Author Interview: Ruth Frances Long (Dubh Linn trilogy)

I interviewed the fabulous Ruth Frances Long when A Hollow in the Hills, the second book in her Dubh Linn trilogy, was released last year. Now that the final volume, A Darkness at the End, is out in the world I caught up with Ruth to chat fantasy, trilogies, mythology, YA and more…

Image result for ruth frances long

1)   A Darkness at the End, the finale of the Dubh Linn trilogy, was published this autumn. What was it like to finish the series?

A bit of a rollercoaster, to be honest. I had a difficult time with the second book, A Hollow in the Hills, so I thought book three, A Darkness at the End might kill me. But as it happened, the story came together quite easily and the characters behaved themselves for once. Even the ones who did not want to die. It is actually incredibly fulfilling to know the complete story is out there now and I’m really pleased with the way it worked out.

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2)    There were some fantastic locations in the third book – was there one that stood out for you? I loved the scene in the National Gallery.

So difficult to choose just one so I’ll cheat a little. There’s a sequence where three characters go through the tunnels carrying the River Poddle until they reach St. Patrick’s Cathedral and then go to Marsh’s Library which is one of my favourite parts of A Darkness at the End. There’s a lot going on with the characters at this point, especially with Clodagh and there’s a certain symbolism tied in with this underground journey. Usually when researching a location I would go there, but with the Poddle, being a subterranean river, I couldn’t do that. Luckily I was able to find some documentary footage and photos online of the route and used that for reference.

 

3)      Which of your characters are you most like?

If I say Brí will it frighten everyone?

In reality, there is probably a bit of me in all of them, and a bit of all of them in me.

 

4)    Did you have a favourite character to write, or one whose head you found difficult to get into?

The Magpies became my favourites to write over the course of the three books. They were minor characters to begin with, hired thugs who didn’t have that much to do, but they grew into something much more and I was so sorry to say goodbye to them at the end. Not that I’d want to hang out with them or anything!

As for difficult to pin down, I was very worried about including the Morrigan in the final book because she’s such a huge and important character in so much literature and I wanted to do her justice.

 

5)    Do you prefer the first draft stage, or the editing stage?

A mixture of both. There are moments in the first draft when the story is flowing and it all just feels like magic. However, the editing stage often feels more solid and rewarding to me.

 

6)    Could you tell me a bit about the Morrigan in the third book – when did she come into your mind, and what did the research process for this character involve?

I always wondered if she would show up in the books. She’s a very difficult character to pin down and I didn’t want to make mistakes. I read a lot, of course and winnowed through various legends where she appears. I also spoke to a friend dedicated to the Morrigan, and we discussed her various aspects at length which was really eye opening and fulfilling. She’s often portrayed as a goddess of death, but she’s more like a goddess of life lived to the full on the edge of death. She’s a war goddess, and there’s a tremendous amount of energy in that. I see her and Brigid (who I portrayed as Brí) as being two sides of a coin, intricately linked together and immensely powerful for that.

 

7)    You have really strong female characters in the trilogy, particularly with the matriarchs. Was creating a female power structure in the books something you did consciously?

When you look at Irish legends there are incredibly strong and determined women running all the way through them. Because of the Christianisation of these stories when they were written down they are often given a very bad ending. But we still remember the likes of Maeve and Gráinne as the key character in the tale.  I really wanted hierarchy in Dubh Linn to reflect that, so the matriarchs came about quite naturally. They’re also very strong characters so it’s hard to imagine them being told to sit down and be quiet and putting up with that.

 

8)    There are some dramatic (and devastating!) moments in A Darkness at the End. What have reader reactions been like?

Throughout the series I’ve tried to confront dark moments head on. The biggest reactions I had from readers were from the end of A Hollow in the Hills and a certain death in A Darkness at the End. My husband is still only tentatively speaking to me about it.

 

9)    I love how you bring figures and creatures from Irish mythology into the Dubh Linn books. Are there other legends or mythologies you would like to explore in your writing?

I’ve always been fascinated with legends and folklore so there are many. I’m currently thinking quite a bit about Arthurian legends so I’d love to explore them some more.

 

10)  What are your favourite YA books you have read this year?

In no particular order… Caramel Hearts by Elizabeth Rose Murray, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín and Nothing Tastes as Good by Claire Hennessy.

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Thanks to Ruth for her fascinating answers, I can’t wait to read more of her books! If you are a fan of fantasy, romance or mythology (or all three!) be sure to check out the Dubh Linn trilogy (A Crack in Everything, A Hollow in the Hills, A Darkness at the End)

Ruth Frances Long’s website

Author Interview: Natasha Farrant

I loved Natasha Farrant’s book Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride & Prejudice and was delighted to get to ask some questions about her research, her writing and all things Austen.

farrant-interview

Who is your favourite Bennet sister, and why?

Lydia, always, because she has so much energy and is so much fun. I know she can be awful, but the way I see her, she is driven by her determination not to get left behind by her perfect older sisters, and I find that touching.  I also love Mary: there’s a lot of both Mary and Lydia in me, I think.  Lydia is the teenage rebel, and Mary is the book geek!

Which Jane Austen novel is your favourite?

Emma. I think it’s her most polished work. It has more fully rounded characters than earlier novels, and the decision to have such a thoroughly unreliable main character is clever, funny and thought-provoking.

What inspired you to write about Lydia Bennet?

Actually, I was invited to do it by my publishers, following a conversation about Pride and Prejudice.  The moment they suggested it, I just knew I had to.  Lydia’s story is so pivotal to Pride and Prejudice, and yet we know so little about her, or what happens to her. When Chicken House (my publishers) suggested it, it honestly felt like Lydia herself was inside my head, saying “At LAST! MY side of things!” From then on, she wouldn’t let me go.

What did the research process for Lydia involve?

Re-reading ALL of Austen. Re-reading Clare Tomalin’s amazing biography of Austen, as well as lots of learned and interested books about Austen’s times – the politics, the fashion, the mores.  Spending time in Brighton museums, reading up about the early history of Brighton as a resort.  Lying on Brighton beach, picturing to myself what it must have been like…

Do you have any fascinating facts about the Regency period that you could share with us?

They were crazy about fashion, and this fashion occasionally took strange forms.  For example, they (briefly) had a sort of corset which lifted the breasts, then divided them so that they pointed outwards! I still laugh every time I think of that..

How did you find the process of weaving your own characters and ideas into Austen’s original story?

Fascinating.  The first part of the book takes place entirely in “Austen time and place”, referring to events that happen in Pride and Prejudice.  The temptation to adapt Austen’s novel to my purposes was always there, but I wanted to be very respectful of the original, and so I had to adapt my story instead.  It felt easier once Lydia was away in Brighton.  Even though there was a timeline to respect, I could be freer with my own story. As to Lydia herself, there were a few difficult moments: she felt like she was my character from the beginning, and I loved her from the very start, but there are a couple of moments in Pride and Prejudice where she is really obnoxious, and I had to work quite hard to reconcile that with my Lydia.

What is your favourite Pride & Prejudice adaptation? (I am a BBC fan myself, but I also love more experimental adaptations like the Lizzie Bennet Diaries)

The BBC adaptation, every time.

You wrote diary entries for this book, and film scripts for After Iris. Do you enjoy writing in different formats, and is there a particular format you would like to explore?

I actually don’t want to write a diary again for a very long time… It’s a really interesting format, but it’s difficult too, because you are limited not only to one character’s viewpoint, but also to what they might say about themselves.  That said, I’m currently working on a third person narrative, and I’ve grown so used to the first person that I find myself longing for that narrower viewpoint!

Sibling dynamics are very important in your books, is this something that has always interested you? Do you have siblings yourself?

