Sunday, 9 November 2014

Yeovil Literary Festival II

I have just returned from a brilliant couple of days up in Yeovil, where I have been participating in the second Yeovil Literary Festival. The festival has been amazing and I had a really fantastic time, catching up with old friends and immersing myself in all things literary!

In all I was involved with three events. The first was the Past Winners of the Yeovil Prize panel event on the Friday morning. The list of success stories continues to grow and this year it was lovely to be joined by several of the poetry winners. Here we all are. As you can see several of our winning books have now been published.

Winners of the Yeovil Prize, past and present.

In the evening I was the host for an ‘In Conversation With” event, and the lovely gentleman I was asked to host was Jason Hewitt, debut author, whose novel, The Dynamite Room is simply superb.

In conversation with Jason Hewitt

And then, the next day it was off to the library, to run a writing workshop for a fabulous bunch of kids. Sadly my friend and fellow author Carol Hunt had flu and couldn’t be there, but they were such a great bunch of kids – so enthusiastic and imaginative, that even when the workshop had officially ended, they were all still sitting, scribbling away. I’m sure there were some budding authors in their midst!

Children's Writing Workshop at Yeovil Library
So congratulations to the organisers who made all this possible. Last year’s Yeovil Literary Festival was really good. This year’s was even better! I can’t wait until next year!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Bridport Story Slam III

Judging a competition is never an easy task, and that was why I was so glad to be joined by fellow Dorset authors Penny Deacon and Laura James for the judging of the Bridport Story Slam which was held at the Beach and Barnicott on Tuesday night.
The Judges, Laura James, Kate Kelly and Penny Deacon

The annual Bridport Story Slam is an open mic event. Registered authors take turns to read a short story within a strictly enforced 5 minute time slot. This was something they all managed to keep to, although one author cut it very fine – the last word of her story right on the buzzer!

There were twelve brave authors in all and we were treated to a broad range of subject matter, themes and settings, losing ourselves in the worlds created, a cold chill of something sinister, shortly followed by a story that would make us laugh out loud. Stories performed at an open mic event should entertain and these certainly did that.

We then had the difficult task of selecting the winners, retiring to the cosy upstairs of the Beach and Barnicott to discuss. Fortunately the decision was a fairly unanimous one with last year’s winner Jill Smith taking third place with her chilling tale ‘Hide and Seek’.

In second place was Richard Green whose hilarious piece ‘Health and Safety I Presume’ had us all laughing out loud. This was so well performed that we found ourselves wondering if the character he portrayed was really him, but when me met him afterwards we soon realised it wasn’t.

Laura with Richard Green
The winner was another very entertaining piece – ‘A French Tale’ by Wendy Breckon which we loved because it packed so much into such a short time frame with great character voice, vivid sense of place and lovely touches of humour. So congratulations Wendy.

Presenting the prize to winner Wendy Breckon

Proceeds from the event went towards the Words for the Wounded charity, Words for the Wounded is a fabulous charity that raises money through writing competitions to help injured servicemen and women for which Penny Deacon was one of the founders.

So thank you to everyone involved in making the story slam such a successful event, to the Beach and Barnicott in Bridport for providing the perfect venue, to Frances Colville for organising everything so well, to our fabulous compare Declan Duffy and of course the authors without whom this simply wouldn’t have happened.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Monster Hunting

As mythical creatures go the monster said to frequent this loch has to be one of the most famous. Standing here on a stormy day as the wind whips up the surface of the loch into a noise of whitecaps it is easy to imagine strange creatures lurking within those icy depths.

Some of the sightings are well intended – people who genuinely thought they saw something, even if in time it turned out to be no beast but the wind carving strange patterns on the water, or the wake of a boat that had already passed on by.

What really fascinates me though are the hoaxes. Some people went to considerable trouble to create their fake monsters – from doctored images – perhaps the most common – to models made of floating hay bales. For decades they held the world convinced, until their deception was finally revealed.

But that doesn’t mean it was all one big hoax to boost tourism, or even a series of mis-identifications. Stories of strange creatures in lochs and waterways have been part of our mythology for thousands of years. Perhaps our ancestors knew more than we realise.

And what of the sightings we haven’t been able to explain away.

Is there a monster in this loch? I’ll leave it for you to decide.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Follow Me Follow You Book Launch

My good friend Laura E James celebrated the launch of her second Romance novel, Follow Me Follow You (published by ChocLit) at the weekend and she invited me and two other local authors, Carol Hunt and Kathy Sharp, to join in her celebrations.

The launch was held at the Chesil Beach Centre and we arrived to find the landscape shrouded in a fine sea mist – fittingly atmospheric for a gathering of authors who have called ourselves the Littotalis – ‘meaning from the seashore’.

By the time we had set up our stands the sun had burned through and the venue was bathed in sunshine, blue skies and sea with the golden pebbles of Chesil beach for our backdrop.

