What inspired you to write Kimi’s Secret?
A couple of things.
Firstly would be life’s
inherent need for equilibrium. Not just human life, but all life-forms, in
their drive to survive, procreate and evolve into better mechanisms, show,
through the patterns of their structures and actions, an ever-present need for
balance. We humans display this need quite brashly with our crude means of
communications and all too often ill-thought thoughts and actions, causing
disruptions and blow-holes to infest the peaceful, less sentient ever-present
strive. This process is the bedrock of all story-telling, and so Kimi became a
Balancer, the force for good over evil.
Secondly would be my love for
the challenge of a big production. Being a successful production manager of one
sort or another for a huge chunk of my life makes me reasonably proficient
where plot and arrangement are concerned. I wanted to stamp my take on the
balance of life while using those techniques learned through years of
experience. I’m reasonably happy with the result. Maybe if I could go back and
tweak it just a teeny bit more here, and add a bit there, and – oh shut up and
that’s an on-going problem for writers. I don’t think any writer can say with
perfect honesty that their book is finished. How long did it take to write
From the spark that would not
die, to a very generous serendipity bringing many wise and giving peers,
through the constant climb of understanding the craft and discovering the
complex intelligence and vast power contained within so little ingredients as
26 letters and a few bits of punctuation to bat them about with, Kimi’s Secret
took five immensely enjoyable years.
Five, by the way, being a
digit of magical connotations, receives many nods and configurations within the
pages of Kimi’s adventure.
Secret is a fantasy for YA. Is that genre your niche? Or would you/have you
written anything else?
I don’t much like genres. Unfortunately
though, they exist, cemented at the root by conventions created via perception
– and – wait for it – need. Sigh.
Does Kimi’s Secret best fit the Y/A tag? I think 90% of Y/A readers may enjoy
the read, but I don’t think it’s limited. I’ve had comments and reviews from
much older readers as to how they could not put Kimi down. Kimi’s story could
have been told in virtually any genre: horror for adults, romance, erotica,
storybook for littleuns, virtually any. I like writing in these other genres,
too. I fancy trying some horror next.
Kimi’s Secret certainly has elements
of horror in it. The crows do bring back memories of watching (cowering)
Hitchcock’s The Birds. I’m enjoying the humour as well. You have a talent for
tongue-in-cheek funnies and it comes across well in Kimi’s Secret. Is the lead character, Kimi, based
on anyone from real life?
Visually, for my eyes only,
Kimi is based on a young girl called Farrel Smith who sang so beautifully in
2009’s Britain’s Got Talent. I say for my eyes only because Farrel is the
character I saw in my mind’s eye when watching the scenes rolling out, and she
is the one I would sketch into the storyboards. But in the book I don’t give
much to reader in the way of description. I show them the clothes she likes,
and indicate some length of dark hair, but that’s about it. The story is told through
Kimi’s eyes and I wanted the reader to live that and to build his own image of
Intellectually, Kimi is
merely the vehicle into which I jump, adorned in her assumed skin, to handle
the next situation.
Smith, really? I see Kimi as a little dishevelled. A tomboy. I know you have
her as wearing pink in the book, but that pink in my mind’s eye, is a dark off
coloured pink. There are no girlie characters. Even Stella is a
Now that’s interesting. You took my hints of description and built
your own character to live the story with. I’d love to hear what other versions
of Kimi have been created by her readers.
So, why a girl? Why not Jimi?
Good question. Three reasons.
When I first came up with the idea for Kimi’s tale there was this kid called
Potter or something, and he was doing incredibly well – I didn’t want clichés
Secondly, I wanted the
challenge: to play the lead as a young girl, think her thoughts, make her
decisions, become her character and live it effectively and portray it
convincingly on the page. It took a few years, and a lot of steers from a lot
of good peers, but I think I eventually got somewhere near acceptable.