I have three siblings, two sisters and a brother. I’m fascinated by the dynamics of big families, how the position within the family affects personality development.  And I like feeling part of a tribe.  I have lots of cousins too.  We’re in touch all the time, even though we live across different countries and continents.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I write long-hand, in Moleskine notebooks. I’ve tried other notebooks, as part of cost-cutting exercises, but they’re a false economy because if it’s not Moleskine, I can’t write.  I tend to write best in cafes, in the mornings, and I always listen to the same music: Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no3 and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

What are you working on at the moment?

A children’s adventure story I describe as Pippi Longstocking meets Enid Blyton’s Adventure series.

Many thanks to Natasha Farrant for her brilliant answers, and to Nina Douglas for arranging the interview.

Interview: Alice Oseman (Solitaire, Radio Silence)

I was delighted to interview Alice Oseman, author of Solitaire and Radio Silence. Her two YA novels have been praised for their authentic teenage characters, she was a teenager herself when Solitaire was published. I loved Radio Silence (review here) and was particularly impressed by the diversity of the cast, the focus on friendship, and the way the podcast was integrated into the novel.
We chatted about fandoms, the internet, Alice’s writing process and more…
Alice Oseman
When writing, do you begin with a character, a scene or a plot idea?
Definitely with character! My plots change all the time but as soon as I have an idea for a character, they stay with me the whole way through.
Do you plan a lot, or dive straight into the story?
I plan in extreme detail! I need to know precisely what I’m doing and where I’m going before I start to write.
What was the main thing you learned from writing Solitaire?
That’s such a difficult question – I learnt so much! One of the main things was probably how to use subtext.
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Cover image from Goodreads

You have written a couple of Solitaire novellas. Who would you revisit from Radio Silence?
I would LOVE to write some Radio Silence novellas. I’d most like to write one about Daniel.
The internet plays a big role in both of your books and you also use a lot of pop culture references. Often writers are warned off putting in too many contemporary references as it ages the book, however it can make a book very much of its time. Where do you stand on this?
I don’t try to hide from the idea that my books are very much ‘of their time’. I aim for as much realism as I can in my writing – I love trying to completely represent the world that I live in right now. And I very much enjoy reading books that are ‘of their time’ – books written in the eighties and nineties and early 2000s. Hopefully, in the future, people will enjoy reading what the world was like in 2016!
There is a huge YA community on the internet now. Was has been your experience of this?
I’ve been a big part of the YA community on Twitter for quite a while! I find it a little stressful and intense, but ultimately, it’s amazing to see such a huge community of people all coming together in their love of books. That can only be a good thing.
Radio Silence has a really diverse cast of characters. When did you become aware of a need for diversity in YA at the moment?
Some time between Solitaire’s publication and starting to write Radio Silence. I read loads about it online and started to understand how important it was that I use my privileged position to do some good for others. Nowadays, it’s very very important to me, and although I’m nowhere near perfect and still learning so much more, I will always want to have diverse casts in my books.
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Cover image from Goodreads

You’ve spoken about the We Need Diverse Books campaign in interviews, and I was wondering which diverse YA books you would recommend?
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is one of my personal all-time favourites.
Fan culture is also important in your work. What fandoms are you part of? What has it been like seeing fanart/fanfiction for Solitaire and Radio Silence?
I’m very aware of fandoms, though I’m not sure how many I can really say I’m a part of! I know a huge amount about fandom simply from being on the internet for so long and being immersed in fandom spaces, but despite being a huge lurker online, I’m not a very active participant in many fandom spaces. I will say that I’m very knowledgable about the YouTube fandom, and lived through the huge uprising of the Glee fandom and the Sherlock fandom. And seeing fanart/fanfic for my books is one of the most exciting things I see as an author! It’s an honour that someone enjoyed my works so much that they were inspired to create something of their own.
You’re an artist, and I was wondering if you draw/use a lot of visuals when you write?
I do! I draw my characters a lot – it really helps me to visualise them and understand them better.
One of my favourite things about Radio Silence was that it had friendship at its core. Do you feel there is too much ‘insta love’ in YA at the moment (particularly heterosexual insta love)?
Absolutely, and I find it very frustrating, undoubtedly because it’s quite unrealistic. I understand why people enjoy reading insta-love – people want to believe in true love, after all! – but I’m tired of it, and I enjoy writing something different. I think friendships and other types of relationships are just as important as romances.
The characters in Radio Silence are about to go to university. I feel that characters approaching/in university are underrepresented in YA (Fangirl is a brilliant book and an exception to this). Why did you choose to have older protagonists in this Radio Silence?
I specifically wanted to write about the process of leaving school and going to university in Radio Silence, and I felt the best way to do this would be through characters about to make that change. It’s a time of great emotional upheaval, and I wish it was written about more!
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
My next book is about boyband fandoms, fame, obsession, and, as usual, the existential pain of being alive.
A big thank you to Alice Oseman for her wonderful answers, and I am looking forward to her next book!

Poetry Interview: Alicia Byrne Keane

Alicia

How did you first come across spoken word poetry? Was there a particular poem/poet that made you want to join the scene yourself?
I guess I would have first been exposed to spoken word poetry, or to people giving public readings in which there was a performance element, at the ‘Speakeasies’ held by the Trinity College Literary Society, maybe about four or five years ago at this stage. They’re basically open mic nights where people can read either original work or a poem or short story they like. Then, a few years later, one of my friends introduced me to the Monday Echo, a weekly spoken word and music night in Dublin, and I instantly became a regular there because they have a lovely atmosphere and they’re very welcoming to new poets. The poets performing around that time would have been for instance Stephen Clare, Ailish Kerr, and John Cummins, among many others. And I think I was trying to write like them a bit.
Could you discuss some of the poets who’ve influenced you? With your spoken word work rhythm is so important that music and rap must have an impact too.
I know really embarrassingly little about music aside from literally the most famous bands, so maybe I got the idea of having really rhymey poems from listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers when I was eleven or something like that. (LOL) I would say poetry-wise, Patti Smith and John Cooper Clarke would be influences, the former because of her dreamlike imagery, and the latter for his funny rhymes and insults.
Who are your favourite poets at the moment?
I know she’s sort of the go-to famous spoken word poet, but I’d really have to say Kate Tempest for performance poetry. Her stuff is so original that even though she’s been around for years but I’ve never really seen anyone successfully emulate her style. And in terms of page-poetry, I’ve got really into Paul Muldoon in the last few years. I have a bunch of his books but I saw him do a reading in a church in Oxford recently which was really great. He does such odd things with words.
You have lived and studied in both Dublin and Oxford, what are the respective poetry scenes like?
The Dublin poetry scene continues to amaze me, there’s so much on. This year was particularly packed I think because there were so many 1916 centenary-themed events. The publicity around 1916 stuff was so everpresent in Ireland, but what I noticed was that loads of poetry events found really original takes on the centenary celebrations so it never really seemed overdone, and I think that’s a good indicator of the huge creative diversity the city is currently experiencing. Oxford was different and in part I still feel unqualified to comment on its scene because I lived there for so short a time. When you think about it, in comparison I’ve been living in Dublin pretty much my entire life! But my sense was that since it’s a smaller place, there are fewer events on, which is inevitable. But I saw – and participated in – some really interesting nights where the standard was very high, particularly a night called Gin & Phonics that’s run by the Oxford Poetry Society. They have a huge interdisciplinary range of performers – DJ’s, poets, comedians, acoustic musicians – and this sounds like a cliché but no two acts are the same, it’s really varied.


