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In the early days of my writing career someone once asked why I never wrote children’s books. ‘Surely,’ they said, ‘that’s the genre to begin with and then you can progress to adult literature.’
Foolishly, I believed this person. I began my children’s adventure book about a young girl who loved ponies. Out riding she ended up in an enchanted garden, and had many adventures with the strange fairy folk who lived there.
I took it to my creative writing mentor and excitedly showed him my first draft.
‘Hmm,’ he said, ‘it’s a bit Enid Blyton.’
Miffed, I went back to my story and tried to modernise it by dropping in ‘cool!’ and an odd ‘funky’ (bear in mind, this was the 80s!).
My mentor smirked when he saw my efforts. ‘You need to do more than add youth-speak. You need to become a child. Get into their minds. And what ever you do, don’t patronise.’
I never realised I had been patronising in my fast-becoming redundant story. But when I read it back, I could clearly see that I was. I was talking down to the reader, and recreating scenes from in my adult eyes instead of being that child again.
My career writing for children came to a very swift end, until now. My fifth novel involves a woman being taken back to her past where she relives her youth. I must admit, I was struggling, until I realised I could get around it by having her adult self inside her younger body (so she retained her mind and memories).
I’ve dubbed the book Crossroads, and researching the 70s has been a trip down
nostalgia lane, but as for writing for children, I’ll leave that to the writers who can!
Crossroads is in its draft stage at the moment, and if all goes well, I’ll publish it early 2015. Meanwhile, if you have anything to say regarding writing for children please feel free to get in touch via the ‘contact’ button at the top of this page. I’ll love to hear from you!
Gertie Grimthorpe comes from a long line of witches. Unfortunately, she hasn’t really got the hang of it. Being blonde haired, blue eyed and free of warts isn’t much of an advantage. Try as she might, Gertie’s spells fall flat. She manages to give her bat-headed umbrella the ability to talk, but then wishes she hadn’t when all he does is complain and insult people. Even finding an owl to be her Familiar doesn’t help. Then again, he is extremely shortsighted…Gertie is sent to The Academy to improve her spell casting skills. She soon has a best friend in the form of Bertha Bobbit, a big girl, with a matching appetite. Add to that a Moat Monster with a flatulence problem, the weirdest array of witch’s Familiars possible, and a warlock determined to ruin Gertie’s chances of success, and the story unfolds. Not to mention the demon…
A children’s sword and sorcery fantasy novel aimed at the nine years of age to mid teen market. Zac is a fifteen year old stable boy whose life is turned upside down when he finds himself in the midst of demons, magic and a perilous quest. The land around Albemerle castle is under attack, and the only hope of survival for Zac and the people he loves is to find the great wizard, Aldric. Men have already died trying. Strange dreams mark the beginning of Zac’s life changing events. Armed with a magic sword, ring and crystal, he sets out with a group of soldiers to find Aldric. Demon attack almost ends Zac’s quest as soon as it begins. Zac refuses to give up, and soon finds himself accompanied by unusual travelling companions. Many dangers bar their way. Only Zac’s determination and the unexpected help he receives can make it possible to find and free Aldric, and return for the final battle to save the land…
Gertie Grimthorpe comes from a long line of witches. Unfortunately, she hasn’t really got the hang of it. Being blonde haired, blue eyed and free of warts isn’t much of an advantage. Try as she might, Gertie’s spells fall flat. She manages to give her bat-headed umbrella the ability to talk, but then wishes she hadn’t when all he does is complain and insult people. Even finding an owl to be her Familiar doesn’t help. Then again, he is extremely shortsighted… Gertie is sent to The Academy to improve her spell casting skills. She soon has a best friend in the form of Bertha Bobbit, a big girl, with a matching appetite. Add to that a Moat Monster with a flatulence problem, the weirdest array of witch’s Familiars possible, and a warlock determined to ruin Gertie’s chances of success, and the story unfolds. Not to mention the demon…
What gave you the incentive to write this book?
