, which weaves together the contemporary story of a woman struggling with a seriously ill child and a true story from the author’s own past (think survival on a lifeboat for 50 days during the Second World War). Just out two weeks ago, we’ve had dozens of online reviews and, more importantly, many bloggers calling it their book of the year.

Everything has gone better than I could ever have dreamt.

What book are you particularly looking forward to publishing?

That’s rather like asking me who is my favourite child! I am looking forward to publishing them all, and my 2016 list and the beginnings of the 2017 list are simply brilliant!

I’ve got second novels for all of my existing authors (The Evolution of Fear, by Paul E. Hardisty; Nightblind and Blackout by Ragnar Jonasson (trs Quentin Bates); The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas, by David F. Ross; Where Roses Never Die, by Gunnar Staalesen (trs Don Bartlett); The Mountain in My Shoe, by Louise Beech, and the third in the Anna Fekete series, by Kati Hiekkapelto (trs David Hackston).

 As well as that, we’ve got Deadly Harvest and A Death in the Family from the magnificent South African crime-writing duo Michael Stanley (the Detective Kubu mysteries, set in Botswana);In Her Wake, a gorgeous, chilling psychological thriller based around an abducted child from the inimitable Amanda Jennings; an unputdownable, exceptional Homeland-style thriller from debut author Yusuf Toropov, entitled Jihadi: A Love Story; a page-turning, gritty and authentic thriller by ex-Met Police officer, Matt Johnson; Epiphany Jones, an extraordinary thriller cum dark comedy by journalist Michael Grothaus – simply amazingly written, it’s got sex trafficking as its theme, but some fabulous humour and a deeply moving emotional core; Norwegian author Agnes’ Ravatn’s absolutely exquisite, Rebecca-esque The Bird Tribunal (trs Rosie Hedger)which has been a massive success in her own country and put her on every ‘author to watch list’ there is; TWO brand-new Nordic Noir thrillers (Coat of Arms and Mortal Wound) in the Henning Juul series by bestselling, talented Norwegian author Thomas Enger; an absolutely stunning retelling of the Selkie legend, Sealskin, by newcomer Sujata Bristow, and a couple more up my sleeve that will be announced soon. I love every single one of them, or I wouldn’t be publishing them.

What were some of the risks you had to take into consideration when starting your own independent publishing company?

Starting any business is a risk, particularly in an industry that is in a state of flux, with many independent publishers being swallowed by conglomerates or closing their doors completely. I was aware of my responsibilities to my authors, whose blood is in their books, to their agents, to my distributors and sales team, booksellers, to everyone, and worried that an unknown company with a fairly unknown publisher and a host of debuts on the list, could fail to make any impact at all. I also have a family, and had to be sure that I wasn’t going to end up homeless and penniless because of my determination to follow my dreams. More than a few people said I was mad, but a lot more than that believed it could be done. Ultimately I reckon that people always read great books, and if I could find them, publish them and market them, then I stood as much chance as anyone else. It’s a difficult business, with tiny margins and many nail-biting moments, but I have fantastic authors who work so hard to promote their books and ultimately, as I suspected, good books will sell! And the truth is that many big companies are struggling in a market that is ever-changing, and I might as well throw in my lot with them.

 What does Orenda Books have to offer that others don’t or what do you feel makes your company unique?

The nice thing about being an independent publisher is that we can probably take risks that other, larger companies can’t. While we have hopeful sales targets, they aren’t deal-breakers, and we can invest in authors while they find their place in the market (and the bestseller lists!). In many larger companies, an author needs to reach a certain level of sales or risk being dropped. Our overheads are low, and we can take a punt where other companies might not. More importantly, we can do something different and create or cater to a niche community. I love publishing translated fiction, for example. It’s hugely expensive, with the cost of the translation to take into consideration before you’ve even edited, jacketed, printed, marketed or sold a single book, and on paper it doesn’t look very promising; however, there is a community of avid readers out there and I take huge pride in bringing to English some of the finest international authors there are. We can cherry-pick from the very best! Every publishing company differs according to who is buying the books, and what you get at Orenda is my taste. I always worry that people won’t see what I saw, but so far that has not been the case. There has been resounding enthusiasm and support. So I guess the answer is that we just publish good books. We take risks with debut authors, with translated fiction, with books written in Scottish vernacular (for example), with sensitive themes, with authors who have been rejected in lots of places before finding their home on a team. We are growing together as a company and I think that harmony, that shared belief, is what will shine through. Well, that and the great books!

Why do you feel that independents are good for the publishing industry?

For most of the reasons above, really. Bringing something different and new to the market, taking risks that bigger companies can’t accommodate because of accountability to shareholders or targets, and publishing passionately. This might sound odd, but in larger companies, the enthusiasm, excitement and commitment of a great commissioning editor will get a book commissioned, but by the time a book heads down through various departments, even the greatest energy can be diluted. Here, as in many independents, a few people (in our case, just me) do everything from commissioning and editing to pitching for festivals and reviews, marketing, selling rights and even accompanying authors on tours and to events. The initial excitement is always there, and that helps. I can’t tell you how many authors from bigger companies have approached me. They aren’t after bigger money; they are after a continuing relationship, personal care, continuity, and the belief that their book will have more than a week in the sun.

Independents also tend to cater to niche markets, which are rich and vibrant communities, with avid readers who appreciate the different things we bring to the market. There should be books for all types of readers, and in an industry increasingly dominated by conglomerates and chains, with the obvious repercussions, it’s nice to offer something new and to give perhaps less catered-for markets what they want.

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death in the family

You can follow Orenda Books on Twitter @OrendaBooks

Find out more about their company and their books at http://orendabooks.co.uk/

Blog Tour Q&A: Johnny Rich, author of The Human Script

I am delighted to host a blog tour stop today for Johnny Rich, author of The Human Scripta book I enjoyed immensely and which is now available in paperback by Red Button Publishing. Below, Johnny discusses the book’s journey from writing to publication and his fascination with the major themes within the story…

Johnny Rich, author of The Human Script

Johnny Rich, author of The Human Script

Please introduce yourself and give our readers a brief overview of your career.

My career has been more checkered than a tweed chessboard. It’s ranged from publishing to politics, from television to technology and from educational charities to entrepreneurship. Through it all, I’ve tried to piece together a living based on communicating. With words, mostly. 

Fifteen years ago, I quit a well paid job in the media to go back to university to study Creative Writing. I was lucky enough to get a place on the celebrated masters course at the University of East Anglia where, among many other wonderful teachers, I was tutored by such great names as Sir Andrew Motion, W G Sebald and Lorna Sage. A steady stream of writers also dropped by: Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Malcolm Bradbury, Doris Lessing, Ali Smith, Louis de Bernieres and many other luminaries. 