Did you write much poetry as a teenager? I really hope you wrote bad angsty poetry too, although in your case it was probably good angsty poetry!
I actually didn’t write poetry at all during that time! I wish I had though, for the cringe value. I was really uncool and terrified of having unusual hobbies that would surely further confirm the depths of my uncoolness. That was the logic. But when I was a kid I did the thing of trying to write fantasy novels about people who lived in forests and horses who could talk and stuff.
How did your poetry develop in college, through studying English Literature and through involvement with literary journals or events such as Cave Writings?
That’s a really interesting question, English Literature-wise I think I got influenced at first by Romanticism, which we had a module in in First Year, and with my sort of oversimplified understanding as an eighteen-year-old I thought ‘great! I can write all this poetry that is really aesthetically pretty and completely irrational and illogical’, and I tried to write these big eloquent rants that make no sense in retrospect. But that was still a good grounding, I think. Also getting a knowledge of things like postcolonial and feminist theory has given me a good background in social justice issues which would obviously help the poetry. College poetry events played a huge role because I basically didn’t write poetry at all before, and I started writing because a certain journal was looking for submissions, or a certain open mic night was on. So that was a big creative motivator. Cave Writings are brilliant, they started around my final year of college when I had got very set in my poetry ways, and they were doing all this mad stuff like pairing poetry with visual art or with factual talks about rugby and zoology and things. So that was a very refreshing perspective, I think what they do is really original.
Your poetry is very honest, and I think you tackle a lot of relatable topics from bad relationships/dating woes (‘Hey Hey Hi Hey Hi How Are You’), to anxiety (‘Plastic Cups’), and loneliness (‘Sometimes I Am Sad Here’). Do you find poetry therapeutic, and how do you feel about being so open in your work?
That is a really scary bit actually. There’s a level of distance when something’s written on a page because you can’t immediately picture the author and you sort of view the piece of writing in isolation. But the thing that’s quite bizarre about performance poetry, when you think about it, is that you are being seen and judged and there’s an implicit consensus that the poem is autobiographical, because you’re up there saying it. But it is really therapeutic, especially if a load of poets are performing together, because there’s a sense you’re all in the same boat. It does get a bit like a support group at times, which is sort of funny.


I’ve noticed a lot of your poems have ghosts, or creepy houses that seem alive. Would you say this is an interest in the supernatural, a sense of unease, or is it more a connection to the past?
I went through a phase when I was living in Oxford that definitely translated into there being a lot of spooky ghosts in the poetry. I was living in an old creaky attic room with a weird ancient wardrobe, and I was very isolated at times just studying up there so I’d be thinking over my whole past basically, so I guess there were both kinds of unease. I think I’m partially messing about the supernatural stuff (only partially) but not so much about the past stuff.
What role does place play in your poetry? You often write about rooms or houses and I love this image of Dublin: ‘could we count the lights in the office blocks still lit and watch the Liffey black and slow moving and thick like a void that reflects in a technicolour yawn all the neon and the litter and the lights left on and the tarmac glitter in the bruising dawn and the stuff that’s bitter and the stuff that’s gone.’
Place has such a role, and it’s generally Dublin, and it’s generally either Dublin in the early hours of the morning when everything’s a bit horrible and you’ve had an argument with someone, or the sort of mystical view of Dublin that arises when you’re walking around at night on wet streets remembering all the places where various things happened. But I do also write about other places I’ve temporarily lived, both in Ireland and abroad, so there is a definite recurrence of weird apartment rooms, and I think that signifies a different thing, a sort of alienation.
When you’re starting a poem, do you work it out on the page or verbally? And what do you think makes a poem more suited to the page, or to performance?
It usually starts because I get an idea for a pair of lines or something, going around in my head, but I’d do most of the actual composing of the poem on paper because my memory is terrible. I would say that performance poetry is generally more colloquial, sort of messier and more stream-of-consciousness or something, and that page poetry is more condensed and implicit. I know I write either long rhymey poems for spoken word, or very short minimal poems for the page, but that’s perhaps a needlessly black-and-white distinction. I think a lot of the poets I see performing, Niamh Beirne for instance or Lewis Kenny, write stuff that would be equally striking whether it’s performed or written down. I was at a Poetry Ireland talk recently where a bunch of these really good poets like Doireann Ní Ghríofa were all debating about spoken word, and they were saying that any poem that’s performed aloud should also be equally readable on the page. I agree there, now I’m not so sure my poems achieve that, but I definitely know some people whose spoken word poetry is really succinct and rhythmically precise, and you get the sense that it would be equally suited to the page and to performance.
How do you develop poems for spoken word? How do you learn them off, how have you grown as a performer?
I think the only poems I ever successfully finish are the ones that I write fully formed, all in the one go, like a sort of rant. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for a poem and I’ll be trying to make it work for ages, adding little bits here and there, but that’s usually a sign that it’ll eventually get abandoned. So I think maybe the most solid poems happen when I feel strongly about something on a particular moment. I honestly think my poems are easier to learn off than most because they rhyme like a song. I find non-rhyming poems almost impossible to memorise. I think I’ve grown since doing spoken word stuff because I think, as a performer, you have to view the entire night as a cohesive show that you’re participating in with all the other performers. I think you have to adapt and tailor your poems to what other people have done. That doesn’t necessarily mean pandering to a certain atmosphere or aesthetic, like going, ‘oh everyone’s been doing comedy stuff so I can’t do my serious poems, I’ll be a buzz kill’, or thinking ‘everything so far’s been really serious, will my poems seem too silly?’ But I DO think it teaches you to view yourself in relation to other performers, and calibrate your work to theirs. Like to refrain from doing a set that’s too similar to someone else’s if they’re on right before you, or to provide variety by dramatically changing the mood from that established by the previous poet.
Recently you have been writing poemlets ( I love ‘You’re Really Something’ and ‘Hypochondria’). What draws you to shorter poems, and how has your style developed?
My friend Saul Philbin-Bowman writes the shortest poems imaginable and I guess that’s where I got the idea, that and from things like the Scottish poet Edwin Morgan’s ‘One Word Poems.’ I just think there’s something really cheeky about poemlets. I had previously only written very long poems and I think I got very anxious that maybe I was incapable of being minimal, but I think now I’ve gone to the opposite extreme. I think I was studying loads of Beckett when I started writing poemlets, and I found his idea of trying to write less and less really attractive.

Alicia poemlet
Your first collection We Could Be in the Sky is being launched next week. Congratulations! How did you decide which poems to include and where did the title come from?
Thank you! I’m actually launching it with the help of the same friend, Saul, and we sort of came up with a structure where we’d include three poemlets, three medium poems, three long poems, and a short fiction piece. So it’s very structured, it’s all about the threes. Saul actually suggested the title since it’s the final line of one of my poems. It’s a reference to being on an aircoach bus on the way back from Cork when it’s completely dark outside, and you feel like you could be anywhere, like in the sky. I think it’s a nice sentence anyway.

We Could Be in the Sky will be launched in The Workman’s Club, Wellington Quay, Dublin at 8pm on Thursday June 23rd.

For more of Alicia’s poetry check out her website: https://aliciabyrnekeane.wordpress.com/

 

 

Interview with Cathy Cassidy

I have been a fan of Cathy Cassidy and her brilliant books for years, and I was delighted to get the chance to interview her ahead of her appearance at the Mountains to Sea book festival next month.

Cathy Cassidy

Cathy Cassidy

What is your writing routine? When and where do you write? Do you write longhand or on the computer?

I write directly onto a laptop, starting in the mornings at half-nine or ten; this gives me time to get things straight and make sure the dogs have been walked, and I can settle in and focus. I have a writing room filled with all my favourite things – books, vintage toys, postcards, fairylights and more. I write at an old desk, a junk-shop find, and occasionally do some writing standing up too. I might take my bike for a spin around the park at lunchtime, then back to work. I try to get 1000 words or one chapter done, as a minimum.

How much planning do you do before you start writing one of your books?

It can be years of planning, but you will rarely find much evidence of this in my notebooks! I often draw my main characters and make a moodboard to help me step into their world, but planning a story – even a series – on paper is not something that works well for me. I prefer to gather up the ideas, inspirations and research and allow them to unfurl in daydream form. This helps me get a grip of the story and once I am happy that I’ve got enough to work with, I start writing.

