Monday, 14 July 2014
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
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.