That year made me recognise two things. First, writing fiction was not something to be ashamed of. Second, it was something I was able to do with at least some skill.

My debut novel The Human Script was something I started writing that year. I had no idea then how long it would take to reach the printed page.

Your book The Human Script has just been published in paperback by Red Button Publishing. Can you tell us a little bit about your book?

I’m not good at summing it up, especially without spoilers. If I could, I probably wouldn’t have felt the need to write it in the first place. For that reason I’m grateful to one reviewer who provided me with a snappy description: ‘a philosophical thriller’.

Obviously, I worked hard to ensure that the story is as engaging as a thriller while, at the same time, deep questions emerge about what it means to be human.

The narrative involves Chris Putnam, a junior geneticist at the turn of the millennium, working on the Human Genome Project, which was the global effort to write down the DNA code that makes us human. It was, literally, the largest scientific endeavour our species has ever undertaken. Chris, however, is no more than a tooth on a cog in the machine.

Against this backdrop, the story begins with the death of Chris’s estranged father. This sets in train a series of events exploring nature and nurture, science and faith, art and celebrity, sexuality, truth and literature.

It’s also a love story, a tearjerker, and occasionally it’s funny too. Or that’s what I hope.

As a triplet, I am always interested in books and literature about identicals and multiple births. What drew you to this subject matter?

Going back to Shakespeare and beyond, twins are a classic literary device. Not only do they provide great scope for plot twists based on confusion (most of which I avoided as they often come across as contrived), but they’re also a sort of natural ‘what if?’ What ifs are central to the theme of The Human Script.

For the same reason, twins are critical to the study of human behaviour and genetics. If identical twins – who share the same genes – behave differently, how do you explain the difference? The simplistic answer is that it’s down to their environment: their nurture rather than their nature. (As it happens, it’s more complex than that. It’s the chaotic interplay of genes, upbringing and whole lot else besides.)

Hidden within this nature versus nurture debate though is the assumption that nothing about a person can be outside those influences. If that is the case, we can never be free of our background, of who we are. We are creatures of fate. So where does that leave free will?

To me this question becomes even more fascinating in the context of a novel. The characters act for reasons that they can’t control and, as readers, we have to believe in their motivations, their sense of choice and in the reality of their suffering, even though, deep down, we know it’s all just puppetry on the part of the writer.

Why was it important for you to address some of life’s big subjects such as reality, mental health, religion and philosophy?

These big subjects appeal to my natural curiosity as, I hope, they will to any intelligent reader. But no one wants to wade through a treacle-thick philosophical tract. A good story, with human emotions, turns these big issues into a deep blue pool that it’s fun diving into. And, I hope, occasionally the reader will fish out a few pearls – or at least emerge feeling refreshed.

Having said that, I don’t see big subjects as separate from little ones. Yes, you could trudge through life with great human tragedies played out before your eyes without ever taking notice. Or you could see a universe in the smallest thing. The way a person takes their coffee, for example, might say something profound and important about that person, about all humanity, about existence itself.

I used to be a keen photographer. I always felt that you could point a camera at any object or scene and a talented enough photographer would always find a way to create art from it by seeing it afresh. I now feel the same about writing. A thrilling story can be dull if told badly, but even the most mundane event can be elevated into a tale of epic scale by a good storyteller.

What motivated you to write in a less conventional and more experimental form of writing? i.e less structured punctuation, etc.?

Getting the voice right is utterly non-negotiable in good writing. It’s something I worked hard on and in The Human Script, there are basically two voices.

There’s Chris’s first person narrative, which recounts events as he experiences them. I wanted to avoid that awkward feeling you can get as a reader when a character is telling you the story, that sense of ‘why are they speaking to me like this?’

That’s not how thoughts run in our heads, so I wanted to avoid that for my main character. Instead, I used a variety of styles of stream of consciousness writing. It’s important that the reader is inside Chris’s thoughts because the story turns on him becoming aware that not everything that goes on in his head can necessarily be trusted.

The other voice is a third person narrator. This voice is authoritative, authorial, almost godlike in its omniscience. It’s somewhat portentous and sometimes even pompous. As the novel progresses, the reader should be asking those awkward questions. Why is this narrator speaking to me like this? How do they know? Who are they?

How did The Human Script get picked up by Red Button Publishing?

When I completed The Human Script over a decade ago, it was snapped up by one of London’s top literary agencies. In fact, three agencies were competing for it, which was very flattering. However, at the time, if a book wasn’t about a boy wizard or written by a celebrity, they weren’t interested. Over the next couple of years, just about every publisher turned it down.

Most literary fiction loses money anyway and this novel in particular is hard to categorise, which makes it hard to market. I don’t blame the publishers for not taking the gamble. However much the agents and editors were raving about it, commercially it looked too tough to justify a publisher’s investment.

My manuscript was confined to a box under the bed. Ten years passed, during which publishing changed. The introduction of eBooks and small-run printing meant lower commercial risks for independent publishers. That allowed them to take bigger literary risks.

One evening, I got an email from a friend asking me if any of my arty-farty friends had unpublished novels kicking around. A friend of his was starting up an independent imprint with the specific aim of discovering great books that mainstream publishers had overlooked. My reply email was barely more than an attached file.

Three days later Red Button responded saying The Human Script was the book that been looking for to launch their imprint. They asked for some small changes, which reassured me they knew what they were doing, and the support they have given the book is probably more than I might have hoped for from a bigger operation.

What have you found to be the biggest benefits of publishing with an independent publisher?

Red Button publish books because they love them – books in general and the books they’ve chosen in particular. What more could a writer ask for?

In practice, this means that they’ve spent far more time listening to my views on everything from marketing to cover design than I think would have been the case with a major publishing house.

Of course, it would have been nice to have a publisher with more marketing and distribution clout, but not at any price. I’ve heard tales from friends who’ve been published by the mainstream and whose books have vanished without trace because they’ve been sold as chick lit, horror or historical fiction, when they simply weren’t. When they haven’t sold big in the first few months, they’ve been dropped like a lead jellyfish as soon as their contracts allowed.

Meanwhile, the slow steady burn has worked for The Human Script. Recently, one website called it a “whisper hit”, a reference to the way that, despite the lack of hype, readers have found the novel, loved it and just spread the word.

What have been your favourite reviews of the book to date?

The reviews have all been so generous, it’s hard to pick a favourite, although of course the Words are my Craft review was especially insightful and wonderfully written. (Enough crawling?)