Which chocolate box girl (or boy!) was your favourite to write?

I find it very hard to pick! I loved writing Cherry Crush as it was the book that helped to create the world of Tanglewood and introduced the sisters, but each book has been special to me in different ways. Marshmallow Skye was my first attempt at a ‘ghost’ story and Summer’s Dream was important to me as it looked at such a hugely important topic, one my readers had been asking me to tackle. Coco Caramel felt quite personal, as some of the minor details came from my own childhood, and Sweet Honey was a joy to write because it was fab to step into the shoes of such a fiery, dramatic character and see the world from their viewpoint! Fortune Cookie was without a doubt the toughest one of all to write, but as I knew it was the last in the series it had great emotional impact for me.

Which chocolate box girl were you most like as a teenager?

I was pretty much a straight split between Skye with her shy, quiet, daydreamy personality and her love of vintage and history, and Coco, with her animal-crazy, want-to-change-the-world ambitions. I think I’m still a good mix of those two personality types even now!

Did one of the sisters come to you at first, or was it always a group of sisters? Was one character’s voice particularly strong?

It was always a group of sisters, but to begin with Cherry and Honey were the key characters. Coco, Skye and Summer’s voices developed more gradually, and Jake’s character was a surprise even to me – he hadn’t been in the original plan at all, but as the series evolved I knew that the last book would have to be told by a Chocolate Box Boy!

How did you find writing short stories for Life is Sweet compared to writing novels? Was there a particular character whose perspective you were keen to explore?

I started off writing short stories for teen magazines in my teens and twenties, and even spent a while as Fiction editor for the legendary Jackie magazine, so the short story format is one I am quite comfortable with. I loved writing all of the stories, but I was especially interested to explore the thinking and motives of characters like Shay, Finch and Ash.

What is your favourite chocolate?

Milk chocolate truffles of all kinds are just heaven… it’s research, right?

Does your past work as an agony aunt affect how you approach dealing with different issues in your books?

I would say no, it’s more that my work as a teen agony aunt kept me informed of the things that young people were worrying about. In the books, I don’t try to solve problems in the way an agony aunt does… but exploring a problem in the pages of a novel is perhaps even more effective and helpful for readers than my work as an agony aunt was. I certainly get more letters and emails now asking for help than I ever did as an official agony aunt – I think kids see themselves in the stories, or feel that perhaps I might understand them and not judge.

As you studied art, who are your favourite artists and illustrators?

Love this question! My favourite artists are the expressionist Egon Schiele, The pre-Rahaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo… they all awesome. Favourite illustrators include Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Kay Nielsen, and contemporary illustrators Jane Ray, Jackie Morris, PJ Lynch and the wonderful new talent Erin Keen I’ve been lucky enough to work with on Looking Glass Girl, Chocolate Box Secrets and Broken Heart Club.

Do you draw your characters or use visual references when you are writing?

Yes, I do both… my notebooks are always full of cartoon sketches of characters and scrapbook patchwork pictures which help me imagine a particular place or thing.

What is your favourite thing about appearing at book festivals?

Book festivals are a great way of meeting readers and getting feedback and a sense of how your books are connecting with people. It’s a great balance for any author who spends most of their time alone with a laptop and a head full of daydreams!

Cathy Cassidy M2S

Cathy’s event at the Mountains to Sea book festival in March.

You run writing competitions and have been very encouraging to young writers. What is your best writing advice?

Write as much as you can, outside school as well as in, and write ‘from the heart’ as this passion will show in your work. And remember – it takes a lot of practice to get good at anything you’re trying to achieve, so keep at it and be patient if you can!

Who are the writers you most admire at the moment?

My new writing hero is Jandy Nelson, whose books I’ll Give You The Sun and The Sky is Everywhere are stunningly original and beautifully written.

What were your favourite books when you were growing up?

All of my books came from libraries when I was growing up, and because of this I was privileged to be able to read very widely. I read classics, fantasies, sci-fi, adventures, picture books and more… some favourites were Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, the Narnia series by CS Lewis and Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Looking Glass Girl is based on Alice in Wonderland. If you could enter the world of any book, which would you choose?

Probably not Wonderland, as I always found it slightly menacing and dark… I think you can probably see that from Looking Glass Girl! It sounds cheesy, but I’d happily step into the world of the Chocolate Box Girls series, as it’s my ideal fantasy world and my ideal fantasy family, based on a place I once lived briefly and loved very much. If I can’t pick that, I’d go for the wild Welsh hills of the Mabinogian stories or the magical mythological landscape of the old Irish Celtic tales.

 A big thank you to Cathy for her wonderful answers! She will be at the Mountains to Sea book festival in Dun Laoghaire on Saturday March 12th. Check http://www.mountainstosea.ie for more details.

Review and Author Interview: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Dumplin

I really enjoyed Julie Murphy’s YA novel Dumplin’, and was delighted to get the chance to take part in the blog tour. Read on for my review, and a Q&A with Julie Murphy.

My review:

Willowdean is a self-proclaimed fat girl, confident in her own skin.  Dumplin’ is a nickname given to her by her mother, a former beauty queen who still runs the Clover City beauty pageant. Will’s relationship with her mother has always been rocky, her recently Aunt Lucy was the real nurturing figure in her life. She has a deep connection with her best friend Ellen founded on shared memories and Dolly Parton songs. Will is generally happy with her life and with herself, but when she discovers Bo, the guy at work she has a crush on, likes her back; things begin to change. Being with Bo doesn’t give her more self-assurance, it makes her self-confidence crumble. She is growing apart from Ellen, her relationship with her mother is getting more strained and she misses her Aunt Lucy terribly. To try and regain her confidence, Will decides to take drastic action. She will enter the Clover City beauty pageant, and shock the narrow minded people at school and in her town. But she’s not alone. Will unwittingly becomes the leader of a group of misfits who are determined to show Clover City that there is more than one version of beauty.

Dumplin' 8

The reader goes on a real journey with Willowdean and her motley crew of unlikely pageant contestants in this book. There are many great quotes from the book about self-confidence, and it has been promoted for its body positive attitude. However, Murphy also shows us Will’s insecurities and anxieties. Her self doubt is so powerfully written that it can be quite painful to read, as is her longing for the comforting presence of her Aunt Lucy. I am not a fan of love triangles, so I wasn’t very interested in that aspect of the book, but I enjoyed the focus on friendship. There are some very touching scenes with Willowdean’s fellow beauty pageant contestants, and Murphy also examines how friendships must shift and change as we grow. Most of all, I enjoyed seeing Will’s journey of self discovery. She matures a lot throughout the book, seeing how she had judged other girls in school, making new friends, and finding her inner strength.

The main reason I wanted to review Dumplin’ was that I am a big fan of Dolly Parton, and has heard that her songs were an important part of the book. I loved the quotes from Dolly and the references to her songs. The Dolly Parson impersonator night was one of my favourite scenes in the book. Thus, I thought it would be fitting to end the review with a quote from the woman herself which I feel sums up the spirit of the book:

The magic is in you. There ain’t no crystal ball. – Dolly Parton

Q&A with Julie Murphy

Julie Murphy

1) What is your favourite Dolly Parton song?

I will always love Jolene, but I think Little Sparrow might be my all time favorite.

2) What would your pageant show talent be?

I grew up doing lots of local theater or ballet. Unfortunately my body isn’t nearly as graceful as it used to be, so I think I would go with a dramatic monologue. Or online shopping–is that a talent?

3) Willowdean is a beautiful name – where did it come from?

It’s actually a very traditional Southern name here in the US, but the first time I saw it was on the nametag of an older grocery store clerk. She was grouchy and rude, but her name was so cheerful and unique. Soon after Dumplin’ was published in the US, I learned that Dolly Parton has a sister named Willadeene. If that’s not fate, I don’t know what is!

