Today I’m delighted to be interviewing fellow indie author, Wendy Storer. Wendy writes fiction for teens, inspired by real life. She is interested in the human drama, the stories which tug at the heart strings and the amazing resilience of people who battle through desperate situations to come out the other side, happier. She hopes her stories will leave readers with a sense of hope and expectation that life can get better, even when the chances look slim. In the past she has worked in all sorts of jobs, often with children, and lived in many places. She now lives in Cumbria and, as well as writing books, Wendy teaches creative writing to adults and children, and is the proud owner of Magic Beans, (a small literary consultancy). Her novel, Bring Me Sunshine, was runner up in the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition 2012/13.
Jane: Welcome, Wendy. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Wendy: Until I discovered novel writing, I was always the square peg in a round hole. I tried my hand at lots of jobs and, although I came close to ‘loving what I do’ with teaching and hypnotherapy, it was always a case of squeezing myself into work mode, rather than falling comfortably into my day. I didn’t used to be much of a reader so, although I wrote lots – short stories, letters, diaries, and occasional poetry – the idea of writing a novel never even occurred to me. And then one day I discovered a book called The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson and I was blown away. She had written a story I wanted to write, and I didn’t know people could write stories like that. Sounds bonkers now, but it really had a big impact on me. That’s when I took up reading big time, and decided to give novel writing a try.
Jane: What is it that led you to writing fiction for young adults? Have you ever been tempted to experiment with other genres?
Wendy: When I started writing novels, I was teaching in a school for children with behavioural problems and they – the children – inspired me. They’d had such tough lives and awful experiences it was no wonder they were difficult to handle, but scratch the surface and hiding underneath were big personalities. I used to think that if they could let go of all those bad things which had been visited on their lives, all those malign influences and skewed beliefs, and use their big personalities for good, they had the potential to lead amazing lives. So I wrote about a kid who carried a bag of rocks around with her, and how these rocks represented memories from her past, but how they weighed her down. Eventually of course, she is faced with a dilemma and has to choose to let them go. My first attempt was a good story, but very badly written and much grittier and heartbreakingly real than I write now. It wasn’t right for a young audience, and so after much reworking (like, a dozen rewrites or more) that story finally made it out there as Where Bluebirds Fly.
I have since branched out, and I’m now trying to write for women. Writing about real life experiences, adventures, and emotions is really the only thing I am interested in. The human heart and mind are more magical to me than anything.
Jane: Can I ask, what are the key challenges when writing for children and young adults?
Wendy: The biggest challenge is getting inside that young mind and writing something he or she can relate to. Of course, I was once a child and I can remember a lot of my own experiences, but children’s experiences today are different to what they were all those years ago. So adults who write for children need to spend time with their audience. They need to listen to what they say, look at what they do, and know how to speak their language. And most importantly, they have to understand how they feel. When you write for children you have to be so much more conscious of your audience, and the effect your writing will have.
Jane: You live in Cumbria. I make no secret of the fact that it’s one of my favourite places in all the world. How does your environment influence your writing?
Wendy: When I am out walking my dogs, I mull over stories and characters and let ideas come to me in these quiet times and I often return from a walk energised and ready to write. More specifically, there are many scenes taken directly from a woodland walk, or a view, or a something in the physical environment. Bring Me Sunshine is set in Kendal; Daisy (the protagonist) lives here, all the action takes place here – including a scene in the famous Torchlight Procession – and of course the weather is also a feature. If you came to Kendal you would be able to walk through Daisy’s life and spend a day in her shoes.
Jane: With the number of self-published books increasing by 59% last year alone, it is really difficult for authors to make their books stand out. How do you go about this?
Wendy: Yes, it’s difficult to make your books stand out, but I don’t really try very hard if I am honest. I have a website, and a blog, Twitter, Facebook and Google+ … and so on, but the whole social media thing is quite distracting from doing the things I love. I am sure I could try harder! Some professional marketing would be very nice please if anyone would like to take me on as a project!