If I have to pick one though, it would probably be the review by book blogger Book ’em Stevo – mainly because it was the first. Among many other kind words, he wrote, “To say I enjoyed The Human Script would be an understatement. It provided me with the long forgotten thrill of not knowing how a novel will conclude, and for that I am grateful. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys clever, well written fiction.”

I read that and thought, “That’ll do.”

So far, there hasn’t been a single bad review, but I suppose it will happen eventually. When it does, I’d like to think I’ll see it in the context of wider praise and I’ll remind myself that literature is highly subjective and a book that everyone likes probably has no real conviction. Probably not, though. It’ll haunt me.

What are you working on next?

I like to range widely, not just in fiction. I’ve recently written a semi-academic paper on an aspect of education. I’m toying with the idea of turning it into something more popular.

Meanwhile, I’ve got two kids and sometimes I tell them stories. Occasionally I think, hmm, that’s got legs. I’ve written a couple down, but not done anything with them yet.

In terms of adult fiction, there are a couple of ideas I’ve been stewing for a while. One is a sort of postmodern retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Another centres around Baron Alexander von Humboldt. I’ll just have to see which one develops first into enough of a plot to demand to be put on paper.

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Johnny Rich is the author of The Human Script, published by Red Button Publishing, available now in paperback (£9.99) and eBook (£2.99) formats. To celebrate the launch of the paperback the author will be reading extracts from the novel followed by a Q&A on 17 November 2015 at the Betsey Trotwood, 56 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3BL. To find out more and to book tickets, visit: http://bit.ly/humanscriptlaunch.

Introducing Kevin Duffy, Founder of Bluemoose Books

I am incredibly honoured to feature Kevin Duffy of Bluemoose Books, an independent publishing house, on my blog today. I first met Kevin at a Society of Young Publishers event a few years ago now, and since then I have been a big follower of the company. Bluemoose Books have enjoyed enormous success in their short time of publishing. Their book Gabriel’s Angel is a particular favourite of mine. Read on to find out more.

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Kevin and Hetha Duffy with author Ben Myers, winning The inaugural Gordon Burn Prize with PIG IRON.

Please can you introduce yourself and give a brief overview of your own career.

My name is Kevin Duffy and I started Bluemoose Books with my wife Hetha after re-mortgaging our house. I have been involved in sales and marketing in publishing over the last 30 years with commercial, academic, fiction and non – fiction publishing companies

How did Bluemoose come about and how many staff do you have?

We started Bluemoose as a result of me winning a national writing competition, being whisked down to London, wined and dined at The Ivy by the directors of Macmillan and an uber agent from Curtis Brown. However, they didn’t want my book. I then read in The Bookseller that all the big money was being given to Irish writers, so I changed my name to Colm O’Driscoll, sent off the first three chapters to Darley Andersons, agents to Martina Cole and Lee Child. I had to be Irish for a year, even lied to my children telling them that if a posh man from London rings and asks for Colm that is me, your dad. Confusion reigned but after sending the finished book I got a contract. He sent it out to all the big publishers and all the editors loved the book but the most important people in publishing, and that remains the same today, the commercial directors didn’t think they could sell 20,000 copies, so they didn’t publish. After twelve months I got the book back. We re-mortgaged our house in Hebden Bridge, started Bluemoose and the first two books we published were my book Anthills and Stars by me The Bridge Between by Canadian author Nathan Vanek. We made enough money from these two books to continue and we’ve published 25 books since.

I am full time and we have four freelance editors.

What kind of literature do you publish?

We publish cracking stories which are beautifully written that engage and inspire readers.

Many of your books have now received awards/sold film rights/been translated into numerous languages. What would you say has been your biggest success so far?

I think all our books are successes. The beauty of Independence is that we don’t have the acute economic imperative that the big corporates have. In their world if a book doesn’t succeed economically straight away, the author is dropped. We’re here for the long haul. Books we published five years ago like GABRIEL’S ANGEL by Mark A Radcliffe, still sell really well. NOD by Adrian Barnes has sold incredibly well, and has just been published in North America. PIG IRON and BEASTINGS by Benjamin Myers have won awards and been short listed for others too. KING CROW by Michael Stewart still sells and we published that in 2011. Our biggest seller was the non-fiction book THE HARDEST CLIMB by Alistair Sutcliffe. The story of how he overcame a life threatening brain haemorrhage after being the first man to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents at the first attempt. He was on BBC Radio 4’s midweek programme and the sales went doolally tap.
What book are you particularly looking forward to publishing?

Our list for 2016 is stunning.

IF YOU LOOK FOR ME, I AM NOT HERE by Indian writer Sarayu Srivastra in January. The second novel by Anna Chilvers, TAINTED LOVE in March. The debut, THE LESS THAN PERFECT LEGEND OF DONNA CREOSOTE by Dan Micklethwaite in July. The CODEX EPIPHANIX by David E Oprava in September and the debut, THE HANDSWORTH TIMES by Sharon Duggel in September too.

What were some of the risks you had to take into consideration when starting your own independent publishing company?

Losing our house was the biggest issue. Getting it hopelessly wrong and not being taken seriously. Marketing, sales and building a relationship with booksellers on the high street and with libraries too.

What does Bluemoose Books have to offer that others don’t or what do you feel makes your company unique?

We are the delicatessens of the publishing world. Our books are honed and polished and made the best they can be. We spend an inordinate amount of time in editing and working with our authors. After all, they are the most important people in publishing, because they create the wonderful stories we want to read. As a family of readers and writers with differing reading tastes we know that once we’ve agreed to publish an author, our passion and individually tailored marketing and sales will get our books into reader’s hands.

Why do you feel that independents are good for the publishing industry?

I think Independents are actually in a different publishing industry than the corporates. We are the only ones taking risks with new writers and promoting new voices. We are to some extent the R&D departments of the corporate world. It is interesting to know that 4 of the last 8 winners of The Man Booker have come from the Independent sector. Our publishing decisions are made on the quality of the stories. The economic imperative is first and foremost the main consideration for the corporate publishing world. Great stories are not made round the committee table, great stories are created in the minds of authors. We give our writers time and space to create these stories. If literature is about anything it is about new writers and new voices. As the books editor of The Guardian recently said, ‘It is the independents that are driving innovation in publishing.’

You’re a big voice for publishing in the North and often discuss class and region in terms of publishing. Why is it so important that we continue to promote publishing up North?