4) Which scene in Dumplin’ is your favourite, and which was most difficult to write?

I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a mini roadtrip where the girls believe they’re headed to a Dolly Parton impersonator competition, and what that scene evolved into was definitely my favorite thing to write. I had the most trouble with Aunt Lucy scenes, because I definitely had a figure like Aunt Lucy in my life growing, so it was hard not to feel like I was constantly rehashing my own grief. Also, all the moments when Willowdean was really doubting herself.

5) There are so many great quotes from Dumplin’ about self confidence and following your dreams. What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

My favorite piece of advice has always been that no one is going to treat you like you’re worthy of anything until you start treating yourself that way. So no matter what it is–whether you want to fall in love or pursue the career of your dreams or just have people treat you better in general, you’ve got to make that first move and decide you are worthy and present yourself that way.

6) What YA books would you recommend to fans of Dumplin‘?

I think Beauty Queens by Libba Bray would be an excellent book to pick up after!

7) Can you tell us any more about the companion novel to Dumplin‘? Will you use multiple POVs? Which characters will you focus on?

I can’t say much, but it will be two points of view and readers should already be familiar with both characters. Unfortunately, I can’t divulge just who those two characters are at the moment.

8) What is your writing routine? Do you plan a lot before you write, do you use a notebook or a laptop etc.?

I’m a creature of the night, so all my best work happens long after everyone has gone to sleep. I most often write on my laptop, but if I’m feeling especially stuck I’ll turn to pen and paper. I rely heavily on music and my Pinterest boards, too.

Thank you so much to Julie Murphy for her excellent answers, and to HarperCollins 360 for arranging the blog tour. Check out the poster for details of the blog tour, there are plenty of great posts about Dumplin’!

Dumplin Blog tour poster

 

 

 

 

Interview with author/illustrator Nicola Colton

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Nicola Colton has recently released her first book, A Dublin Fairytale, a picturebook retelling of Little Red Riding Hood featuring familiar landmarks such as The Spire and the Ha’penny Bridge. The book has had a great reception, and has been shortlisted for an Irish Book Award. I was delighted to talk to Nicola about the process of writing and illustrating the book, her influences, her future projects and more!

ADF Invite

A Dublin Fairytale is such a clever book, where did the idea come from?

I’ve always loved fairytales and was avid reader of them as a child. The idea for the book began as a daydream on the bus in which I began to imagine fairytale characters inhabiting Dublin and pondering who they might be and where they might live. I chose to use archetypal fairytale characters such a troll, a witch and a dragon to work with initially. The idea’s first application was in the form of a ‘promotional pack’ to send out to potential clients and comprised of a set of postcards with a fairytale character and a Dublin landmark on each one and accompanied by an illustrated map of ‘Fairytale Dublin’. As an illustrator finding new ways to promote yourself and get your work seen is essential. I sent one to The O’Brien Press and Emma the Art Director saw the potential in the idea for a picture book. I had no story in mind as such, just some character ideas but with encouragement from Emma and Helen the editor I wrote a draft story. I wanted the book to allow the reader to explore Dublin through the narrative and pictures but with a fairytale twist. Creating the book was a chance to combine my love of Dublin, which was my home for 11 years, with my love of fairytales.

What is your favourite spread in A Dublin Fairytale?  

My favourite spread is probably the one with the Ha’penny Bridge in which you are first introduced to the character of the Troll. The Ha’penny Bridge is wonderful and it was great to get the opportunity to draw it. I also loved drawing and painting the troll as designing and conjuring up creatures is one of my favourite things. I discovered through the process of making this book that I really like drawing buildings and scenery. I realised that backgrounds are very important to me, especially when I was depicting a city that I know very well and love.

Hapenny Bridge.jpg

There are a lot of fun details in the illustrations, is there one you particularly enjoyed working on?

I really enjoyed working on the spread which featured Trinity College as it is such an iconic and impressive building. It was really fun to add my own fairytale twists on the college by changing the name to ‘Trinity College of Sorcery’ and turning the statues of Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith into a wizard and witch to reflect the sorcery theme. I also liked adding lots of things happening in the background like a ‘spell cloud’ billowing from one of the chimneys, a witch on a broomstick in the sky and some sorcery students chatting. I like illustrations that I can spend a lot of time on and get lost in the detail  and drawing Trinity afforded me that opportunity. It was also important to me that while I added my own fairytale tweaks that the building was still very much recognizable as Trinity College; as it is such a beloved landmark.

Trinity

What are the influences on your illustrative style?

I love folk art with it’s use of motifs and patterns, clean lines and it’s naïve yet often elegant quality. I also love muted and limited colour palettes, so vintage picture books like ‘Rosies Walk’ by Pat Hutchins and ‘Snowy Day’ by Ezra Jack Keats appeal to me and I love Miroslav’s Sasek’s series of picture books that explore different cities like London,New york and Paris. Sasek’s style is restrained and elegant and he captures the spirit and enchantments of each city beautifully. I also love Michel Delacroix paintings of buildings, shops and street scenes; they are so charming and full of life.

I also have a 1960’s edition of ‘Uncle Remus stories’ featuring some of the ‘Brer Rabbit’ tales that I love and it is illustrated beautifully by William Backhouse.

Influences 1

Influences 2

Can you tell me about your technique and what media you work in?

I always start with pencil and paper sketches initially and then colour using a combination of acrylic painting and digital techniques.

What is your least favourite thing to draw?

My least favourite things to draw are horses and bicycles, both of which I had to draw this year. It’s all the components to a bike that throws me off and the anatomy and proportions of a horse that I find difficult. To draw the for projects this year I drew them over and over again until I reached a rendering that I was happy with. I usually start with detailed drawings and then pare then back more and more until the end result is in my more simplified style.

How did you get into illustration?

I studied Graphic Design in IADT Dun Laoghaire and I worked in design for a couple of years after college. Even though we didn’t do much drawing in our course it gave me a really solid foundation for illustration as I learned a lot about composition, typography, colour and very practical skills like scanning and using design software which has proved invaluable in my everyday work as an illustrator. I was always interested in illustration but back when I was choosing a college course the two choices that I had were either Fine Art or Graphic Design and I had no idea how to begin pursuing a career as an illustrator. I enjoyed college but I didn’t feel creatively fulfilled when it came to  working as a graphic designer. I was lucky enough to come across a poster for Adrienne Geoghegan’s ‘Illustration Boot Camp’ in a coffee shop and I got in touch with her straight away and booked a place on her course. During her first class I felt very nervous as I was completely out of practice with drawing but as I went through the warm up creative exercises she set for us, I felt as though a light had been turned on inside of me and I knew that I wanted to be an illustrator and I’ve been drawing ever since.

Who are the illustrators you admire most at the moment?

I love Yasmeen Ismail’s work as it has a lovely spontaneous feel to it and it’s so full of energy, colour and happiness. I also recently purchased Briony May Smith’s book ‘The Goblin King’ which is beautifully illustrated and a fantastic story. I also love Chris Judge’s work, he comes up with brilliant characters and there’s great humour to his illustrations; his new book ‘The Snow Beast’ looks like his best work yet.

What books did you enjoy as a child?

I vividly remember my very first trip to the library with my ‘Ma’ when I was five and checking out  Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl. I read and re-read it for an afternoon and then asked if I could go back to the library for more books. That was the beginning of my love of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, other favourites include George’s Magic Medicine (and I remember spending a day trying to concoct my own ‘medicine’ by mixing things together that I found in the house) The Twits and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I also went through a big Enid Blyton phase and I loved The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S Lewis. I  had an edition of The Brothers Grimm Fairytales which I continually returned to as well.

What are your favourite fairytales and fairytale retellings?

