Today I couldn`t be any more thrilled to welcome a very special author for an interview. Cathy`s books were some of my favourites when I was young, and after reading and loving them, I got in touch and still chat regularly via Skype and email . Her book, A Home for Shimmer, is based on my dog Shimmer and book Shimmer has many traits of the real one, which was incredible to read! I`m definitely planning to dip into Cathy`s new book for adults, Kicking the Bucket List, at some point.
Let`s get onto the interview!
1. Can you describe Kicking the Bucket List in 5 words?
Funny, sad, tale of sisters.
2. What is your writing process like? Do you have any unusual or quirky habits as a writer?
I don’t write on one place, I do have an office but I often change rooms depending on
where feels right that day.
3. Kicking the Bucket List is about a mum leaving behind a `bucket list` full of tasks for her daughters to complete. Do you have a bucket list? What are the items you`d most like to complete from it?
I’d like to go and see meerkats. Visit Sicily. Learn how to cook Italian food. Paint
portraits of some of the people I know.
4. My favourite series of yours has to be Mates, Dates. The characters all so vibrant and also huge fun! What do you think they`d be up to now?
They’d still be friends. I reckon TJ and Nesta would be university, Lucy doing a fashion design course, Izzie at art college. Perhaps they’d share a flat, if not they’d still be in touch and having a great life and would always meet up in the college holidays.
5. Another series I loved, which I barely ever see mentioned, was Zodiac Girls. What gave you the idea for the series? Which of the star sign guardians would you most want to help you, if you got to choose? Do you wish you`d been able to write a book for all 12 star signs?
I was asked to come up with a series about the Zodiac and I thought it would be fun to envisage a world where the planets were all present here on earth in human form. I’d like Jupiter to give a helping hand as it is the planet of expansion and generosity. I reckon Venus would be fun to meet as it is the planet of love and beauty. And Uranus is the planet of surprises and always brings about the unexpected. Yes, it would have been good to write the books for the star signs I didn’t do. I had ideas for them but the publishers changed hands and the new team didn’t commission the last 4 books in the series.
5. Million Dollar Mates is a really fun idea too, where Jess gets to go and live among celebrities. Which 3 celebrities would you most like to live next door to?
David Attenborough because I think he’s an inspiration and has done so much to bring about an awareness of how wonderful nature is into our homes. Colin Farrell so I could look at him out the window. Joanna Lumley because I think she’d be fun and a considerate neighbour.
6. If you could choose any of your books/series to become a TV show or movie, which would you choose and why?
The Kicking the Bucket List because there are 6 great roles for older actresses and I think it would make a very entertaining, feel good film.
7. Finally before the quickfire round, what`s been your favourite moment (or top 3) in your career as author?
Meeting my agents. I’ve been very lucky to find two people who are so encouraging and also great fun to spend time with. Meeting my editors Brenda Gardner then later Kate Bradley. They are both very supportive and are great communicators. Brenda pretty well changed my life as she commissioned the first Mates Dates books and got my career as a teenage fiction writer started. More recently, Kate contracted for my first adult book and so a new chapter of my career has begun. Reading some of the reviews for books and hearing that people are reading and enjoying what I’ve written.
Favourite season of the year? Summer.
Favourite cake flavour? Coffee and walnut (though am not a cake person, I prefer savoury)
Hogwarts house? Hufflepuff.
Favourite couple on Strictly this year? Susan Calman & Kevin Clifton. Doubt if they’ll win but I like her.
Favourite 3 books of 2017?– Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker. How Hard Can it be Allison Pearson. A Scandalous Affair, the Biography of Jane Digby by Mary.S. Lovell.
Huge thanks again to Cathy for this interview! Which of Cathy’s books are your favourites? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Today, I‘m absolutely thrilled to welcome Karen McCombie, who wrote some fo my favourite series of all time (such as Ally’s World and Stella Etc) and whose books I still love today. Huge thanks to to Kirstin from Barrington Stoke for setting this up.
Let’s get started!
Hi Karen! Welcome to Golden Books Girl!
Hi there, Amy! I haven’t been to the Edinburgh Book Festival in a while, so we haven’t had a chance to meet up in real life for AGES, have we? But it’s lovely to hook up in the world of book blogging at least!