Geography shouldn’t dictate what is published. I get that historically the publishing industry has been in London but with internships alienating so many creative people entering publishing in London, we are limiting the creative and talented pool of people which will make publishing more dynamic. Having a Northern Power house of publishing in the north will enable wonderfully creative and talented people to get jobs in publishing without having to go down to London. Publishing needs diversity, people who have different life experiences and backgrounds not just the homogenised group of people who come from the same educational institutions and dominate what is being published today. We are justly proud to be a publisher based in the North but we are just as proud to have published stories that are sold in over 42 countries around the world.

bluemoose

You can follow Bluemoose Books on Twitter @ofmooseandmen

Find out more about the company here. http://www.bluemoosebooks.com/

Every Day by David Levithan

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Every day, I am someone else. I am myself – !know! I am myself – but I am also someone else. It has always been like this.

Each morning, A wakes up in a different body. There’s never any warning about who it will be, but A is used to that. Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

And that’s fine – until A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with – every day…

This is quite a good premise for a book and I found myself really intrigued when I picked it up from the shelf in Waterstones. It was a good little read that entertained me through a bad week.

This book was enjoyable enough, but I feel like it could have been a lot more, or perhaps could have done with being a bit longer to develop things a little more. A (the main character who wakes up in a different body every day) seems to fall in love with Rhiannon in a matter of minutes, and the narration doesn’t really give enough depth for it to be convincing or gripping. That said, perhaps a longer novel wouldn’t really be a good fit for the YA genre.

The author is particularly adept in this novel at conveying other kinds of emotions though – depression, heartbreak, joy, drug withdrawal symptoms, low confidence and self-esteem. Levithan paints a comprehensive picture of how life can be for the average teenager, and how different life can be from one teen to the next. It was fascinating to see how he tackled the subject head on, and he does it successfully. He is not afraid to face the big issues head on.

I have to push harder to get Kelsea through the day. Any time I let it, the weight of living creeps in and starts to drag her down. It would be too easy to say that I feel entirely ignored. People talk to her, but it feels like they are outside a house, talking through the walls.

What’s clever about the book is that even though we get only one day with each character, the protagonist IS each character for the day and so we know them far more intimately than if they were just ‘extras’ in the bigger picture. Each character IS the bigger picture.

While not one of my favourite books this year, it’s well written and, as I say, enjoyable enough. Brilliant for Young Adults, but I think as I get older, my reading tastes are getting older too. *sobs*

What did you think of this? Am I completely wrong? Has anyone read the sequel? Should I give it a shot? Please comment below!

Introducing Emmanuel Kolade, Founder of Shulph Book Platform

Today’s interview is with Emmanuel Kolade, a truly lovely designer whom I met on Twitter and whose new start-up company Shulph caught my attention. Launching in 2016, it aims to bridge the gap between print and digital books, and I am personally very excited about it. Find out more below about the man behind the product and what Shulph will be able to offer readers…

Emmanuel, founder of Shulph

Emmanuel, founder of Shulph

Please introduce yourself and give a brief overview of your career.

I am Emmanuel Kolade – an entrepreneur and experience designer. In my 14-year career as a designer, I have consulted for large clients across a wide array of industries to provide digital products or services for their people – be it customers, clients or employees. As a designer, I have always had an eye for and limited supply of patience for systems, services or products when they don’t work well enough. Or should I say, as well as I think they should?

I am also the founder of Shulph – an exciting new platform that allows book lovers harmonise their print and digital bookshelves.

Shulph – what’s it all about and how did it begin?

Shulph is an aggregator of a book lover’s print & digital bookshelves. It does this by enabling readers to buy a book once, but read it across multiple formats any time they want. Shulph follows and leads the reader through their buying and reading experience all the way from bookstores and online/in-app downloads to reading print and e-books. In short, we remove the friction people often experience when deciding whether to buy a book in print or digital format, but rather free the reader to move in and out of physical and digital spaces according to their contextual need at the moment in time when they need to read the title.

Shulph came from a dark but special place. The product was born from a personal frustration I have felt for some time. I read lots of nonfiction books. Some fiction books too, but if you take a look at my bookshelf, you’ll find more self-help, academic and professional textbooks than crime, science fiction and thriller titles.

I often experienced frustration when trying to reference content from one of my textbooks but couldn’t get access to it because it was either sitting in my shelf at home while I’m at work and I don’t have it in e-book. Or I want to re-read a fiction title I love but don’t want to carry the heavy hardback I bought excitedly on release day with me on the crammed train ride to work. These situations infuriate me to this day. When I fall in love with a title, I end up buying it twice. I’ve got several books in both print and digital formats because I want anytime, on-the-whim access to them. I am attached to my books like that. I initially thought I was the only person who felt this way until I started having conversations with other book lovers and they shared similar stories with me.

Who are the people behind Shulph?

I am working together with a small team of passionate believers. Mainly technologist who agree with me that the notion of readers having anytime, anywhere and any-format access to their library or shelf of books is one that needs to exist in the world.

What gap in the market do you think Shulph can fill?

The Shulph platform will appeal to readers who don’t want to be bound by format. There are those of us who believe that people shouldn’t have to choose between print and digital content. People who want to be able to put a print book down at page 15 to continue page 16 on a device because it suits their context at that moment and vice versa.

Why does Shulph seek to harmonize e-books with print books? Do you buy into the idea that the print book is dying a slow death?

The print book is not going away anytime soon. The dust is started to settle from the disruption that came about from the rise of e-books. My view is that both formats should complement –not compete with – each other. Both formats have very compelling use cases that it does not make sense that people find themselves choosing one over the other.

There are things digital books are great at which the print does not offer, and experiences that print books offer that digital can never replicate. Alternate endings and title updates (like app updates) are exciting prospects for the digital book in future. The print book offers tactile feedback and engages our senses in way that a digitally flipped pages just can’t. That synchronisation of people’s digital and physical bookshelves needs to happen because not having to choose should be a choice too.

 What are you particularly excited about for the launch of Shulph in 2016?

I can’t wait to see book lovers experience what is coming their way. Shulph will provide a liberating model to buyers of literature and I am just so excited to hear people describe how they feel about it. I think many people will eventually wonder how they ever lived without this service.

shulph-logo

 In your view, what do companies need to do in today’s ever-changing book industry to stay alive?

The book industry is quite an interesting one and we’re constantly having conversations with industry stakeholders including publishers, booksellers, authors and agents. Every one of these players needs to put the reader at the centre of their business strategy. Publishers, for example, need to stop thinking of booksellers as their customers.

Booksellers need to evolve what the in-store customer browsing and buying experience look like. We see bookstores as the most vulnerable players in the industry, and we are weaving the Shulph platform right into the ecosystem of bookstores. Our platform will drive customer traffic into bookstores and see them even start to fulfil book orders for local delivery or click-and-collect.

Authors need to engage more with readers through concepts like creating organic, evolvable titles. The concept of alternate endings and app-style update for titles are some interesting evolutions and innovations that authors and their agents should be thinking about.