Revolting Rhymes contains some amazing fairytale retellings and Roald’s version of Red Riding Hood is absolutely hilarious. Red Riding Hood has always been a favourite of mine as my granny gave me a Red Riding Hood storytelling doll shortly before she died when I was 6. I was very close to her so reading that fairytale always made me feel a connection with her, which was why I included a Red Riding Hood type character in A Dublin Fairytale.

Storytelling doll

You have illustrated a number of projects before – such as the Alice and Megan covers and Castaways – but A Dublin Fairytale was the first book you have written. How did you find the writing process? Do you plan to write more books?

To be honest writing was something that I loved in school and in college but I felt rusty and out of practice with it when I came to writing this book. I had written a couple of picture book story drafts previously, one was even shortlisted for the ‘AM Heath Children’s Prize’ last year but was still in need of further development and another one that I never quite finished as I had lost interest in the idea is gathering dust in a drawer. As writing a picture book was a pretty new venture for me I was intimidated by the thoughts of  writing the first draft and also getting the pictures to work with the story. In the end I knew the best way to overcome my fear was to just write it and do the work. I had overcome a similar block with drawing using the same process. There were a few years where I held myself back from drawing and creativity in general by overthinking things. I would draw something and if it didn’t look like what I had imagined or came out ‘wrong’ I would get frustrated and give up easily. The breakthrough for me came in realising that drawing is a process and it may take lots of drawings before you get it ‘right’ and you just need to be patient and keep practicing and I think writing is a similar. Whenever I have the opportunity to do a workshop with children I always encourage them to get stuck in and not to be afraid to make ‘mistakes’. I tell them that there is no right or wrong way and that everyone has a different style of drawing and that is what is so great about illustration. I don’t want children to get ‘stuck’ in the process like I did for so many years because I was aiming for perfection each time. Writing seems to be the same process, you just have to be patient and keep working on it and I would love to write and illustrate more picture books.

Could you tell us about any projects you are working on at the moment? 

I just finished working on a poetry picture book that will be released next year. It was really fun to work on as each spread offered a chance to work a new theme.The poems included were about everything from rockets and monsters to farm animals and pirates. I got to illustrate a wide range of characters and backgrounds which was a very enjoyable and at times challenging experience. I’m also working on a new idea for a picture book and I am at the writing and thumbnailing stage. It’s a story that I started last year and want to develop now that I have some time.

Hodges Figgis 1

Nicola Colton painting in the window of Hodges Figgis bookshop, Dublin

A big thank you to Nicola Colton for her wonderful answers, and for the images I have used with this interview. A Dublin Fairytale was published this year by the O’Brien Press – check it out!

 

 

 

 

Author Interview: Ruth Frances Long

Ruth Frances Long writes fantasy books. Her latest release is A Hollow in the Hills, second in the Dubh Linn series. I am a big fan of Ruth’s books and was delighted when she agreed to answer some questions about her writing.

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Ruth Frances Long (image from rflong.com)

When and where do you write?

Whenever and wherever I can. I have always written but I really got serious about it when my children were small and I had to take every opportunity that presented itself. I often write longhand, so I can write in bed, and take my notebook with me everywhere so I’ve been known to write while waiting outside schools or waiting for people, or having a coffee. If I’m working on the laptop I’m usually on the sofa surrounded by cushions, cat and dog. Or, in the morning I like to sit in the sunroom at the back of our house and write over breakfast.

A Crack in Everything and A Hollow in the Hills both have a large cast of characters and an action-packed plot. How do you plan your novels?

I don’t really plan my novels at all. Not when I start. They grow from the characters first – I think about them a lot until they are very real in my head. When I start writing, I tend to have the beginning and the end in my mind, and perhaps some scenes in between but no real idea of what path the story is going to take. Having the characters first makes it something of an adventure, and they usually take off and leave me trying to keep up. As a writer, if I’m getting bored I know the reader is going to be too, so I try to avoid that. If something seems predictable and there isn’t a reason for that, I’ll try to do something different. And if I don’t the characters will. They always surprise me. It is always very difficult to talk about the way I write without sounding slightly strange. But that’s writers for you.

Dubh Linn

You have also written a stand-alone novel, The Treachery of Beautiful Things. How does this experience compare to writing a series? Which do you prefer?

I don’t really set out to write a stand-alone or a series. The story is the thing, and I try to make sure each book tells a complete story. In the case of A Crack in Everything, when I reached the end of the book, I had thought it would be a stand-alone, but the characters and the world just wasn’t finished. There was so much more to explore. So A Hollow in the Hills began. And now I’m working on the third book in the series. I don’t prefer stand-alones or a series. It’s a case of being true to whatever you’re writing. Similarly I wouldn’t want to drag out a series for too long just for the sake of making it another volume.

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

At the launch of A Hollow in the Hills you mentioned writing groups and book club, how important do you think it is for writers to have a community?

I think it’s vitally important. Writing is a solitary pursuit, and as writers we spend so much of our time inside our own heads, so having friends with similar interests is really important. I love the book world and the writing/reading community in Ireland. I find it incredibly supportive and I always know I have friends to turn to if I am finding things difficult, whether in writing or just generally.

You have incorporated a lot of Irish mythology into your books. How did your interest in myth and legend develop?

I remember having copies of Roger Lancelyn-Green’s books on mythology as a child and I loved them. They were mainly Greek, Egyptian and Roman legends, and tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood. Later, but not much later, I started to hear Irish legends like the Children of Lir or the Salmon of Knowledge. In time, I came across local folklore and stories that weren’t famous, or part of some grand mythological saga, but were small and local and just incredible. That’s when I was well and truly hooked. I love when stories are linked to the land around them, when they seem to grow out of the land itself, rather than being captured in a book. I love stories from an oral tradition, which change with each retelling. When I went to university I took a course in Celtic Civilisation and on the first day our lecturer arrived in to tell us that King Arthur wasn’t real. I almost quit the course there and then. I stayed of course, and to me King Arthur is always going to be real, regardless of whether a historical Arthur or proto-Arthur actually existed, because the stories made him real.

Place is very important in A Crack in Everything and A Hollow in the Hills with many of the scenes set in recognisable Irish settings. Could you tell us about how you researched the locations for the book? Was there any scene you found hard to place?

Because the idea for the world of Dubh Linn came out of Irish Folklore, which is intimately connected with place, the settings were hugely important. Dublin is an amazing place to explore. I sometimes think it changes while we aren’t looking. There always seems to be something different, something I haven’t noticed before. When researching I always try to visit the places, I take a ton of photos, I read up on the history and folklore as much as possible. Sometimes I already have an idea of a place where I want to have a scene take place, but sometimes I need to find it. I talk to people, get their Dublin stories too. Sometimes I just have to make something up as I did with the Liberty – based on the idea of the area known as the Liberties in Dublin, but here a combination of the tiny house on Dame Street, the Botanical Gardens, the Long Stone and the Thingmote where St. Andrews Church now stands, all mashed together by Sídhe Magic. More often the settings are places where I grew up, or ones that made a particular impact on me at various times in my life.

Where did the idea of melding familiar and fantastical Dublin come from?

It was a mix of things. In 2009, on my birthday, I was in Dublin and as I walked down South Andrews Street I came across a piece of graffiti. It was an angel, just as described in A Crack in Everything. She stuck with me and I started to wonder about her, imagining how she came to be there other than the obvious. She seemed so real, like she was just waiting to take off. I remembered the Irish legend that the Sídhe were once angels who refused to take a side in the war in heaven, who tried to sit on the fence and were exiled. They were, so the legend said, not good enough for Heaven, or wicked enough for Hell. With nowhere else to go, they were sent to Earth and chose Ireland as their home because they found it beautiful. They became the Tuatha de Dannan. When the Milesians arrived the magician Amergin promised to divide the island evenly between them but he tricked the Sídhe, dividing into above and below, splitting it along dimensional lines and once more they were exiled. They have envied us and plotted revenge ever since. I always loved this idea and so it was only a short leap to imagine how they would have changed and evolved over the many centuries. The links were all there waiting for me.