And thirdly, some of the
things Kimi has to go through are really quite terrifying, exhilarating, or
just downright icky, and I thought it would be more fun torturing a girl than a
You mention Potter. Now, to me, Kimi’s
Secret is more Alice in Wonderland or Narnia: it’s madness, Kimi’s state
of confusion and wanting to do right, her sidekick Bentley (Mad Hatter/Mr
Tumnus). But then, I’m probably the only person in the world who hasn’t read
Alice, Wonderland, Looking
Glass, Jabberwocky, all in my top ten reads. The intense chutzpah of Lewis
Carroll really does float my balloon. A huge inspiration, Carroll gets a few
nods in Kimi’s Secret. I made him a Balancer Adept, founder of the dodo farms;
gave him a statue at the end of Carroll Street in Middling which is home to The
Rabbit’s Foot where Kimi lives. Oh, and I even tumble a crow down a rabbit
you have a disturbing incident with crows when you were a child?
Ha! Not at all. Although hang on,
now that I think about it…I do remember watching Hitchcock’s `The Birds` at the
impressionable age of seven, and an image of that slumped guy with his eyes
pecked out will always be mine, along with that schoolroom scene where the kids
are singing “huffety-puffety-rah-rah-rah”
as the crows gather on the phone wires and climbing
frame outside, and the kids make a run for it, and the crows swoop and charge
and rake claws through the scalps of screaming youngsters. Great film, and yes,
probably an influence. I love birds, used to watch them for hours from my
window, sketching their various forms. I remember finding a few in distress and
taking them home and nursing them better. And another time I found an abandoned
young thrush so I popped him in a blackbird’s nest and the blackbird reared it
with her own. Fascinating characters.
You watched that at seven! OMG! I was terrified
watching it as an adult. Yes, you managed to bring all that terror back and I
can see why adults will love Kimi’s Secret as well. You don’t pander to the
child-reader, you are telling a fantasy story which happens to have a young
protagonist, but I’m glad to know you don’t have anything against birds!
Bentley is, or was thought to be an
imaginary friend of Kimi. It’s interesting that you built on this common
pretend-play that children sometimes go through. Did you have an imaginary
friend as a boy?
No but my
best friend did. I was extremely fortunate to have to sit still, in bed, for
two years. Instead of playing outside with my pals I was sat in bed with new
tools: sketch pads, books, and a TV I could watch until God saved the Queen and
the white dot went beep. I got to watch all the cool Hammer Horrors and stuff
like Creep Show, King Kong, The Ants, Karloff, Cushing, Price, and of course
Hitchcock. Given this delightful enforced stillness, my imagination was allowed
to grow. So when my best mate David talked to his imaginary friend, or
pretended to share his cars with him or feed him a biscuit, I would tell him
stop having a laugh. I might also have been the one who told him Santa was
fantasy and that the tooth fairy would nibble at his throat if he didn’t put
soil under his pillow.
Was there a character you struggled
Every one of them. Achieving
good character is to achieve correct character, i.e., to wear the skin, to use
the words that would come through this character’s time of growth of culture of
surrounding, of his reason for being right up until the time I meet him. That
takes some doing, some drafts, to get anywhere near acceptable, and yet, I find
the only way is to act out those scenes time and again until gradually the
character is revealed. And the hardest of all were the two greylian characters.
Not having the benefit of wearing human skin, I had to start from scratch.
Whether that worked well or not I do not know.
How much research did you do for
Kimi’s Secret? I know people tend to think that with fantasy you can “make it
all up” but usually this isn’t the case and much work has to go into it.
While building the world of
Heart and uncovering its ethos I must have researched for a solid year; firstly
by reading popular Y/A such as HP, Twilight, Pullman et al and so ensuring that
my own stamp would be original. Second came the finer workings, the code of
Heart, the geology, history, culture, the very science which makes it all tick;
every aspect formed into a credible mould rooted in fact. Every detail
researched, checked, placed carefully into the weave. It was, and still is, a
lot of research.
How many unpublished books do you
have lurking under your bed?
None. But there are quite a few unwritten ones in my head.
Kimi’s Secret didn’t end, there is a To Be Continued how far are you into the next book? Will there be more and more adventures (books) of Kimi?
I’m writing the sequel to Kimi’s Secret – working title: Kimi’s Density and the Vampire Dairies. (Sorry but it makes me chuckle every time I open the doc.) At the moment I have ideas for another half dozen Kimi adventures and that’s before I open the can of books under my bed. Who knows? If I could only get more time to write. Hmm.