I love humorous fantasy, and have read a lot of it. The master of this genre is of course, Terry Pratchett, and I would like to think that Terry has inspired my writing in many ways. Gertie began many years ago simply with an idea, and though the theme of a witch going to a witching school has been likened to Harry Potter, my book was in the process of being penned long before JK became famous. Once I began the book, the characters took over and worked their way through the rest of it. I love Gertie as a character, and I hope others feel the same about her! I would like her to return one day…
Can you sum the book up in one sentence?
A light hearted and very funny excursion into children’s fantasy
Have your characters or writing been inspired by friends/ family or by real-life experiences?
I doubt if there are any writers out there who do not rely on at least some of their life’s experiences in their writing. Characters with Lancashire accents have a habit of creeping into my novels, especially when writing humour. I believe I have that off to a fine art…Then of course there’s the animated umbrella in ‘Gertie Gets it Right (eventually)’ inspired by a true incident that happened to my Mother with her wooden-headed umbrella, but that’s another story.
What is your favourite scene in your book? Can we have a snippet?
It’s very difficult to pick out one favourite scene because there are so many I enjoyed writing. Since I mentioned this in an earlier question, I will choose one from the early chapters when Gertie learns how to animate her umbrella. It is an impressive black one with the head of a bat as the handle…
Gertie concentrated even harder, and tried again. She had no reason to wonder why it shouldn’t work, so she believed with all her heart.
This time, she felt sure she saw the bat’s little nose quiver. Encouraged by this, Gertie tried again. She wasn’t one to give up easily.
Do you have an agent, or have you gone alone?
No, I don’t have an agent, but if there are any out there reading this with interest, please get in touch! I was simply lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time (which had to be a first for me) when the writers site ‘You Write On’ gave the opportunity for publication. I thought about it carefully for at least five seconds before I snatched their hands off!
I would perhaps use them again, because my only disappointment was a very plain cover for both my books. You can’t judge a book by its cover, and all that, but Gertie and Zac deserve much more interesting and colourful ones! I would initially try to gain the interest of an established publisher who would give me the necessary backing to promote my next book more. It is an arduous task!
What marketing have you been doing to help sales?
I will try almost anything to promote my books! I am always happy to do interviews like this, I have my own website and blog, an Author page on Amazon UK, and copies of my books are available in my local library. If anyone has any more promotion ideas, I will be pleased to hear them!
How long does it take you to write a book? Have your written other books (give titles)?
My first two published books were long in the writing, because my writing skills have improved considerably over time. The first draft of Gertie was written many years ago when I naively believed that if you write a good story, someone will want to publish it. I didn’t, at the time, know all the ‘rules’ involved in writing a good book, and that has come over many years. The published version of Gertie is many drafts away from that first completed story…
My other published book is a children’s sword and sorcery fantasy,‘Zac’s Destiny’, and I am currently writing a very different humorous children’s fantasy, ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’, and a fantasy for adults, ‘Dimensions’.
Which comes first for you – characters or plot?
I think I would have to say plot, though characters come a very close second. For me, the initial ideas for the book have to come first, but it doesn’t take long before the characters take over a lot of the writing. I get to the point where I will think, no, Gertie wouldn’t do or say that. At that point the characters determine what comes next in a way, but they still follow a meandering version of my original plot.
How did you get into writing? Did you always want to become a writer?
I began to write while I was temporarily out of work after completing a psychology degree. I have wanted to write for as long as I can remember, but a lot of the problem is making enough time to do it while holding down a full-time job. Writing is my life, and ultimately is all I want to do as a career. I just need to pen that best seller!
You mentioned other books that you are working on. Tell us a little more about them.
Yes, I am working on two books. Strangely, that is how I seem to write best. One is humorous, the other serious. If I am not feeling particularly humorous, I write the serious fantasy. If I feel inspired to humour, then I write that one. They are such very different books, fortunately I never get mixed up!