GA

You have said that A Crack in Everything was inspired by a piece of street art in Dublin. Do you use a lot of visual references when you write?

Definitely. I am a fiend when it comes to taking photos, so much so that my family refer to me as “picture Lady”. I find art very inspirational as well and keep a Pinterest account with ideas for different projects.

You have made a playlist for A Hollow in the Hills, and music plays an important role in the book, as well as in The Treachery of Beautiful Things. Do you listen to music when you write?

I listen to music when I think about writing, rather than when I am actually writing. That said, I do need noise when I’m writing. I find it hard to concentrate when it’s too quiet – I have that mother’s instinct that something is definitely up. But I make playlists for my books, and I listen to particular songs which I associate with characters, settings and scenes while driving, or doing other jobs. It helps the ideas to percolate while I’m not writing so that when I sit down to do it the ideas are there. I make CDs of my playlists and listen to them especially in the car while driving, or doing another automatic sort of action. I have so many ideas when I’m halfway along the motorway, which can be a problem. But I always think that if the idea is good enough it’ll either stay with me or come back when I have the opportunity to write it down.

Playlist

Playlist for A Hollow in the Hills (image from rflong.com)

A Hollow in the Hills has a large cast of characters, all complex and nuanced. Do you prefer writing the heroes or villains? Do you have a favourite character in the book?

It would be a bit like picking a favourite friend. They’re all so different and distinct to me, and they all have their parts to play. I will admit, however, to having an enormous affection for the Matriarchs. They’re not so much evil as amoral – they look out for themselves. But sometimes they take sides.

You baked a very impressive book cake for the launch. What are your other hidden talents?

I really enjoy making things – all sorts of things. I’ve made jewellery and decorated cakes, I occasionally paint, or make costumes. But I don’t do them regularly enough to really call them a hobby. I use them as a way to procrastinate mainly.

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Ruth’s fantastic book cake!

What do you plan to write about in future? Can you tell us anything about the next Dubh Linn book?

I’m currently working on the third Dubh Linn book. It’s somewhat darker in tones, following events in A Hollow in the Hills but I’m heading to a pretty spectacular showdown at the end. I’m still picking settings but I have a number of places in mind. Any suggestions are always welcome. Because of the way I write, I’m pretty much making it up as I go along.

I also have a timeslip which I’m editing at the moment, and a Space Opera (because who doesn’t love Space Opera) which started off life because I read a book about medieval Queen Consorts. I am also working on some ideas for new books but I’m not quite at the writing stage yet. More on the mulling over stage, getting to know my characters and worlds.

You are very involved with the Irish Sci Fi community – would you write a sci fi book?

Definitely. I’ve always written fantasy, and have recently written a Space Opera (think Star Wars). I’m also very into Steampunk. I’m not particularly interested in hard Sci-Fi, but if the right story presented itself I would definitely give it a go. The Sci-Fi community is very broad and incorporates all sorts of things so it’s very welcoming.

The tagline on your website is ‘where fantasy meets romance.’ How do you balance these two genres in your writing?

The main thing is to maintain the balance. Both fantasy and romance go very well together – there are a lot of links between the two. I try not to let one outweigh the other in the course of the story but to maintain the importance of both. A good level of realism also helps and make both the fantasy and the romance more believable.

What books would you recommend to fans of A Hollow in the Hills?

Susan Cooper – The Dark is Rising Series

Alan Garner – The Owl Service

Pat O’Shea – The Hounds of the Morrigan

Gillian Philips – Firebrand (and the rest of the Rebel Angels series)

Liz de Jager – Vowed (and the rest of the Blackheart series)

My sister Amy, Ruth Long and myself at the launch of A Hollow in the Hills.

My sister Amy, Ruth Frances Long and myself at the launch of A Hollow in the Hills.

A big thank you to Ruth for answering my questions, I really enjoyed learning more about her writing and research. I can’t wait to read the third Dubh Linn book!

Author Interview: Katy Cannon

If you like cake and YA, I’m sure that you will be a fan of Love, Lies and Lemon Pies by Katy Cannon. The book is about a bake club, and there is a delicious recipe before each chapter. With the Great British Bake Off in full swing, I was delighted to chat to this author about cake…and writing of course!

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Katy Cannon

Which Bake Club character were you most like as a teenager?

Probably Lottie, but without so much angst! The opening scene of the book, where she gets called into the head of year’s office because the school is worried about her, is actually based on something that happened to me – although for very different reasons. I remember very well that feeling of giving the teachers what they want to hear or see, just to stop them calling my parents!

Do you have a favourite scene from Love, Lies and Lemon Pies?

Actually, I have two! One is the scene with Mac and Lottie hiding under the stairs at Grace’s house, eavesdropping shamelessly on Jasper and Ella. I love the part where their conversation turns to things Mac remembers about Lottie through the years, and she realises she isn’t as forgettable and invisible as she always thought.

The other is a scene that actually got added in very late in the process – possibly only in the final draft. It’s the bit at Grace’s party where Mac and Lottie slope off to hang out on the trampoline together. Apparently all the good stuff happens at Grace’s house!

Did you plan the recipes ahead of writing, or see what recipe each chapter called for as you wrote? Did you always plan to intersperse recipes throughout the book?

The idea for including recipes in the book came seconds after the idea to write about a Bake Club. I was talking the idea through with my agent (over cake and coffee) and when the idea of the recipes came up we both got really excited about it.

Some recipes were just a natural fit. I brainstormed a few of my favourite sweet treats and savory bakes while I was plotting out the book, but after that I just picked the most appropriate bake for the chapter I was writing. It came together surprisingly easily!

Which was your favourite recipe from the book? And which took the longest to perfect? Did you have any baking disasters?

The Pecan Loaf was almost a disaster of the plotting kind. All along I’d had it in my head that this was what Mac would bake – a savory pecan bread. But then I realised that he wouldn’t have time to let the dough rise during the competition, so I had to come up with a whole new recipe at the last minute!

Mac's Pecan and Maple Syrup Loaf

Mac’s Pecan and Maple Syrup Loaf

The chocolate chip cookies, and Mac’s chocolate brownies are two of my favourites – mostly because I love chocolate! But Mac’s Grandma’s Gingerbread recipe is actually my Grandma’s recipe – discovered in an old notebook a few years after she died. So I have a soft spot for that one too.

Mac's Double Chocolate Chip Brownies

Mac’s Double Chocolate Chip Brownies

What is your favourite kind of cake?

Strangely, one that never made it into the book! I adore lemon drizzle cake – my brother makes a particularly good one.

Could you tell us about your new book, Secret, Schemes and Sewing Machines?

Secrets, Schemes & Sewing Machines is Grace’s story, told from her point of view as she lives through her most difficult school year yet. She has big plans for the year – she wants to star in the school play – but family dramas mean she misses the audition. She throws a suitably Grace-like hissy fit, convincing the gorgeous new boy, Connor, that she’s a high maintenance diva, and then somehow ends up volunteering to organise and make the costumes for the play to show him he’s wrong.

It was so much fun to revisit the Bake Club group, but see them from another point of view, and follow a different trajectory. The book is very much about Grace learning the sort of person she wants to be, and that was really interesting to write. I also loved coming up with all the sewing projects!

Baking or sewing?

It depends how hungry I am… No, really I love both, but in different ways. Baking tends to give more immediate satisfaction, but I also really enjoy taking time to choose or develop a pattern, pick fabrics and supplies, and have some time just me and my sewing machine.

Do you watch any baking shows? Who are your favourite bakers?

Obviously, the Great British Bake Off. But I like a lot of cookery programmes generally. I used writing Love, Lies and Lemon Pies as a bit of an excuse to stock up on recipe books too – lots by Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, The Fabulous Baker Boys, and anything with cake in the title! I also love the Primrose Bakery books.

