Welcome to the ninety-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with children’s author Miranda Newboult. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello, Miranda. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Miranda: I came to writing through curiosity. I wanted to see if I could take a story or an idea and spin it into a book. I studied English at university and have been a lifelong reader and so my pedigree was as a consumer of literature rather than as a provider such as a journalist, as many authors seem to be.
Morgen: But practically every writer I’ve spoken to has said “read, read, read”.
Miranda: I’m not sure of my ‘writer credentials’ per se, but I do find that when inspiration strikes the only way I can manage it is to consign it to paper. I am nagged and harassed to write when this happens and make myself find time to satisfy these voices. So, the writing is sometimes sporadic! In my defence, I am a busy mum with young children and a demanding professional career so anything extra that is for me has to be fitted in!
Morgen: But it’s amazing how we can when we have to (I do for NaNoWriMo and StoryADay). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Miranda: The main genre I have been drawn to is children’s fiction, for readers 8-12ish, but I mull over concepts for adult fiction as well. I find the Junior School age fascinating as it is the start of emotional intelligence, working things through, and taking responsibility. I think children have the capacity to be very brave, independent, creative and have a unique way of looking at things that is amazing. We need to recognise this and nurture it, not molly-coddle our children and stifle their development through an over-developed sense of parental protection. Things happen to kids and we need to listen to them to understand how they make sense of the world, even if their version does not fit our perceived model of the world.
Morgen: Absolutely. Molly-coddling forbidden. Another phrase I often here is to “not write down to children” and they are sharper than we sometimes think (or give them credit for). I don’t have children so don’t write for children (not the only reason)… although I do have a 10-year-old Jack Russell cross who thinks he’s a child. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Miranda: My first book was published in July 2011 so it’s early days. Initially it is only available online but I am doing some book signings shortly so I will see my book live in the flesh in bookstores shortly – which I think will be overwhelming.
Morgen: Oh well done, I hope that goes well. You mentioned book signings, how much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Miranda: Again, it is early days. I am published by a small publishing house so it’s all hands on deck when it comes to spotting and following up opportunities.
Morgen: And often is for larger publishers… unless you’re a large name with them of course. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Miranda: I have not entered any competitions yet but I do think they are a good mechanism to raise the profile of the book and the author.
Morgen: It is kudos on the CV especially when the competition is one that people have heard of. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Miranda: No, I don’t have an agent as I had a direct introduction to the publisher (Tannbourne Ltd). I think that agents can fulfil a very useful role but I perceive that the market is so competitive, and agents and publishers are under too much pressure to deliver results. This means that so many wonderful pieces of work never get the chance to see the light of day as big names and formulaic work seem to be a safer option within the industry.
Morgen: It does (“formulaic work”) and a lot of top names (Philip Pullman being one I read recently) are getting fed up with it. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Miranda: I do read eBooks and my book is available as an eBook.
Morgen: Yay! What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Miranda: Being accepted is a huge thrill and one that grows rather than diminishes as the publishing process unfolds.
Morgen: although no doubt a learning curve too (a nice one). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Miranda: I am working on a story written from a young boy’s perspective a year after the death of his mother. The story is about how deals with the absence of his mother and his relationship with his father as they move past the grief and into the next phase of their lives together. There is a shortage of books written in this genre with a boy as the protagonist rather than a girl. As the mother of two boys I can confirm that they are actually thinking, feeling, rational beings with emotions and, as such, have a voice – something unrepresented in our society today.
Morgen: I saw the film ‘Super 8’ the other day and both the protagonists had missing mothers; and a Romeo vs Juliet plot (the fathers were sworn enemies), a very good film actually. Do you manage to write every day, Miranda? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Miranda: When I can write, I tend to write at least 500 words a day and find about 3000 is my maximum.
Morgen: 500 words a day is 182,500 so if even did that it would be amazing. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Miranda: My take on this is that you have to have something of worth to say. So, if you are blocked then the story is not sufficiently formed in your conscious or sub-conscious. It does not help to force this voice, but to allow it to resolve itself and emerge when ready. Of course, I am sure this is the luxury of those who do not write full time for a living!
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Miranda: A bit of both really- there is a general direction but the details and mechanisms are sometimes not mapped out from the very start – if it feels more authentic to change then that’s right for that story.
Morgen: I’m the same and I’m finding most writers are too. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Miranda: The people have to seem authentic and recognisable, people the reader can relate to. So, my characters tend to have everyday names and behave in ways that are accessible to the reader – regardless of the reader’s own background and circumstances. Emma, the protagonist in my novel Emma’s Stormy Summer, is a very middle class girl from a stable, happy background and a great childhood. Until her world is rocked by change – and the point of this is that things happen to all families, not just disadvantaged ones. If she came from an extreme end of the spectrum of society it would be easy to say ‘oh, well, that’s because she comes from XXXX background’ where the truth is very different – children from every tier can be affected by changes that rock their world.