The humorous book is another children’s fantasy, ‘Be Careful What You Wish For.’ Here is a brief synopsis:
A brief synopsis for Dimensions follows:
And a snippet from the early chapters:
What mistakes do you see new writers make?
I think, like myself, it is easy to believe that a good book will be snatched up and published. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Writing does not just involve an inventive mind. If the tale, no matter how good, isn’t written to the agreed publishing format and standard, then publishers will not consider it. New writer’s need to face this and address it. The fantastic idea for a story is just the beginning.
What advice would you give aspiring authors.
Don’t give up. You are very unlikely to have your life’s work snatched up by the first publisher or agent you send it to. Be prepared for the long haul, but believe in yourself, and don’t lose hope. There could be someone out there just waiting for your book to drop on their desk. The hard part is finding them…
He’s both publisher and author. He’s been self-published, turned his hand to POD, and is now an indie publisher with his own company Ford Street Publishing: http://www.fordstreetpublishing.com/
What is your role within Ford Street?
Everything rolled into one! Commissioning editor, publisher, proofreader, publicist, warehouseman, printer liaison, administrative/reception person. You name it. I do freelance out some editing and all the design work, though!
What is your typical day like?
I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time promoting Ford Street’s books. Mostly via social media, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, contacting online booksellers, etc. In order, though, take the dogs out for a run, shower, read the paper, breakfast, by which time’s it’s 9:30am and then it’s on the computer and the day really starts as per the “most job” description.
Do you get many unsolicited enquires?
I get one or two a day. Everyone gets replied to. Some of our best titles came through the unsolicited pile.
Would you consider a children’s book from further afield such as America?
I only publish Australian authors. The reason for this is that they’re here to promote their books. Authors and illustrators can go on tour here and promote their books in municipal and school libraries, and this is where a lot of our sales come from. Take this market away and it really is a struggle to make ends meet.
Are you a self-publisher? Do you charge any fees?
I’d certainly make a lot more money being a vanity press! But no, I don’t charge. I generally pay a $2000 advance against 10% royalties.
What’s the difference between Ford Street Publishing and a vanity press?
There’s no comparison. Ford Street pays its authors and illustrators, vanity press charges them.
Do you advise/or edit authors novels prior to publishing?
That’s a must. There’s always room for improvement. I think most level-headed authors know that, and some even expect it.
How many do you turn away?
Put it this way, I receive 350+ manuscripts a year, and I can only publish eight of them.
Do you have busier months than others?
The beginning of the year is usually the busiest, because that’s when I have to get serious about publishing schedules. And some people, as we know, don’t adhere to deadlines. Think of any friend who is never on time, and you’ll know what I’m saying here!
How close do you work with writers?
Pretty close. I know most of them personally now.
How many authors do you have?
Must be over 130 books and more than 140 short stories. You’re still a novice if you can count them lol.
Are they all the same genre?
I’ve written both non-fiction and fiction. The latter across all genres, but mostly fantasy and science fiction. Non-fiction includes eight books on martial arts, extreme sports, Egypt, etc.
The Jelindel Chronicles and The Quentaris Chronicles. I liked The Earthborn Wars, but they were published in the US, so most Australian readers wouldn’t know them.
Are they available on places like Amazon?
Quite a few are, although unless books are warehoused in the US, it’s hard to get them listed, unless of course it’s via POD or e-book on Kindle. On this note I have started uploading Ford Street’s books to Kindle. So far I have about seven titles. It’s a slow process because books have to be converted. Although amazon reports huge sales in their e-books, I suspect many of those are the best-sellers, not unknown authors. Interesting times ahead!
Any tips for aspiring writers?
Persistence is the key.
A question people often ask authors is “Are your characters based on people you know?” In this case, yes, Clara is based on a friend of mine. She’s one of those people who lives a charmed life. Everything comes easily to her.
She exists in her own perfect bubble where everything is beautiful and easy. Perhaps because of this, she misses out on some of the more interesting aspects of life. If you don’t take risks, your life will be easy, sure, but flat, with no ups and downs.
