Who am I?
I am an animal lover – I adore snuggling up with my two cats on the sofa. I am a vegetarian. I love books, music, theatre, good dramas and films. I also love travelling, particularly to beautiful or historical places. People inspire me – I’ve met a lot of random people through various jobs, and it can be surprising what you can learn about them during the briefest of moments.
What writing experience did I have before I started writing Aggi and the Mystic Boots?
Aggi and the Mystic Boots is my first published book, but I have spent most of my life writing. I can remember being about eight years old and deciding I wanted to be an author. At the time, I was inspired by Jayne Fisher, who wrote a series of Ladybird books about vegetables. She was around twelve at the time, but I discovered she started writing the books when she was nine. The fact that she was so young was hugely inspirational for me – I thought that if she could write books at that age, maybe I could too. I spent a lot of time at home starting books and stories on an old typewriter someone had given my mum – this was both exciting and a major source of frustration, because if I made a single mistake I would wrench the paper out and start again. I don’t remember ever actually finishing anything, even though I believed I was on my way to becoming a ‘real’ author!
During my twenties, I started to write poetry. I really enjoy writing poetry because it’s a lot quicker than writing a book. Also, a poem is like a feeling, or a moment, caught in time – when I write a poem, I often feel compelled to do so because I don’t want to ‘lose’ that moment. One of my most recent poems was written earlier this year and depicts a moment in the kitchen when I was having a long conversation on Whatsapp with my ex-partner. I was being guided by our 12-year-old son as we made the Wagamama katsu curry – he was Head Chef, and I was very behind with the food preparation. The conversation was about our son’s upcoming birthday, but it was also about lots of other ‘ordinary’ stuff as well, and it struck me that it was nice that after all this time, we could chat like friends in that way about nothing much. Also, he can often remember things about my life that I have no recollection of at all. I love the beauty and intricacy of ordinary life.
During the early 90s, I worked in the ticketing department of a Canadian tour operator. Instead of simply preparing tickets, I started writing elaborate descriptions of Canada, and including it in the clients’ travel packs. I think I fancied myself as a Lonely Planet travel writer, or something along those lines. It was all completely unnecessary, but I think the company liked it because they bought me a new word processor for that purpose!
Eventually, I started publishing a lot of my poetry online. One of my poems provided the narration for Izzy Burton’s short film, Via . Via appeared at many film festivals around the world, and it was exciting to see how well received it was.
When I started to write Aggi, I was already working on a novel for adults, but I put that on the back burner. I do plan to return to that at some point soon.
How did I end up writing my first children’s book?
I started writing Aggi when I was approached by my long-time friend Harriet. She had already attempted to write a story about a dinosaur meeting tiny protists, and she asked me if I would have a look at it and rewrite it. I had already written some articles for Harriet to use for her educational courses, so I didn’t think very much about the end result of this project – at the time, it was just another piece of writing, albeit quite a long one! Before I started, I wasn’t even sure whether I would be able to do it, because I knew it was a science-based book, which is something I would never have ventured into of my own accord.
The best part of the writing experience for Aggi and the Mystic Boots was…..
Hanging out at Harriet’s over tea (and often cake!) and talking about the story. Writing is quite solitary, and I love chatting, so the social element was really nice. We have known each other for a long time, so we talked about lots of other things as well – one of my flaws is definitely drifting off topic!
Other than that, the best part of writing Aggi was seeing the characters form and come to life alongside the illustrations. The protist characters are quite unusual, and it was great to see the finished version.
The biggest challenge with writing Aggi and the Mystic Boots was…..
The biggest challenge was definitely editing the book so that it was an acceptable word count for the intended age range. This is something I found extremely frustrating, because I ended up having to cut parts out that I really liked. However, doing so did improve the book, and the readability for the age range I was writing for.
The other challenge that we faced was naming Aggi, and also naming the book itself. Harriet and I spent an awful lot of time coming up with a name for Aggi, because when Harriet first started writing the book, she had imagined a Brontosaurus called Bryony. As I worked on the book, it came to light that Brontosaurus had been effectively wiped from history when researchers had decided that what they had been referring to as Brontosaurus was, in fact, Apatosaurus. I felt relieved that I had discovered this in time! (During a recent trip to Dino Bricks in Norwich, I was very surprised to see a Lego Brontosaurus being displayed – it turns out that in the last few years, Brontosaurus has been accepted after all!)
I think the story was completely finished before Aggi had a name. All we knew was that we wanted it to begin with an ‘A’. We then scrolled through all names beginning with ‘A’ many times, discarding everything because it didn’t sound right. For a while, Aggi became ‘Allona’, but it still didn’t feel right. I can’t imagine Aggi as ‘Allona’ now – it’s not punchy or appealing at all, and Harriet’s son kept making jokes about her being a loner!
Choosing a title presented similar problems – it was a long time before we came up with something we were truly happy with! But that just meant more afternoons sitting around Harriet’s table with tea and her lovely home-baked cakes, so it wasn’t a bad thing! I love the ‘Mystic Boots’ reference in the title, because it (hopefully) creates a sense of intrigue.
What other writing projects are in the pipeline?
Paramecium Press has several new books in the pipeline. ‘Blake’s Small Adventure’, a rhyming picture book, is due to be released late October. There will be a second ‘Aggi’ book with new protist characters to meet. I am also writing a novel for 9-12-year-olds, which is quite exciting. I’m enjoying working on that because it’s a much longer book so there is more to get my teeth into. I don’t want to reveal too much about it yet, but it is an adventure story that takes place in Deep Earth.
My top tips for writing your first story are….
- Don’t be afraid to go with your ideas. Over analysing and questioning yourself can lead to no writing at all! Sometimes it’s better to just start.
- Writing is about words, but also about observation. What can you see in your mind’s eye as you picture a scene in your story? You might have the main characters, but what else is there? What’s on the table? What is the mood like? Is the house tidy, unkempt, dusty, derelict? Is the cat purring contentedly, or agitated with its tail swishing?
- Get to know your characters. Who are they really? What thoughts and feelings do they have? Are they confident, unsure, bold, deceitful? Why are they like this? Do they have a background story?
- Don’t be predictable. Readers like twists and turns. They like surprises.
- The more experienced you become at writing stories, the better they will be. Like anything, you need to hone your craft.
- Remember the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. You can paint a picture without methodically explaining everything. Use metaphors, personification, similes – it will help your writing to become more colourful and engaging.
- Ideas sometimes come to you when you least expect it, such as when you are walking along the road, or lying in bed at night! It’s a good idea to make notes if you have a good idea, because if you are anything like me, you’ll have forgotten it by the time you get home!