Laura gave a reading from Follow Me Follow You while her children fetched extra boxes of books to keep up with sales. In fact we all sold well and really appreciated Laura giving us the opportunity to be a part of her launch.

Follow Me Follow You is available as both an e-book and paperback. Here is the Amazon link. Do check it out.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Edinburgh International Book Festival

I have just returned from the Edinburgh International Book Festival and I am still buzzing – because I wasn’t there as part of the audience – I was there as an author.

Mine was a joint event with the lovely Sarah Crossan, author of dystopian duology Breathe and Resist as well as the Carnegie nominated The Weight of Water. Or event was called The End is Nigh and formed part of the Baillie Gifford Schools programme of events, hosted by Hannah Love of Faber, who was as lovely as her name suggests.

We read extracts and answered questions about our books, both about the writing process and our inspirations as well as the environmental issues our books address and the emerging genre of Cli-Fi (Climate Fiction).

Afterwards we had the opportunity to meet some of the kids and sign books for them in the festival bookshop. A couple of school groups had come across from Glasgow and they’ve given the event a lovely write up here.

 The Book Festival was held in the beautiful Charlotte Gardens, event venues and bookshops set up around the edge with lawns and seating in the middle where people gathered to drink coffee or eat their lunch. The authors had a separate area, the Author’s Yurt, where we could chat and relax both before and after our events

Of course no visit to Edinburgh during festival time would be complete without checking out The Fringe and we spent some time sampling all that the city has to offer at this time of year. Some of the street acts we saw were quite superb and the whole city was vibrant and alive.

Participating in The Edinburgh International Book Festival was a wonderful experience and has to be one of the highlights of my year so far.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Guest: Children's author A.C. Hatter

Please welcome children’s author Amanda Hatter who has just released her first book – Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost, and she has kindly agreed to pop over and answer a few questions.

Hi Amanda. Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your writing?

Hi Kate, I have always told stories and loved writing.  At school I wanted to go into journalism and spent a summer working on my local newspaper.  I loved the excitement of the news room – but I have mild dyslexia and pre computers and spell checks there was no way I could pursue a career in writing. So I went off to university to study Economics instead of English and forged a career in industry. I returned to writing about 5 or 6 years ago as a hobby – and loved it.  I entered a few competitions and to my great surprise my stories kept winning prizes. I had a number of short stories published and I was finding it really rewarding.  One competition I won was judged by Fay Weldon, she gave me such kind feedback about my writing that I was spurred on to write a novel.

What inspired you to write this book?

About the time I was starting to think about writing a novel my children were at the top end of primary school and I was onto my second ‘come to school as an evacuee’ day. I am quite the pushy parent, so I insisted that the children read around the subject and I went off looking for WW2 themed books.  I love period novels but my kids thought everything I came up with was really dry.  At the time I had been reading Kate Mosses’ Labyrinth, which wove a historical plot line with a modern day story. It‘s set against the back drop of Carcassonne in France. I’ve never been there but the author painted such a vivid picture that the city itself became a character in the book – and I felt I knew it.  I wondered if I could take the same approach with a children’s book. Have an exciting contemporary story, weaving in and out of a historical children’s story – set somewhere beautiful and possibly a bit mystical.  The idea for Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost  grew out of that idea.

Tell us about Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost.

Callum is a pretty typical  12 year old, soon to be 13, who goes down to Mousehole in West Cornwall to stay with his grandparents.  He doesn’t know his grandparents well, and he and the reader soon realise that there’s something’s a bit strange about the Fox’s. At the same time as Callum is travelling down to Penzance we meet Jim who is being evacuated from London to Penzance as part of Operation Pied Piper, in September 1939.  There are many parallels between the two boys journeys. In particular, they both end up staying with Bob Fox, Callum’s Grandad.  He’s aged 7 in 1939, and 82 in 2014. Jim’s story is one of friendship and war time adventure. Meanwhile Callum starts seeing the ghost of Jim, the evacuee – which freaks him out completely. He has problems of his own in trying to convince his friend Sophie that he really can see ghosts and that he’s not going mad. And the whole time more and more ghosts are realising Callum can see them and he’s getting into deeper and deeper problems.

I’ve tried to combine a lot of action with a light, humorous, ghost story. I’m really happy with how it’s worked out – and the reviews and feedback I’m getting so far have been great.

Why did you choose to set your story in Cornwall?

I wanted somewhere beautiful, that would really add something to the story. It had to be somewhere children were evacuated to, and somewhere that people stayed for their whole lives. A place where families were strongly rooted. Where people know their neighbours, and their neighbours parents and grandparents.  It just had to be Cornwall.