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Describe the showstopper cake you would make to introduce yourself on the Great British Bake Off.

Oh, that’s a great question! Let me see… I think I’d like to bake a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party cake – a whole table, topped with tiny individual cakes and treats of all sorts, icing hats and a dormouse in a teapot!

What books would you recommend for fans of Love, Lies and Lemon Pies?

The Geek Girl series, for definite. My Secret Rock Star Boyfriend by Eleanor Wood. Anything by Sarah Dessen. And maybe Jenny Han as a next step…

Could you tell us about your writing process? Are you a planner?

It tends to vary from book to book, to be honest. But I am definitely a planner – both plotwise and timewise. I need to have a very firm idea of what or how much I need to write when, or I start  worrying about deadlines.

Usually I start by just thinking about the story I want to tell, scribbling down notes as they occur to me about characters, scenes, themes or images. Then eventually, when it feel right, I start piecing it all together until I have a firm grasp of the characters and at least an outline of the plot. Then it’s just filling in the gaps by writing the story – and accepting that it will all change as I get into the book!

What are you writing now?

Right now I’m working on a new YA novel that I’m really, really excited about – but unfortunately I can’t say anything more just yet! Keep an eye on my website (www.katycannon.com) for news as soon as I’m allowed to share.

Katy Cannon's YA novels

Katy Cannon’s YA novels

A huge thank you to the lovely Katy Cannon for her wonderful answers, and for the images I have used in this post.

Happy reading, baking and sewing!

Author Interview: Jenn Bennett (Night Owls)

I was so delighted to interview Jenn Bennett, author of Night Owls (my review). A big thank you to Jenn Bennett for her excellent answers, and to the lovely folks at Scholastic UK for their help. Read on for art, tattoos, mental health, YA and more…

Jenn Bennet (Photo © Bill Skeel)

Jenn Bennet (Photo © Bill Skeel)

Art is very important in Night Owls, and Beatrix and Jack are creative in different ways. Could you tell me about your own art? Do you relate more to Bex or Jack?

My own art has changed over the years. I used to do exclusively oil paintings on large pieces of Masonite – life-size figures, mostly. I’ve also done a lot of mandala studies, which are Buddhist ritual symbols containing squares and circles. Now the majority of my work is pen and ink, markers, and Prismacolors on Stonehenge paper. Art-wise, I’d say I was a combination of Jack and Bex. Occasionally, I post things I’m doodling on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Jenn Tweet

Who is your favourite artist?

Hard to pick just one, but if you force my hand, I’d say Frida Kahlo.

How did you come to be interested in medical illustration?

I only became interested in this for the sake of my character. Like anything else I write about, I become immersed in it long enough to absorb the facts, to feel what it’s like to see it through my character’s eyes, then I move on. Otherwise, you go a little crazy, especially if it’s something that you’re researching for a villain!

What research did you do for this book?

Apart from the never-ending stream of everyday research that is always, always happening when you’re writing – When does this Muni train run? Where is this tea house? Where would Jack go to school? Could they drive there in X amount of time? Would they be able to see the ocean from their spot in Buena Vista park? How old do you have to be to get tattooed in California? I spoke to people working in Willed Body labs (where cadavers are studied by medical students), both professors and students. For the mental health aspects, I read a lot of books and talked online with people who had family members going through what Jack is experiencing.

On your website, there are a lot of images related to the book. Do you use visual references when you write?

Jenn Bennet's website (www.jennbennett.net)

Jenn Bennet’s website (www.jennbennett.net)

Absolutely! I’m an artist, so visual cues are important kick-off points for me. I tend to watch a lot of videos of settings, as well, and will sometimes drill down on Google maps to a specific bus stop, say, to make sure I’m looking at exactly the right spot. If I’m specific about the whens and wheres, then I figure I can go wild with what happens there. (That’s the best part!)

Setting is important in this book, have you spent a lot of time in San Francisco?

I adore that part of the country, yes. More than just the city, I love the whole area of Central California: Sonoma, Big Sur, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Carmel. I love the whole coast there. I always tell people that I’m going to retire on a house on a cliff in Big Sur, with a view of the Pacific, surrounded by dogs and redwood trees. I’ll paint pictures of the ocean and do yoga while naked, watching the sunset, eating organic lettuce out of my garden. I’ll happily be THAT crazy old California lady until the Big Earthquake hits.

Jillian is a very important character in Night Owls, particularly as she is shown to be so much more than her illness. How do you think characters with mental illnesses are being represented in YA novels?

Sometimes poorly, I’m afraid. And that’s generalizing, which is bad of me, I know, but I often see mental health being glamorized as something edgy and angsty, something almost desirable – and it’s not. It’s difficult and complex and scary, and for so many families who don’t have the money or resources, it’s a struggle to even diagnose properly. I think YA novels are getting better about portraying this correctly, and I hope I did it some justice. My goal was to show it as honestly as possible, without glamorizing it, but also to show that there is hope and a way to live with illness. I reject the trend in YA that everything has to end with someone dying or losing hope. That’s a load of crap. Sometimes you don’t need to cry your eyes out. People live. The nerdy kid sometimes wins the girl. The couple does stay together. Sad endings aren’t more intelligent. I reject all of that.

Do you have a favourite scene from Night Owls?

I really like it when Jack shows up at Alto market for the first time. Bex acts all cool and aloof, but she’s just completely thrown off that he ACTUALLY SHOWED UP. He’s pursuing her, and she doesn’t know what to do, so she keeps spritzing the magazine rack at the check-out stand, all flustered. I love that.

There are many interesting secondary characters in the book, would you be interested in writing more about any of them?

Bex’s brother Heath. How he met his boyfriend, Noah, would be a fun story!

Jack has fantastic tattoos, do you have any tattoos yourself?

I do, actually. When I lived in Los Angeles, I had a pet snake, so I have two serpent tattoos. (That sounds SUPER tacky, but they are small and dainty.) In total, I have five tattoos on my arms and back. (Think long and hard before you ink yourself, folks: tattoos are forever!)

The book has two different titles – The Anatomical Shape of a Heart in the US, and Night Owls in the UK. Why the different titles? Which do you prefer?

Covers from Goodreads

Covers from Goodreads

Night Owls is my original title, but the US publisher decided to change it to focus on the anatomical aspect of Bex’s artwork. (I like to joke that that they John Green-ified the title to sound more like The Fault in Our Stars.) I like both titles just fine. They both capture different parts of the book.

Did you come up with Jack’s tags as you wrote the book, or write them all at once? Do you have a favourite? I loved how they were used on the proofs, mine had ‘BELONG’ on the cover.

I adored that my publisher did the ten different proof covers with all of Jack’s graffiti pieces! That was so cool. I came up with the tags as I wrote the book, so they flowed with the story. My favorites are probably BLOOM and RISE. Bloom was the start of things for Bex and Jack, and Rise was the two of them working together as a team, which is one of the best things about being in love.

My ARC of Night Owls

My ARC of Night Owls

This is your first YA novel. What drew you to writing Young Adult fiction? How did the writing experience differ from your adult novels?

My agent suggested I try writing YA because she thought I had the voice for it. I was scared to try it, worried I wouldn’t sound authentic. But once I started, it felt completely natural. I think it’s the closest thing to my true, unfiltered writing voice. Now I’m having a hard time switching back to writing adult fiction, frankly!

Will you be writing more YA novels in future?

I just turned in my next YA book to my agent, which is a standalone YA contemporary that takes place just down the coast from San Francisco. It’s another romance with a new heroine/hero, and I love it just as much as Ioved Night Owls. I can’t wait for everyone to read it!

I can’t wait to read Jenn Bennett’s next YA novel. If you haven’t read Night Owls, go check it out!