What made you go down the
The novel won one of youwriteon’s Book Of The
Year awards and the prize was free publication. I asked if they would wait
awhile because I had only just started submitting to agents. One agent bit, but
asked if I could cut the word count by 40% to save on production costs. If I
could do that they would be willing to pitch it. I gave it a go but it just
wasn’t working. Whether simply incapable or incredibly vain or a mixture of
both I told them no thanks and decided to collect on my prize. Don’t get me
wrong, I fully understand where this agent was coming from. I know very well
that production costs are paramount, yet I had written the epic that I wanted,
and if that meant going it alone in order to make my desired mark then I was
very happy to do so.
Are you still in touch with that agent? Would
they be interested in future work from you?
I’m not in touch with that agent but I am
considering contacting them again with a view to pitching the sequel.
Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as
Not at all. Never any goals. I prefer just to
write and see what happens. Some days I scrape the barrel, other days I dig up
gold. Writing is a lovely place to be.
There is some “swearing” in the novel that made my eyebrows rise. I’m not an avid reader of YA so I’m not sure if this is the norm or not, but how’d you get away with the word “shit”?
I find it amusing that I can eat brains, kill crows, shoot holes through greylian guts, murder people in cold blood, and get up to stuff Hannibal Lecter would be jealous of, yet use the word `shit` once (or is it twice?) among 90,000 words and it raises eyebrows. This brought up interesting discussion with the first school collaboration. Pupils decided unanimously that the small amount of cussing brought a realism that they appreciated. Swearing in Y/A fiction is commonplace – Kimi is quite tame in comparison to some.
How do/did you deal with rejection letters? Any tips?
haven’t submitted anywhere for a couple of years, but in the early stages when
I fired those begging letters off I made the same mistake that 99% of
submitting writers do – my work, my writing, was simply not good enough. If
you’re considering submitting you should consider the basics before you send
poop to the agent’s doormat.
you had an editor look at your submission?
you had a proof-reader look at your submission?
submitting their begging letter to agents have not. And it shows. A good editor
will advise not just on the original worth of your work, but on voice,
viewpoint, pace, structure, characterisation, dialogue, story arc, as well as
offering suggestions for story/prop/scene improvements and solid advice on
blurb, synopsis and begging, sorry – query – letter. And a good proof-reader
will give your submission the final polish ensuring it will slip gracefully
into grateful agent hands.
You work as an editor as a side-line. But who
edits/critiques your work?
very fortunate to have had the guidance of a top wordsmith: Mr Mathew Cohn. The
guy is a genius, taught me a helluva lot, and shaped Kimi’s Secret into what it
is. I owe him so much I even named Kimi’s adversary General Cohn after him.
Apart from Mathew I am fortunate to belong to a small but intelligent writing
group (if it’s pants they tell me it’s pants), and I have the eyes of a dozen
beta readers to keep me straight. On top of that I am currently collaborating
with the pupils of Blaenavon Heritage VC Primary School in Wales for the sequel, so I think it’s fair to say that
with so many helping hands moulding the ingredients, the end result is sure to
be pretty tasty.
You had the help from pupils of Portree Primary with Kimi’s Secret?
Portree Primary worked with me on Kimi’s Secret. Blaenavon Heritage VC Primary School are involved with the production of the sequel. Working with the kids, receiving their drawings, notes, feedback, is an absolute joy. We have only just got started and have many competitions lined up to take us through to the summer holidays.
Now I’ve finished reading Kimi’s Secret, I’m interested in how you came up with the plot. It’s amazing how you finish the story, how it all comes a full circle and everything ties up. And then just when you think it’s all over it isn’t and the whole thing is given an extra twist.
Many readers have commented on the twisting plot, wondering how I put it together. The answer is time, perseverance and continuously consulting half a dozen internal writers on every plot point. Simply, I would reject the first two or three ideas I came up with and dig deeper until I came up with better. My plotline storyboard ended up a confusion of pins, arrows and crisscrossing threads but the end result was worth the effort.
In the northernmost spire of his black-brick chateau, John Hudspith edits fiction by day and scrawls scary stories by night.
Kimi’s Secret won a highly coveted youwriteon book of the year award and has had huge acclaim in every room in John’s house.
John may look handsomely ancient but he’s really only 30. Five years to write a first novel takes it out of one’s mojo – that and the time-travel. But Kimi is alive now, waiting to suck you in and thrust you onwards. John is working on the sequel and hopes to see daylight before Christmas.