1. Can you describe your latest release, The Mystery of Me, in 5 words or less for anyone who hasn`t read it?
School story – with a twist!
2. What inspired you to write The Mystery of Me?
I LOVE teenagers. I WAS one (obvz), and I’ve currently GOT one (my darling Milly, age 15). But teenage years can be tricky… some people can be pretty mean to others without thinking of the consequences of their actions, how deep words can wound. This was the starting point of the story, and everything else just slotted in around it really quickly, once that spark took hold.
3. What`s your writing process like? Do you have any unusual habits or quirks?
I have a little writing office at home that’s very cute but about the size of a big cupboard. The thing is, I do get restless being stuck in there ALL day, so most mornings I walk through the park and go to the nearby garden centre, where I work on my laptop in their cafe. It’s a brilliant spot… I write, drink tea, smell the flowers and – as it’s a dog-friendly caff – I get to meet lovely pooches too! (Don’t tell my cat, who likes keeping me company in the writing cupboard…)
4. Does anything about your process change when you`re writing for Barrington Stoke as opposed to other publishers? Does it pose any challenges when writing in this format?
In general, I really enjoy writing in different styles – the change of pace from book to book is brilliant fun and challenging too. Barrington Stoke specialize in super-readable books that everyone can enjoy, whether they’re confident readers or dyslexic, so working for them is a fascinating process. You have to write a short-length book with a punchy, appealing story, while always being mindful of the sorts of spellings and complex sentences that might trip up struggling readers.
5. What are your favourite things about writing?
I LOVE coming up with a new book idea. And I LOVE writing the last chapter of every book, when you pull the whole story together. The big bit in the middle can be kind of tricky and hard sometimes, like climbing up a mountain and never getting closer to the top!
6. Inthe past few years, you`ve mainly written historical/timeslip novels. What inspired you to make that change? Do you prefer writing in historical or contemporary settings?
It all started a few years ago with my then editor Helen asking if I fancied trying my hand at writing a novel about evacuees… I think she was slightly nervous suggesting it to me, since my books were all contemporary, but I’m a bit of a history nut on the side, so I said “ooh-yes-please!” very quickly. That was ‘Catching Falling Stars’, and since then I’ve written timeslips ‘The Whispers of Wilderwood Hall’ and ‘The Pearl in the Attic’. Like I say, I’m more than happy to try my hand at any and all styles – I’ve got a potential new project on the go at the moment that’s COMPLETELY different from anything I’ve done before!
7. I think my favourites of your books have to be the Ally`s World and Stella Etc series. What do you think those characters would be getting up to now? Would you ever return to their worlds?
Someone once said to me, wouldn’t it be fun to write a book where Ally and Stella meet up and become friends when they’re older? I’ve never done anything about it, but I still noodle around with the idea now and then!
8. Finally, before the quickfire round, can you tell us anything about what you`re working on at the moment?
I’m currently writing the fourth in my younger, funny series, ‘St Grizzle’s’, which is based in a bonkers boarding school. I’ve also written another historical book, this time set on a Scottish island. That should be coming out early summer next year, I think. As Lola from ‘Charlie and Lola’ would say, this new book is my favourite and my best, so I hope you’ll like it too!
Hogwarts house? Collywobbles. Yes, I just made that up. Yes, I am ashamed to say I am one of the two people in the world who haven’t ever read ‘Harry Potter’. I KNOW!! #shame
Favourite bar of chocolate? Anything with nuts in. #nuts #nom.
Which animal would you most want to turn into for a day? Anything with nuts in. #nuts #nom.
Your 3 favourite reads of 2017?
• ‘Little Bits of Sky’ – S.E. Durrant (so sweet, so moving, so uplifting)
• ‘Instructions for a Second-Hand Heart’ – Tamsyn Murray (heart-wrenching story, and what a title!)
