I recently read and really enjoyed Liz Kessler's A Year Without Autumn (which won my MG Book of the Month award for February.) As you can imagine, I was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed!
1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
Generally girls, although it would be lovely to think that there are a few boys in there too. They will be around nine or ten years old - particularly for the Emily Windsnap and Philippa Fisher books - although they might stretch as far as fourteen for A Year Without Autumn. Fun loving, they probably have a best friend who they spend all their time with, and they have a good imagination and have lots of dreams. (And even though they think they might be getting a bit old now, they probably still believe in mermaids and fairies.)
2. In A Year Without Autumn, Jenni moves forward in time and is left frantically trying to go back. Is there any period in your own life you’d like to revisit, either to change something or just to relive it?
Wow. Interesting question! I definitely wouldn't want to change anything, because even though there are all sorts of things I wouldn't mind having done differently, I'd be worried that I might end up somewhere else. I really like where I am now and wouldn't want to risk not ending up here! But if I could just relive it…Gosh, d'you know what? I don't think I want to do that either. I'm happy to stick with my rose tinted specs. If I relived some of the good times, i might find that they weren't quite as good as I remember them!
Great point! I keep buying childhood classics on DVD - and sometimes nostalgia is definitely better than actually experiencing something again. (Except for Mysterious Cities of Gold, which is still wonderful after all these years...)
3. I loved the friendship between Jenni and Autumn and was desperately hoping that Jenni could save it. What’s your favourite fictional pairing (or group) of friends?
Well I have to say the Secret Seven. I was a huge fan as a child, and they inspired me and my friends to go out hunting for mysteries and adventures everywhere.
Interesting choice... I read the Secret Seven books growing up but always preferred the Famous Five and the wonderful Five Find-Outers, as well as the kids from the 'Adventure' series. (I did read some stuff that wasn't Enid Blyton - I think!)
4. Do you listen to music when writing? If so, what was the soundtrack to ‘A Year Without Autumn’?
When I'm writing, I either have to have silence or very specific music. Each book does tend to have its own soundtrack and they vary a lot. I originally wrote A Year Without Autumn over five years ago, so I have to confess I can't actually remember what its soundtrack was! But it will probably have been something a bit moody and dramatic, and largely instrumental rather than very wordy. I'm not very good with a lot of lyrics while I'm writing - other people's words get in the way of mine! The book I've just finished writing is a mermaid book set in the arctic, and the soundtrack for that (mainly lots of beautiful Norwegian choral music) has been at the heart of my writing and inspired me all the way along.
5. I love the way you engage with your fans over Facebook and Twitter. How important do you think social media is to an author today, and does it get distracting when you should be writing?
That's really nice of you to say, as I do feel that I put quite a lot into this kind of thing, and it feels important to me. I have to say, I think that social media is pretty crucial for any author who wants to raise their profile and stay current today. For me, Facebook and Twitter are very different. On Facebook, my page is all about my readers - and quite often their parents too. I love the interaction I have on this page and I feel that I have a very loyal and lovely group of people over there. Twitter is different; that's more about the writing community in general - peers, rather than 'fans'. Both of these platforms have led to some lovely things for me (including this interview!) which I would never have come across without them. I don't find that they get in the way of work that much. My method of working has always been 'work a bit, faff a bit' so they slot quite comfortably into the 'faff' periods!
Really interesting to hear your thoughts, and I definitely agree there's a huge difference between Twitter and Facebook.
6. You used to work for Cornerstones, the editorial advisory agency, running Kid’s Corner there. Do you think that experience has helped your own writing?
Absolutely. I usually have no idea if something I've written is any good or not until my editor tells me! But I feel very confident in my opinions of other people's writing. So when you are reading other people's manuscripts and writing reports on what they can do to improve their books, you often spot things that you hadn't realised you do as well. Once you've seen it in someone else's work, you quite often have a bit of an 'Aha!' moment about your own. Also, i do think it helped me to distance myself a tiny bit from my own work in order to edit it. Sometimes I've printed out a manuscript I'm working on and tried to con my brain that it's from a Kids' Corner client so that I can look at it more dispassionately.
7. What advice would you give to authors just starting out?
I could say so much, but I think I'll give you three tips to be going on with. One of them would be to join a writing group or writing class or writing community of some sort. It's too easy to let it slide if no one's watching, but if you know that a group of people are expecting you to deliver your next chapter and will give you feedback on it, it gives you focus and motivation. Another would be to try to commit yourself to something fairly regular. That might be that you put aside one afternoon a week, or it might be that you set your alarm half an hour earlier each day and use that time to write. But whatever it is, make it realistic and right for you. I find that writing tends to flow more easily when you keep in touch with it regularly. And thirdly I'd say learn how to take criticism. Find out whose opinion you value; don't just show your writing to anyone and everyone, seek out the ones who get what you're trying to do. And then be open to what they say about your work. If you agree with it, keep working at it. If you don't agree with it, stick with your gut instincts. It's your story at the end of the day, so stay true to it, whilst being open to genuine help. A tricky balance, but a very useful one to master!
Fab tips - thank you!
8. What do you enjoy most about writing? What would you rather not do at all?
What I enjoy most is when I am right in the middle of a book and it's there with me all the time, with fresh ideas coming at me every day, and lots of moments where little plot points come together. That's when I'm really buzzing. What I would rather not do is have almost constant back/neck/shoulder pains from sitting at a desk so much!
9. I thought your ‘Is It Worth It’ formula was brilliant! Dare I ask what the numbers would be for this interview? (Notice I left this question until nearly the end in case you work out that it’s NOT worth it!)
Well I've just done a quick calculation and I came out with 4 on the 'Benefits' side and 1 on the 'Effort' side, so YAY - it was worth it! :)
I'm relieved to hear it!
10. What's next for Liz Kessler?
I've just finished writing Emily Windsnap and the Land of the Midnight Sun, which comes out in September. And my first early reader, Poppy the Pirate Dog (inspired by my Dalmatian) comes out in June. And any day now I will be hearing back from my editor on my second time slip book, North of Nowhere. So I guess editing that will probably be the next step, followed by starting to think about the third time slip book. And hopefully in between, meeting lots more lovely people on Facebook and Twitter who invite me to do interviews and ask lots of interesting questions like these ones! Thank you for having me :)
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Liz! I'll have to take a look at Emily Windsnap - and certainly looking forward to the other time-slip books! Best wishes; I hope they're all huge successes.