Morgen: Absolutely. Not sure why but The Princess Diaries spring to mind (I’m probably way off as I’ve not read them and only seen a trailer for the movie). Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Miranda: My mum.
Morgen: My writing’s too dark for mine but I’m sure she’d like yours (she likes upbeat). Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Miranda: Very little editing – it just flows when I am engaged with the writing process.
Morgen: Another yay. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Miranda: I use a computer as I am far too lazy to write it out twice.
Morgen: I’m 50:50. I find a computer much quicker as my handwriting is now fairly slow (by comparison) but writing by hand then transferring to a computer is also my first-stage edit. What sort of music do you listen to when you write?
Miranda: None, it would be too much of an intrusion.
Morgen: Most interviewee say that. I stick with classical to have background noise; plus the dog likes it (he’s asleep in my arms, of course making typing this really simple :)). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Miranda: I have written in both third and first person and the appeal is different. First person is more intimate and has more emotional clout attached as you are in that person’s head but it is also more restrictive than third person as you are restricted by the character’s self-perception in a way you are not when writing in the third person where you can also be a commentator and a fly on the wall. I have never tried second person!
Morgen: It’s great, but then I only write adult fiction so may not work with children’s fiction, but then I’m pretty sure that Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone did for their adventure books and look how that turned out. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Miranda: I haven’t used them but see that for some stories they have a place.
Morgen: I used to avoid them like the clichéd plague but have used one (prologue) so far which may or may not stay before it’s released onto the world. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Miranda: Not as yet!
Morgen: Let’s hope that continues. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Miranda: The biggest surprise is just how much I find myself immersed in the characters and the process of writing – stopping writing is like emerging out of a trance!
Morgen: Me too I love it and when they take over so I can switch off. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Miranda: Do it for you, not for the rewards. Welcome criticism but recognise you cannot please everyone – and be aware that the green eyed monster is a rampant beast!
Morgen: Yes, some would say the rewards aren’t great but it’s not always about the money (often?). What do you like to read?
Miranda: I read a wide range of genres but special mention should go to Mark Haddon and Tony Parsons on one level and Jill Mansell on another.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Miranda: Working and Parenting – to small children and a wide and ever growing collection of animals.
Morgen: In a contrast to me (see aforementioned ‘one dog = one canine child’ :)). Where can we find out about you and your work, Miranda?
Miranda: You can find me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/MirandaNewboult) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=604225866) or through my publishers, Tannbourne Ltd (http://www.tannbourne.com).
Morgen: I had a Facebook profile with lots of numbers and KS Brooks pointed me to Account Settings / Username and was able to change mine… thanks Kat. Finally, what do you think the future holds for a writer?
Miranda: I think the publishing industry is going through a technological and financial revolution but I desperately hope that we don’t lose sight of the main purpose it serves in pursuit of the bottom line. It would be a tragedy to homogenise what is published to such an extent that we lose the variety, originality, creativity and range of writing that is out there. We have to engage each new generation of readers, catch them young and give them a life-long love of reading before it is lost irretrievably. Writing should be thought-provoking and should linger with the reader long after the book has been finished – celebrity autobiographies and formulaic genre writing which is disposable does not satisfy this need.
Morgen: Hopefully not to the extent that it has been (a glimmer on the horizon: there’s one celebrity ‘author’ that we can’t sell in the charity shop I help out at for even 20p and her books end up going to the 5p-a-kilo man). Thank you Miranda, and good luck with your ‘tour’.
Miranda Newboult grew up in East Sussex and now lives five miles from where she was born. She spent most of her childhood with her nose in a book but did manage to find time to go to school at Roedean and then do a degree in English and Related Literature at York University. She now works for Canterbury Christ Church University as a Consultant in Leadership and Management Development and spends the rest of her time looking after her young family and an ever-increasing number of animals. Emma’s Stormy Summer is Miranda’s first novel.
Miranda says: “When I was growing up I read books all the time but never dreamed I would write one myself. Books were my escape rather than my reality. I was a child who enjoyed school and my most inspirational teachers were those that taught English and shared my passion for people who existed both on paper and in the imagination. I am not a fussy reader, many different genres catch my attention, and when I start a book, I always finish it, totally immersed in the story. When I started to write, I experienced something similar. I was nagged and harassed by the story, only finding peace once I had committed the words to paper – I was being pestered to tell the tale. I hope I continue to be for a long time.”
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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