In general and across most industries, customers are moving into a place where they expect to be able to engage with products and services through multiple entry points. Omni-channel customer experiences are quite becoming the next frontier for competitive commercial advantage. Publishers and booksellers will need to wake up to this imminent future sooner or later.

Personally, are you a big reader? If so, what have you read recently that really made an impact on you?

I am always reading something. I go through the nonfiction titles more quickly mainly because I apply them to my life almost instantly. I am currently re-reading a book titled ‘Zero to One’ by Peter Thiel. It’s a beautiful entrepreneurial book that talks about how the world is made better when we create new things that didn’t exist before. The ideas in the book keep me going when I often hit massive dead-ends on the road to bringing Shulph to the world.

You can follow Shulph on Twitter @shulph

To sign up for exciting launch updates and further information, visit www.shulph.co.

The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

I am very honoured that Words Are My Craft is going to be a stop on James Hannah’s The A to Z of You and Me blog tour this September! I adored the book and was flattered to be contacted by the Transworld Publishers (Penguin Random House) publicity team about the tour.

AtoZBlogTourTwo (2)

On 2nd September James Hannah will stopping by Words Are My Craft for a Q&A with yours truly. In anticipation of this exciting event, I am posting a review of the brilliant book here. Be sure to get a copy and read it, and stop by the blog next Wednesday to see James Hannah discussing the book!

The a-z of you and me pb

I’m lying here in a bed, my head full of regret, with only a little bird flitting through a tree to comfort me.

Friends want to visit, but I refuse them. So my carer Sheila has given me a task to keep me occupied.

An A-Z list. Think of a part of my body for each letter. Tell a little tale about it.

When I reach H for Heart, what will I say?

How we loved to string crocheted hearts in trees? How our hearts steadily unravelled?

So I begin with A. Adam’s apple.

Will you be there to catch me when I fall?

This novel is deeply emotional and captures the heart and the mind. Ivo is a 40-year-old ex-addict who is dying and slowly deteriorating in a hospice. James Hannah is very clever in that he managed to create such a dynamic and colourful story with a narrative that mainly involves the protagonist spending every day in bed and remembering scenes from his life. The book manages to be active and action-filled and yet gentle, no doubt engaging a wide range of readers.

Ivo has made a lot of mistakes in his past, and is a deeply flawed character. But that’s simply what makes him so appealing. He becomes real, tangible, someone believable – in whom the reader can really invest their feelings and attention. He has abused his body, abused the trust of his ex-girlfriend, and has lost both control and the respect of those around him. And yet, somehow, he never quite cuts the connection between himself and your heartstrings.

Hannah has filled the book with complicated and richly developed characters. His carer Sheila is a wonderful woman, and a real rock for Ivo. We’ve all met someone like her. She takes no nonsense but has time for everyone. She is a constant for Ivo in a terrifyingly lonely existence. Until he meets Amber, an incredibly strong and yet at the same time vulnerable young girl who is slowly losing her mother to cancer. Here we witness Ivo make a positive impact on another person, influence her for the better, when for so long his influence has had a negative affect on those he loves: his ex-girlfriend Mia, his sister Laura, his old best friends Mal and Kelvin. But that’s what this book is about: how one human being can affect another. Mia is the voice of reason in her relationship with Ivo and often manages to steer him in the right direction; Kelvin and Laura try their hardest to get him to talk to Mal again before it’s too late; and of course, Mal has had a bad influence on almost everyone from the start. How can things be made right when time is running out? Is it even possible, considering who Ivo and Mal are?

The concept of Ivo going through the alphabet and telling a story about a body part starting with that letter gives a clever justification to the non-linear narrative, and the non-linear narrative allows the writer to give us certain information only when it will make the most impact to the reader’s experience. At the beginning of the book, we know that Ivo’s ex-girlfriend is gone…but where? Where did she go, and why? What happened? Why is Ivo so ill, so young? And why isn’t he talking to his sister and his former best friend? We can only find out by following Ivo’s numerous stories and let the alphabet lead us to the answers…

For this reason, the novel is well paced, and it has both the appeal and success of commercial work while featuring the beauty of literary writing. It is quite unique in its style. It is breathtaking, it is artistic. It is more than just a bunch of words on paper.

Of course, I bawled like a baby in the last few scenes, but this is testament only to how heart-wrenchingly brilliant this book is. There is such power in every word, none misplaced or ineffective. The novel was a long time in the making and development but this shows in every glowing syllable. You’d be insane not to give it a go.

Be sure to stop by for the blog tour stop on 2nd September!

James Hannah (c) Claire Cousin 1

Introducing Illustrator and Children’s Author Claire Barker

I’m very excited to host this week’s interview with the sweet and multi-talented children’s author and illustrator Claire Barker. We met online through a mutual friend and she amazes me with her numerous talents and abilities while maintaining a down-to-earth attitude and lovely personality. Here she discusses her upcoming children’s book and her work as an illustrator and painter.

Is that Knitbone?! ;)

Is that Knitbone?! 😉

Please introduce yourself to my readers and give us a brief overview of your career.

Hello! I’m the author of Knitbone Pepper –Ghost Dog. I live on a small farm in North Devon with my husband, daughters and an assortment of animals. In the past I’ve lived in cities, on boats and in townhouses, but I always gravitate back to the countryside. I’ve done lots of different jobs including being an illustrator and a teaching assistant. I suspect my most important writing influence has been being a parent, because it has taught me so much about what children like to hear about. The natural extension of this was to pick up a pen and start writing.

Tell us a little bit about Knitbone Pepper and the books you have coming out shortly in this series. How did they come about?

Knitbone Pepper is a result of pondering the close friendship between my youngest daughter and our old dog. I started to wonder why I hadn’t seen more stories about animal ghosts. If they are mentioned they are either terrifying (Hound of the Baskervilles) or incidental (the steeds of headless horsemen) and this seemed out of step and rather unfair when I find most animals to be delightful. I’d noticed dogs that waited patiently outside shops, or even at bus stops, for their owners. I imagined that a loyal animal spirit would be far too busy pining for their person to worry about being scary. Animals don’t have an ego like humans so their motivation would be rather different to a human ghost, which is when I came up with the idea of a Beloved, a special type of animal ghost. Then Knitbone Pepper arrived in my head: an unusual dog with an unusual name who has to make the best of an unusual situation. Throw in a bunch of crazy animal spirits from different centuries, a 904 year old tumbledown house and a sparky little girl and I had the makings of the Starcross world.

The first book comes out on the 1st August 2015. The next one is due out in the spring of 2016 and is to be called Knitbone Pepper and the Last Circus Tiger. Another will follow in the autumn. I’ve seen the artwork and they are just beautiful! I’m beyond thrilled about the whole thing.