And I had family in Mousehole.  My family farmed near the harbour and ran a hotel on the coast.  My uncle had written up a lot of the family history so I had newspaper clippings and his anecdotes to help me picture Mousehole in the 1940s. As a child we camped near Mousehole every summer, and invariably would end up at Myrtle and Kath’s bungalow, looking out across the sea to St Michael’s Mount. It is such a beautiful location – and the kind of place where anything could happen.

What was your journey to publication like?

I found an agent relatively quickly. She was very excited about the book and her confidence rubbed off on me. I thought it was sorted…. But publishing is having a very tough time at the moment – and the market is awash with debut children’s books from unheard of authors.  One by one all the big publishers reviewed the book, some feedback was positive, some didn’t even bother giving feedback. It was tough and in the end it didn’t find a home.  My agent called me to say it wasn’t going to find a mainstream publisher and suggested I get it out there myself. I wasn’t sure. I hated the idea of vanity publishing – and there’s a real mixed bag of stuff under the banner self-published.  I turned to my writing mentor, Margaret Graham, who put me in touch with a group who had formed their own publishing company, sourced professionals for editing, proofing, cover design and formatting and the quality of their work was really top notch.  If Callum Fox and the Mousehole was going to see the light of day then that was the way to go.  But I wanted to do it entirely myself. So I did

How did you find the self-publishing Process?

Hard work! I read everything I could get my hands on and whilst my manuscript was being proofed and formatted and the cover designed I was busy comparing Ingram Spark to Create Space and double checking the value added from the companies selling publishing packages.  None of the packages provided the quality I was looking for, so I set up Woodside White Books and purchased my own batch of ISBN numbers. I manage my Amazon sales through Create Space, Kindle through KDP (but not KDP Select), I’ve also uploaded the eBook to Kobo and Smashwords accounts to cover all eBook sales.  I’ve signed with Gardner’s that supply Waterstones, and am mid-way through a very long drawn out Waterstones supplier process – but I am confident that it will be sorted within the next fortnight, and then I can supply through Waterstones too.

One of the more difficult decisions was how to source really good quality paperbacks, to supply to bookshops and support author talks and signings.  CreateSpace can print author copies of their books but it’s only really cost effective if you live in the US – and they are US standard size, not UK.  So instead I have sourced a fantastic small printing company in Padstow, TJ International, and I have had a short run of books printed. Next week I’m going down to Cornwall to collect another 100f books to distribute to Cornish book shops and gift stores. It’s been hard work, but I have absolutely loved learning about the ins and outs of the world of publishing.

I see some of the proceeds are going towards supporting the Words 4 Wounds charity, could you tell us how this came about.

I wanted to kick the book off with a launch.   I started to think about doing it as a coffee morning, with people dropping in to a local restaurant / coffee house to meet up and chat about the book. I liked the idea, but I didn’t want it to be all about the book, it didn’t feel right – it had to be something more worthwhile and I wanted to give something back.  Words for the Wounded is a fabulous charity that raises money through writing competitions to help injured servicemen and women. They ran one of the competitions I had entered in the past and  I wanted to tie them into the celebration of the book’s launch, because they had become part of my journey back into writing – and it is a really good cause.  I offered to give £1 for each book sold at the launch to Words for the Wounded, and the venue, the Beech House in Beaconsfield, agreed to give £1 for each drink sold at the launch too.  I got the local press involved, learnt more about social media than I ever thought I needed to know and in the end we had a fantastic turn out. We raised over £200 for Words for the Wounded and I sold 124 books that morning alone – I was thrilled.

What are you working on next?

At the moment I’m still working on marketing Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost.  Next week we have the Cornish Launch – Tuesday 15th July, 10.30am at Geevor Tin Mine.

If the book continues to sell well, and if there’s a demand for it, I will write another two Callum Fox books.  I have some ideas where I’d like to take him, and which historical periods I’d like to explore. I also feel I have an adult novel in me too – but that might have to wait a while. I still have to fit the writing around my day job – and being a very pushy parent.

Thank you Amanda for such fascinating answers. You can find out more about Amanda at her website and Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost is available on Amazon.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Cli-Fi Author Joshua David Bellin

Please give a warm welcome to Joshua David Bellin. Joshuas debut novel, Survival Colony 9, will be published in September 2014 from Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster). Forget the past.  Fight to stay alive.

Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). He taught college for twenty years, wrote a bunch of books for college students, then decided to return to writing fiction. Survival Colony 9 is his first novel, but the sequel’s already in the works! Josh is represented by the fabulous Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency.

Welcome Joshua. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your book.
First, Kate, I wanted to thank you for inviting me to appear on your blog!  I’m a college teacher who’s been writing since I was about eight years old, with the dream of publishing a novel some day. It’s taken a while, but here I am!