So I invented the character of Clara, and made her a gardener in a glasshouse – a perfect bubble where everything is perfectly controlled.
I find picture books hard to write. I’m more likely to be writing fantasy novels than picture books. And in all fantasy novels or movies (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc,) there’s a structure. Hero is reluctant to leave their cosy home, a mentor comes along and gives them a kick up the butt to get out there and get a life! So using the fantasy structure, I decided I needed a mentor to help out Clara on her own personal quest to a more interesting life, and to help her break free from her paranoia.
And so this is where the boy comes into The Glasshouse – to help guide our reluctant hero, Clara, or “free” her and help show her that life on the outside can be just as good, if not better, if you’re prepared to take a risk. Then I had to think of something for her to be growing in her glasshouse. Tomatoes were the obvious choice – it’s about the only thing I can grow at home! But last year two pumpins, a Kent and Queensland Blue, suddenly appeared. And I thought they’d be perfect for Clara to grow in her glasshouse. They’re bigger and rounder and just generally more interesting – think Cinderella and Halloween for kids.
Now, this is a new concept. Children’s writer, Fiona Ingram, has turned her website into an interactive journey following her characters, Justin and Adam from her book, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab through Egypt on an exciting adventure.
Those who survive the journey and manage to translate the Curse of Thoth will be able to read the first chapter in Adam and Justin’s next adventure—The Search for the Stone of Excalibur—as they hunt for the Scroll of the Ancients.
The Secret of the Sacred Scarab http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=wise044-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0595457169&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifris a thrilling adventure for two young boys, whose fun trip to Egypt turns into a dangerously exciting quest to uncover an ancient and mysterious secret. A book for children (and adults) aged ten and above.
Fiona has been a journalist for the last fifteen years, so writing a children’s book—The Secret of the Sacred Scarab—was an unexpected step, inspired by a recent trip to Egypt. The tale of the sacred scarab began life as a little anecdotal tale for her two nephews (then 10 and 12), who accompanied her on the Egyptian trip. This short story grew into a children’s book and the first in the adventure series Chronicles of the Stone.
Fiona is writing the next book in the series—The Search for the Stone of Excalibur—a huge treat for young King Arthur fans.
I’ve a few questions myself I’d like to ask:
Have you ever wrote for the adult market?
A few years ago I wrote a Regency Romance because I love Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romances. They have to be very detailed and historically accurate because Regency Romance fans are sticklers for detail. I never did much with the manuscript until recently. I submitted it to a new publisher and landed a contract. I had already written most of another regency novel so I hope they will take that as well.
Is more care and attention paid to vocabulary in children’s writing than adult?
Without using jaw-breaking vocabulary, writers should filter in challenging words because kids love new words, and (surprise!) love learning new things. They feel more empowered by learning and then using a new word.
Do you sometimes feel you have to be a teacher and teach through your books?
My books are all about history, geography, archaeology, mythology (lots of ‘ologies’) so the books will always be educational. My heroes go on a series of adventures involving a quest; they delve into new places, discover things about countries and cultures they never knew, and uncover ancient secrets. Kids love anything exciting and mysterious.
The trick is to inform without overloading them with information. Kids who have read the book really love the plot, Egypt, the legends, and the aura of ancient mystery and suspense that pervades the adventure.
I make sure that anything I tell my readers about the place or culture has to be directly related to the plot and what the heroes need to know to survive. That way the information comes across as vital, and not something superfluous.
Most people believe that it is considerably easier to write for children than for adults, has this ever been said to you?
When I began my children’s novel I did not know that many people find it hard to write for kids – well, I didn’t find it so, but I have read that some writers struggle.
There is always a tendency to ‘talk down’ to kids, whereas, because kids ‘read up’ or aspire towards a higher level, the writer should always address kids on a mature level. Never treat them like kids. I always think of my readers as small big people. They are capable of sniffing out a patronising phrase from ten miles away.
Thank you Fiona for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
If anybody else has a question for Fiona please put it in the comment box below, and she’ll get back to you shortly.