Knitbone Pepper

Knitbone Pepper

What are you most excited about?

I’m really excited about visiting schools and talking to children about the book. The Knitbone series will be coming out as audiobooks and the idea of someone voicing the characters is thrilling. It’s been bought by various countries around the world and the idea of children in China or Spain reading a story that I thought up at my kitchen table in Devon is incredible. It’s beyond my wildest dreams really.

When you decided to start writing, what made you decide to write children’s fiction?

I think it chose me, particularly as I entered this world through the door of illustration. It never really occurred to me to write for adults. I have an English Literature and History degree, so I’ve read some wonderful, rather serious books over the years, but the stories that really stick with me are from my childhood. I had a particularly treasured copy of Illustrated Tales from Shakespeare that I loved. I still have it in fact. Children’s books are powerful signposts that can point the way for the rest of your life. I can remember what it felt like to be a child quite clearly.

How do you become a successful children’s writer?

I’ll let you know when I’ve become one! I think having confidence in your instinctive writer’s voice, a dollop of persistence and a great ladle of luck goes a long way.

What do you need to know or understand in order to write effectively for children?

In my experience children are extraordinarily wise and clear-sighted. They have an excellent sense of humour and their minds are full of possibility. Listening very carefully to children’s views on the world is always time well-spent.

Knitbone Pepper and illustration

Knitbone Pepper and illustration

You now live in Devon. How does living in such a place help you with your writing?

Devon is a landscape humming with its own stories. I’ve lived here for over 20 years and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Whilst the countryside is associated with peace and calm it’s actually quite a busy place. The mornings here are full of loud birdsong and the inky nights are stuffed with stars. Not a day goes by when I don’t see a deer or a hare or buzzard. Once, I was woken up by the terrifying clatter of owls fighting outside the bedroom window. As I can’t help but give them all back-stories it’s quite a daily workout.

Did you have any say about who illustrates your books?

Yes, my publishers always ask for my thoughts. I was initially a bit nervous as the characters are so distinctive in my head, but when Usborne showed me Ross’s sketches I knew straightaway he was the perfect choice.

Why is it important for you to have an illustrator who understands your books?

Knitbone Pepper is a story with a bitter-sweet edge. It takes a special illustrative talent to convey both sadness and wild humour. I think Ross and I have a similarly quirky view of the world and I think we compliment each other’s styles. It feels like he’s been rummaging around in my head which has been a fascinating experience. The wonderful thing about this entire series is that everybody involved, from my agent to my publisher, has ‘got it’ from the outset. I’m overjoyed by the results.

Characters arrive on the doorstep of my head like unannounced visitors.

You are also a very talented painter and illustrator. How do you find the time to paint, and draw, and write, and be a mother?

That’s very kind of you to say so. I do this by being a terrible slacker on the housework front. I will drop all domestic duties with the slightest encouragement to do something more interesting.

On your website you say that in the past you’ve drawn and painted the characters you’re writing. How vividly can you picture your characters as you’re writing them?

Very vividly. They arrive on the doorstep of my head like unannounced visitors. Sometimes they need a bit of tweaking, but only a bit. I always start with a cast of characters and then I need to build them a world in which to live. I’m one of those very visual people with pitiful maths skills.

And finally, do get any time to read? If so, what book recently have you loved?
I love Kate Atkinson’s writing. I thought Life after Life was brilliant and I’m about to read her new one. I was mightily impressed by Mal Peet’s Murdstone Trilogy. There are certain books I read again and again for comfort, like Cider With Rosie. Most of the time though, as soon as my head hits the pillow I’m asleep. Unless I’m woken up by fighting owls of course.

Likes tea...my kind of lady!

Likes tea…my kind of lady!

You can follow Claire Barker on Twitter here.

Her instagram account can be found here.

Read more about Claire Barker the author on this site.

Learn more about Claire as an illustrator and check out her work here!

Have a question for Claire? Post it below and I will get it answered for you!

And of course you can find her on Facebook here.

The White Shepherd by Annie Dalton and Maria Dalton

I would like to thank the publisher Severn House for the review copy of this book.

 

My copy - on my very battered kindle!

My copy – on my very battered kindle!

When I first heard about this upcoming book, I was incredibly excited about getting my hands on it. I am a lifelong fan of Annie; she is the one writer who made me so passionate about literature and publishing that I actually became a publishing professional myself (currently working for an academic publisher in a job I love.) Throughout my childhood I was in love with Annie’s Angels Unlimited Series – they stuck with me for a long time, and for this reason I really wanted to read this. As a child I read her children’s novels, and now as an adult I have read her adult novel and it’s really made me feel like I have grown up alongside her literature. And the best part of all? She’s just as good an adult fiction writer as children’s fiction writer. What’s even better? Her daughter Maria, with whom she wrote the book, is just as talented.

Now, I want to stress that I genuinely, genuinely loved and enjoyed the book. There is no bias here whatsoever. I’ve often talked to publishing professionals and authors about the need for honest reviews. Gushing about a book just because somebody has sent you a review copy is all well and fine if you’re in it just for the free copies – but that’s not my style! As anyone can see from my book review blog, if there’s something I don’t like about a book, or indeed a whole book I don’t enjoy, I will come right out and say it. As the author Matt Haig stated in a recent book event, there is not enough criticism in book review blogging right now. People are trying to please authors, rather than being honest about the quality of the work. And I agree 100%.

First in the brand-new Anna Hopkins dog walking mystery series: an intriguing new departure for award-winning YA writer Annie Dalton. It is Anna Hopkins’ daily walk through Oxford’s picturesque. Port Meadow is rudely interrupted one autumn morning when her white German Shepherd, Bonnie, unearths a blood soaked body in the undergrowth. For Anna it’s a double shock: she’d met the victim previously. Naomi Evans was a professional researcher who had told Anna she was working on a book about a famous Welsh poet, and who offered to help Anna trace Bonnie’s original owner. From her conversations with Naomi, Anna is convinced that she was not the random victim of a psychopathic serial killer, as the police believe. She was targeted because of what she knew. With the official investigation heading in the wrong direction entirely, Anna teams up with fellow dog walkers Isadora Salzman and Tansy Lavelle to discover the truth.

All this means in this case is that this proves that Annie is genuinely a great writer in a number of genres. The story is carried along at a good pace and I didn’t find myself getting bored or side-tracked at any point, which personally I feel is essential in a murder mystery novel. There is a fantastic twist at the end and nothing is too obvious or easy to predict.