• ‘Alphonse, That is Not OK To Do’ – Daisy Hurst (I LOVE picturebooks and this one is brilliantly funny)
What are you most excited about for winter? Please, oh please, oh PLEASE let there be snow this year. I live right beside Alexandra Palace in North London, which has a huge park with excellent slopes for sledging. Everyone is out, slithering down the hill, drinking hot chocolate from the café, having the best time. And I love seeing all the dogs in the park go mad too, boinging through the snow like they’re on springs!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this interview! What are your favourite Karen McCombie books? Are there any on your TBR? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Today, I’m very pleased to welcome Sita Brahmachari for a two-way interview themed around her latest release Worry Angels , where we ask each other some questions. To try and make things as clear and non-comfusing as possible, I’ve put my questions in bold, Sita’s in italics, and both of our answers in plain text. Huge thanks to Kirstin at Barrington Stoke for asking me to host this 😊😊
Hi Sita. Welcome to Golden Books Girl!
1.What were the inspirations behind Worry Angels? Have you wanted to write something like this for a while, or is it a newer idea?
In the dedication I write that ‘Worry Angels’ is inspired by three wonderful people. One of them was a teacher at my children’s school. Her name was Margaret and she used to make papier Mache angels for the children. She is a truly creative and kind teacher who has touched the lives of generations of people and I wanted to write a story in homage to her.
The second person who inspired me was a Sand Play Therapist called Maggie. Playing in the sand isn’t only good for children and young people. I experience Sand Play Therapy while doing some research on a play, and I found it to be the most wonderful way to free up the stories, worries and anxieties that all people, young and old must learn to cope with as part of life. That’s why I set the story at ‘ The Sandcastle Support Centre.’
The third inspiration is actually called Grace, like my character. She is a young artist who I met a few years ago when I worked on my novel ‘Kite Spirit,’ which also focuses on the pressures that young people face in our society. Real life Grace has made the beautiful animation for ‘ Worry Angels’ and although she is just setting out on her career I imagine her to be much like my character Grace might have been when she was young.
Two of these inspirations I met over sixteen years ago and Grace I met five years ago. Stories very often have long fuses, they can burn for a long time in the imagination of the author. ‘Worry Angels’ has always been alight in me, waiting for its moment to be told as there is a growing awareness of anxiety in younger children.
1B – Have you had inspirational ‘ Angels’ in your life that you think will sustain you in the future? Can you see any qualities in my characters that your Angels share with mine!
I would have to say my mum, who’s got me through so many dark days, especially with my illness. I think our angels share the quality of kindness.
2. This book is for Barrington Stoke, who specialise in novels for reluctant readers and making reading easier. Did your writing process change at all as you were writing a novella, instead of a novel? What sort of things did you have to adapt?
Writing a novella is what I focus on when I set out to write a Barrington Stoke Book. Obviously you are aware from the start that the story is shorter and therefore that you have less space and time to create your character’s world. This means that every brush stroke must count and that when a character is introduced you must ensure that they live in full 3D technicolour in the reader’s imagination without burdening them with lengthy description. It’s an excellent skill for a writer to hone. It makes you really dig deep and explore what is vital and what can be stripped away. So much of writing is about giving just enough to create the imaginative space for readers to inhabit. This is the challenge I love in writing Barrington Stoke Stories and short stories in general.
I write these stories just as I would write any shorter stories. There is no difference in my approach.
2b) I believe that Barrington Stoke stories can be read by readers of all abilities. They’re just great stories. Recently I met a young student who said ‘ I’m a really good reader so my parents say I should only read classics, and even though I would like to read those books my parents would think that they are too easy for me’ . What would you say to persuade her that reading a BS book would be a good idea?
First of all, I absolutely agree with your sentiments. A book is a book is a book, if you ask me, and what age range/reading ability it’s intended for has no bearing whatsoever on it’s quality, and I like to think I’ll be reading MG and YA till I’m old and grey. If you aren’t reading Barrington Stoke books, you’re missing out on some absolutely incredible characters and stories.
3. Are the characters based on you/people you know? How did you come up with them all? I loved Amy May and Grace especially.