My YA Cli-Fi debut, Survival Colony 9, tells the tale of Querry Genn, a fourteen-year-old member of one of the small groups who survived the wars and environmental catastrophes that devastated the planet. Querry’s dealing with a number of problems: the authoritarian commander of Survival Colony 9 happens to be his dad; the girl he loves, Korah, is someone else’s girlfriend; and the injury he suffered six months ago left him without long-term memory. Oh, and did I mention that his colony’s pursued by the Skaldi, monsters with the ability to consume and mimic human hosts that mysteriously appeared on the planet in the wake of the wars?

How has climate change played out in Survival Colony 9?

The world of my novel is a searing desert with little water, next to no plant or animal life, and temperatures exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s one possible effect of climate change, and in fact it’s already beginning to manifest itself in some parts of the world. As originally drafted, the climate angle was much more prominent; there was a whole chapter that gave a history of the planetary changes that made the world what it was. My editor and I decided that was too much, so I let it become more a backdrop than an overt statement. But the image of a world ravaged by climate change was in my mind from the moment I started writing this book.

Had you heard of the term Cli-Fi when you started writing Survival Colony 9? What first brought the term to your attention?

I hadn’t heard the term when I started writing, but I’m glad it exists! I first encountered it on Twitter from a gentleman named Danny Bloom, who’s been involved for years in the fight for political action on climate change. Once I discovered the term, I started to discover just how many Cli-Fi stories there are, written by authors from Ursula K. Le Guin to Paolo Bacigalupi to Sarah Holding to . . . well, Kate Kelly! And these stories are starting to garner more media attention, which I take to be a very good thing, since it shows that concern over climate change has passed from the realm of scientists and specialists into the wider culture.
What compelled you to write about climate change?

I saw the Al Gore movie An Inconvenient Truth when it came out in 2006. I’d heard about climate change before then—in fact I recently discovered that one of the books I loved as a child, a science fiction story about a boy and his alien friend, had a climate-change subplot—but I hadn’t paid much attention. But in 2006, I was a father of two young children, and what I saw in the Gore film terrified and galvanized me. I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I sat back and let the world my children were due to inherit go to hell. So I became active at the grassroots level in the fight to raise awareness and promote action on climate change. I don’t see my novel as a political manifesto in any way—it’s a story about survival under harsh conditions, about finding one’s identity, and about the healing power of love, with some very scary monsters in the mix!—but at the same time, I do see it as a logical extension of my career as a climate activist.

How do you feel about Cli-Fi as a means of getting the climate change message across?

I always hated preachy stories as a child, and I still do. If Cli-Fi is nothing more than a morality lesson wrapped in a narrative shell, I think most people will tune it out, and rightly so.

Fortunately, that’s not what Cli-Fi is. Like all science fiction, Cli-Fi extrapolates from what we know to what we imagine; it raises issues and awareness, but it doesn’t dictate belief. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which most people see as the first science fiction novel, raised troubling questions about the power of science, the nature of life, and the existence of God, but (at least in the original edition) it didn’t try to resolve those questions in any simple way. (In the second edition, alas, a much older and sadder Shelley turned her novel into a sermon.) So if Cli-Fi gets people thinking and talking about climate change, imagining possible scenarios, debating the issue in a productive way—not the reductive, “hoax or no hoax” way that dominates the airwaves—it will be part of what moves us as a people toward a solution.

Are we already starting to see the effects of climate change and what do you think the future holds for our planet?

I read recently about a cluster of tiny volcanic islands that have vanished due to rising sea levels, creating hundreds of climate refugees. That’s only one of many signs of climate change, but on a small scale, it shows what the future may hold for millions if not billions of people.

And sometimes I get pretty gloomy about our capacity as a species to deal with this issue. I live in southwestern Pennsylvania, and recently, on a drive across state, I saw a billboard with a picture of a clown saying “I believe in global warming, don’t you?” The idea, I guess, was that since we’ve had a cold winter this year, climate change must be a fabrication. When I see that kind of thinking, it troubles me to realize how many people are unable or unwilling to imagine the world beyond their backyard. There are no kangaroos in southwestern Pennsylvania, but I’m willing to believe there are kangaroos elsewhere in the world. So even if, for the sake of the argument, one concedes that southwestern Pennsylvania is not at present experiencing the worst impacts of climate change, does that mean those impacts don’t exist elsewhere in the world?

But that’s my gloomy side. My upbeat side sees that there are lots of people who can embrace the global scale, who do recognize what’s happening to our planet. Cli-Fi, I believe, has played and will continue to play a role in that elevation of global consciousness. At a climate rally in Washington, DC last year, I saw a sign that said: “We must rise faster than the seas.” When I see powerful and poetic signs like that, I believe it’s still possible for my children and everyone’s children to inherit a world very different from the one I imagined in my debut novel. And in this instance, I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong!

Thank you Joshua, and good luck with Survival Colony 9. It sounds like a great read and I’m looking forward to it.