Also crucial to a good novel for me are believable characters. Annie’s characters are three-dimensional, believable, and they each develop and grow throughout the novel in ways that a lot of characters in other books don’t. The main protagonist Anna is a troubled and introverted young woman, haunted by the tragic events in her past. She suffers from social anxiety as a result, and is all but a recluse. Ironically, it is the occurrence of another tragic event that brings her out of her shell and results in a new-found social life, when it was a tragedy which originally robbed her of it. It proves that she has become much stronger emotionally as she has gotten older. But it also says a lot about the people she surrounds herself with – more of Annie’s and Maria’s colourful and skilfully crafted characters.

Jake, the American ex-soldier who was the previous owner of Anna’s White Shepherd dog Bonnie, is one of the characters most able to help Anna find and remember herself and who she was before the events of her past which scarred her mentally and physically. The interplay between Anna and Jake shows how skilled Annie Dalton is at crafting a complicated but effective relationship on the page. Anna finds herself becoming more animated and enthusiastic about life when she is around Jake:

“‘Catte Street?’ he said, glancing back at the sign. ‘That’s not named after actual cats?’
‘No, it really is!’ she said, catching his enthusiasm, ‘because I happen to know that at one point they changed the name from Kattestreete to Mousecatchers’ Lane!’”

An additional character who is also essential in helping Anna keep sane is her grandfather. She nurtures and looks after him to such a touching degree that it’s obvious that this is a part of a subconscious need on Anna’s part to protect those she still has around her. Anna may shy from social situations and find communicating with people difficult, but she hasn’t lost love or the warmth of who she once was. Her deep affection for the immensely lovable Bonnie, her White Shepherd dog who plays an integral role in the book, also reflects this. Bonnie becomes her rock and Annie pulls off the writer’s ultimate goal perfectly – making the reader fall in love with a central character. Along with these there are of course Anna’s new-found friends Isadora and Tansy, so utterly different to her but who compliment her perfectly.

I find that a lot of murder mystery novels, especially those that try too hard to be flat-out bleak and grim in order to achieve a certain pathetic fallacy, are often lacking in richness and depth. This wasn’t so with The White Shepherd. Annie has a beautiful way with words and paints Anna’s world and her home life as a place of total beauty. Annie’s love of nature shines through the book and makes the reader want to step into that world – even if it’s a world often tinged with sadness and pain. Her writing stimulates the senses, as though you’re almost in the book itself.

 

“At the top of a steep hill, the breathtaking view of the valley below stopped them in their tracks. Sandstone cottages were dotted about here and there. In one of the gardens a man was tending a bonfire. Anna could hear the snap of burning wood mixed with the cawing of rooks above their heads. They hadn’t seen a single car since they’d started walking.”

The beauty of passages such as these make for an effective and brutal contrast when the menace and foreboding of a murder mystery is introduced alongside it. It serves to make the unpleasant and grim parts of the novel all the more satisfying, entertaining and gripping.

The novel has a very strong plot, rich in detail and very cleverly done. It is difficult to know what has happened – it truly is a murder mystery.

In all, this is a richly woven tale full of everything that a reader could want – intrigue, mystery, love, sadness, happiness, lovable and believable characters, a strong plot, an unpredictable twist, and most of all, very talented writing. I adored this book, and I urge you read it.

Introducing Author and TV Writer Catherine Johnson

I am absolutely thrilled and very lucky to be able to host an interview with the wonderful Catherine Johnson, writer of many, many books and TV projects (her CV includes writing for Holby City). Her most recent book, The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo, has just published (and is immensely enjoyable – review to follow) and in this interview she discusses her excitement about the book and her experience working with children, prisoners, and publishers. Enjoy!

The gorgeous Catherine Johnson

The gorgeous Catherine Johnson

Please can you tell me a little bit about yourself and an overview of your career so far?

Gosh that’s hard. It’s been a long and not quite illustrious career although I have managed to be a full time writer since about 2007. I’ve worked around writing, as well as written, for most of the last twenty years. I’ve published 17 books, written one feature film (that got made- Bullet Boy – I have one in development), worked as a writer in residence in a prison and several schools, worked in local bookshops and in literature development, written for radio and TV and feel that I am amazingly lucky still to be published.

Tell me a little bit about the first time you got published and how it came about.

Oh this is a long story. I didn’t start writing until after I had two children. I trained at film school and thought that was what I was going to do. So when I had two little children I started writing a film script which went into development. That stalled but I sent an outline for a kids’ drama show to a TV company. I had a massive stroke of luck, someone in the TV office knew someone starting up a small publisher who was looking for books set in Wales for teens. They sent it on – I would never have thought I could write a book (all those words) – and the small publisher sent me on lots of courses at Ty Newydd (which is like the Welsh Arvon) and on a master class with Bernice Rueben (Booker prize winning novelist, now dead) and I learnt and learnt. Then when I had done one I enjoyed it so much I wrote another….and another.

“It’s the character. Get the character and you have the voice.”

What attracts you to writing historical fiction? How do you go about researching for your historical works?

I’m really not a historian – in fact I wasn’t allowed to take History GCSE (They were O levels when I was 15) as I had the worst mark in my whole year. But I loved historical dramas on TV – there was lots of Leon Garfield and I love the clothes. I always wanted to wear the frocks. And there was never anyone like me on TV when I was growing up wearing fantastic frocks. My first ever historical novel was set in regency London just because I liked the dresses!

It’s also important to me to write stories that remind readers that London has been a world city forever. I love Liza Picard’s books about London, and Peter Fryer’s Staying Power. I also use maps. Lots and lots of maps. That’s another brilliant thing about London, a lot of the street patterns are just the same as they were hundreds of years ago.

How do you go about finding the right voice and tone for your Young Adult novels?

It’s the character. Get the character and you have the voice.

You write novels, short stories, film and TV scripts. Which would you say is the most rewarding, and why? Which is the most difficult?

Financially rewarding? TV! I do love writing books but I can’t make a living at it. You can just do what you want in a book because it’s all down to you, which is lovely but I also enjoy the collaborative way of writing for TV. I like both! I am very lucky to do both.

What project/book/published pieces of yours are you currently most excited about?

I am so scared and excited about Caraboo. [Her new book The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo – review to follow shortly.] It’s horrible just before a book comes out because you try and try to keep a lid on your expectations but you always hope it will do well. But it’s also scary because people might actually not like it.

Catherine's book has just recently published.

Catherine’s book has just recently published.

You do school visits and run writing workshops. Which have particularly stuck in your memory and why?

Ooh, that’s interesting. I enjoy seeing lots of different schools. I’ve been very lucky I’ve been writer in residence in Holloway prison which was really fascinating. And I got invited back to my old school which was terrifying. I love seeing the stories school students come up with.