I have spoken about the two Margaret’s who inspired me to write Grace but in many ways I have also been inspired by teachers from my own school years. When I wrote my first novel ‘ Artichoke Hearts’ I was at a school event and an elderly lady came up to me to ask if I would sign. She was a teacher who had known me when I was ten years old she asked if I remembered her…. I did and in many ways she has stayed with me over the years – one of my Grace angels, encouraging me, giving me confidence. Just as Amy May’s father never forgets Grace…. I haven’t forgotten the teachers who helped me find the confidence to be a writer either.
Amy May grew straight out of my imagination and an awareness of how many children need to make the adjustments to changes in their families that they don’t have any power over. In Amy May I wanted to create a character who has experienced a relatable story that many children do experience, or know people who have experienced. Rima’s family experience of having to leave her country and wider family in Syria is so extreme and different to Amy May’s but their friendship also allows the two girls to explore how what they have in common is a search for security.
3b. What did you love about Amy May and Grace? What do you think the characters learn from each other in the story?
They just seemed very real, and I empathised hugely with Amy-May and Rima. I loved watching them learn about one another and become friends. Grace is someone I’d love to know. She was so reassuring and calming.
4. A big part of Worry Angels are the crafts Amy May and Rima do with Grace. Do you enjoy arts and crafts? What have some of your favourite projects been, if yes?
I am a very crafty author! I create words and stories and then I make things… or work with people who make things. My collaboration with the artist Grace who made the animation for ‘Worry Angels’ and also ‘Red Leaves’ as well as a walk in installation for ‘ Kite Spirit’ is all about exploring the stories through visual projects. I even have a patchwork storytelling quilt that I take around schools with me to explore the place in all of us where creative writing comes from. Like Grace I am a collector of small objects that I place in my quilt and use to help me talk about my stories.
I love graphic novels and illustrated novels and I am so honoured that the wonderful Jane Ray’s drawings grace the pages of ‘Worry Angels.’ We work together at Islinton Centre for Refugees and Migrants… and I think Jane has created the art room that she dreams of working in too. If I could step into her art room right now I would.
4b. How about you Amy? Do you like crafts and art? If so what do you get out of them? Would you like to visit Grace’s art room? If so what, of the activities Grace offers would be your preferred activity? Baking/ sandplay/ papier mache/ gardening/ art?
I’m afraid I’m the least artistic person in the world! (Seriously, even my stick men are deformed). I do enjoy it though when I’m not under any pressure to produce something good, so I’d love to do some art and crafts and baking with Grace. I’d love to plant pretty flowers in the garden too.
5. Amy`s mum seems to struggle with the idea of Grace`s school, which teaches mainly through art and holistic methods. What are your thoughts on schools like this?
Sometimes one dreams up the worlds that we would like to exist. The truth is that there are more and more children suffering from school anxiety and anxiety in general. I think it’s an area that needs proper attention and funding as if young people’s anxieties are not cared for they can become much more serious as they grow into teenagers and young adults. I wish that there could be a Grace and an Iman and a sandcastle support centre attached to every school in the country….and even though that is unlikely to happen in the current funding climate perhaps something of the quality of Grace’s centre might filter through into schools.
The magic of writing is that you can wave your pen-wand and make something true in a story…. I’ll keep waving!
5b) What do you think of these kind of holistic schools? In my story The Sandcastle Support Centre is for children with anxiety? What aspect of the centre do you think would be good to integrate into schools in general? How would this benefit young people?
I think these schools are fabulous, and I’d love to see them imtroduced into every school, so that children struggling for some reason could
Cheeky bonus question- Would you ever revisit these characters? I really want to know what`ll happen next!
Well strangely enough. I have been invited by Scoop Magazine to write a little off shoot story of ‘Worry Angels’ and I chose to write a story about Grace’s retirement day when everyone at the centre sets out on a day trip to….
I haven’t thought about a ‘Worry Angels’ story beyond that… but you never know… one of the characters may tap me on the shoulder at some point in the future and ask me to write their story forward from ‘Worry Angels!’
6b At what age would you like to see these characters again?
I’m not sure what age, but I’d love to see Amy-May and Rima help another child the way Grace and Iman help them in Worry Angels.
You find Sita on Twitter @sitabrahmachari and on her website here.
Thank you so much for reading? What did you think of Worry Angels? Are you a fan of Barrington Stoke? What activity would you choose in Grace’s art room?