Why is it important to run workshops and talks for young people? Do you find there is a strong interest in writing among young people?

I think when you’re at school it’s often the case that students think if they’re no good at writing essays then they’re no good at writing stories. I see it as a bit of a mission to prove otherwise!

What awards or achievements are you most proud of?

I’m proud of my children (I know) and all of my books (except maybe the first) and last year after years of being nominated for prizes but never winning, Sawbones won the Young Quills award for best historical fiction for 12+

What are you working on at the moment, and what are you reading?

I read loads. Just loved Poppy in the Field by Mary Hooper, Liberty’s Fire by Lydia Syson, Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge and Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre. I’m working on a contemporary YA set in my new hometown, Hastings, I’ve got a film project in development and (so excited) a TV series optioned…

This is my website: www.catherinejohnson.co.uk
But I also blog once a month on the 14th at http://the-history-girls.blogspot.co.uk/ and on the 28th at http://girlsheartbooks.com/

You can also follow me on Twitter at @catwrote

Terri Cox Talks Chick Lit and Translated Fiction!

The purpose of these interviews are to get a more intimate look at how reading affects people and why certain different kinds of literature appeals to different people. Looking at the differences in reading habits between one identical sister and another proves that the books and literature have the power to touch people in so many different ways. Following on from my Readers Insights interview with the first of my two triplet sisters Toni in which she discussed her love of non-fiction and self-help books, I now present to you an interview with the second triplet sister Terri Cox, who gives us a reader’s perspective on Chick Lit and translated fiction, and why these mean so much to her.

My gorgeous sister. Again, I'm not biased, honest.

My gorgeous sister. Again, I’m not biased, honest.

Please introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m Terri, 24. I love reading and have done since I was a kid. My main passion is for Modern Foreign Languages, namely French, Spanish and Italian.
 
What kind of literature/books do you read?

Fiction. Definitely. I think I have read exactly one autobiography in my entire life. My two favourite genres are fantasy, such as Harry Potter, and what people would refer to as ‘chick lit’, although I read much more of the latter as I get older.
 
Why does this genre speak to you and appeal to you more than others? What is it you love about it?

Fantasy and magic are for the child in me – the one that still loves the feeling of Christmas morning – but the adult storylines of corruption, mystery, romance and war that run alongside them are gripping and thought-provoking.
 

I love reading women’s fiction because it’s relatable – a cliché, but true. I can’t count the times I have laughed out loud or shed a tear over stories that have happened to me before.

 

There is nothing more disappointing than reading a whole book and realising you could have guessed the outcome 300 pages ago.
  
Is there a good fan base and/or community behind this work or this kind of book?

Fantasy series always have huge followings. For Harry Potter, the story carries on long after you close the book. There is so much more to be learned from the fan community, I love that the stories are rich and detailed enough to have still have unanswered questions, that whole debates and theories can still be found online or with other fans that you come across.
 
Toni, Me, and Terri

Toni, Me, and Terri

What do you think makes a good book in this genre?

There’s a stereotype attached to ‘Chick lit’ – that it is mass-produced, cheesy, mindless stories. I don’t find that to be true, if you’re reading the right titles. For me, for a book in this genre to stand out, I have to care about the character, believe that someone like that could exist out there somewhere
.
 

A poor book in this genre for me personally is a predictable storyline. There is nothing more disappointing than reading a whole book and realising you could have guessed the outcome 300 pages ago.
 
I had the weirdest sense of déjà vu throughout the entire book – I had read the book before, but not in the same words.
Talk to me about some specific titles that are special or mean more to you and why. Is there a story behind why you value it? Did it make you feel a certain way when you read it?

A memorable title for me was during my year abroad I read a book called ‘Ti ricordi di me?’ in Italian by Sophie Kinsella, or ‘Remember me?’ in English. An advantage of reading a book in this genre in Italian for me was that the content was light and enjoyable, which I found helpful considering the actual language of the book was a big challenge. The book was a mess by the time I got through it, dog-eared and written all over in pencil. Because the book spoke about a lot everyday topics such as work and relationships and used a lot of everyday language, the vocabulary I learned from it was really useful. I read the same book a couple of years later in English, and I had the weirdest sense of déjà vu throughout the entire book – I had read the book before, but not in the same words.
 

Another book I loved was called the Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl – breaking my rule of thumb when it comes to non-fiction. It was written by an Australian lady called Shauna Reid and her weight-loss journey over the space of a few years. It was unbelievable how many of her diary entries could have been written by myself.
 
Who are your favourite authors and why?

Jane Costello and Lauren Weisberger are my ultimate ‘chick lit’ favourites (Lauren Weisberger is the author of The Devil Wear’s Prada). Jane Costello has a brilliant sense of humour, and for me her books have always been very dependable – most follow the stories of three main female protagonists who are friends – so I know exactly what kind of thing I’m going to get by reading the book. Having said that, she does still manage to weave a brilliant and original story for every single one of her characters throughout her books. For me, light entertainment and easy reading.
 

Jodi Picoult is another. I think the woman is a genius. But as a general rule after reading one of her books I need a good few weeks or even a few months break before reading another, as they go into very complicated, very deep, and very emotional storylines and are often full of sorrow.  They question society and morals. The court room trials are fascinating.
 

A great middle ground is Cecilia Ahern. Not quite as heavy as Picoult, but covers a wider range of issues than Jane Costello. And there is just a slight  mystical or spiritual edge and sometimes even a hint of the supernatural in some of her books.
 

J.K Rowling…for obvious reasons.
 
 
Where do you most like to buy your books?

I have a Kindle which is great for travelling, or if you need to get hold of a book straight away, but at the minute is in a corner gathering dust. I don’t see the appeal of yet another screen full of data. I buy my books from Waterstones…the closest I’ll get to the feel of a traditional bookshop.
 
How do you find out about new titles in this genre?

I rely on word of mouth from friends and family to recommend books for me. I find they have a much wider range in taste than me. If it were left solely up to me, I would stay in my comfort zone and just read authors similar to ones I already read. For that reason only, I am part way through a Stephen King book that you recommended to me. I wouldn’t have ever considered reading it otherwise. Likewise for the odd Dan Brown book, and books such as the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Genius works that I would otherwise miss out on.

 

What are you reading at the moment/looking to read next?

My next aim to find a good title, and buy it in French, Spanish and Italian. Reading books in foreign languages are a lot like study for the first few books you read, and can take a long time. But my long-term aim is to be able to read them for leisure just like any book I would read in English. A brilliant way to combine my two favourite hobbies.
Me and my literary sisters.

Me and my literary sisters.

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