Jane: You have published two novels, but it is Bring Me Sunshine that was nominated by readers as a recommended read in the Guardian’s Self-publishing Showcase. Can you tell us a little more about what readers can expect?
Wendy: Bring me Sunshine is the story of Daisy, (15) who finds herself caring for a Dad with early onset Alzheimer’s, and a younger brother. Her dreams of becoming a drummer are put on hold, friendships suffer and school work is missed. And then an old friend – Dylan – comes back into her life, and Daisy realises she can’t hide her problems forever. It’s kind of a first-love story, but more than that it’s a story about how to live and be happy when the going gets tough. People who’ve read it tell me it’s very uplifting, and lots of them admit to crying over it. Although it’s a YA novel, it’s also been very popular with adults, and I think this is why it made the Guardian list.
Jane: What were the key factors that influenced your decision to become an indie author?
Wendy: The single key factor was that I won a twitter fiction competition, run by Writers’ & Artists’, and the prize was a place on their Self Publishing in the Digital Age conference. I came away from that feeling inspired and from that day there was no looking back.
Jane: I also self published after attending the Writers’ & Artists’ conference in 2011! I returned this year to remind me how far I’d come in the space of 12 months.
Do you think agents are vital to an author’s success?
Wendy: I had an agent for a few years and she was terrifically helpful in that she gave me some really useful feedback about my writing. I honestly do owe her a debt of gratitude because she helped me develop as a writer. (Thank you Eve White). But bottom line, she didn’t manage to place me with a publisher (not through want of trying) and I didn’t want to wait any longer. I’ve had success since I left Eve. Other authors seem to manage without ever having an agent, so no, not vital, but a good agent is definitely useful.
Jane: What are you working on at the moment?
Wendy: Oh, I am so busy at the moment it’s crazy. I am working on edits for my first women’s novel, and this is my main project. But, I also have some rewrites of my third YA novel, How to be Lucky, crying out for attention, plus I rather recklessly started a new YA story in the summer because when the idea came to me I couldn’t wait! (But that’s kind of on hold just now, waiting in the wings for a clear stretch.) More recently I have started writing another women’s novel with a friend, just because that seemed like a good idea at the time too. I would prefer not to work on more than one thing at a time.
Jane: You only ever get the luxury of working on one thing at a time with your first novel. After that, it’s always a juggling act.
What is your ‘writing routine’ – if such a thing exists?
Wendy: My preferred routine is to get up early, and do a couple of hours before I walk the dogs. I’ll fit in any other writing I can between other commitments (teaching and my Magic Beans clients), but as long as I’ve done my early morning stint, I feel productive and happy.
Jane: Do you work to a set word-count?
Wendy: No. I’ve tried, but my creative brain doesn’t work like that.
Jane: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Wendy: A bit of both. I’m tempted to have a go at that Snowflake method, which is so organised, but I also like the haphazardness of taking an idea for a test drive and seeing where I end up.
Jane: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Wendy: Oh, yes – I have written about six or seven complete novels so far – which really aren’t good enough to publish – but it’s just possible that I’ll dig one or two of them up and give them the kiss of life. The trouble is, there are so many stories to tell and not enough days to write. I’ll probably just keep coming up with new ideas and develop some of those instead.
Jane: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Wendy: Write – even if you write rubbish, (and we all do), it’s better than writing nothing. You will get better.
Jane: What do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
Wendy: I like to read books with great big heartfelt stories. Books I’ve read and enjoyed recently includes The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell, A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Kissing the Rain by Kevin Brooks…
I’d recommend any of those books, and also anything by Kate Hanney if you like real life gritty fiction, and Katie Hayoz if you like a little bit of paranormal dripped into real life. Kate and Katie are two friends of mine, who both write superbly. It’s a shame they didn’t make the Guardian readers’ recommended list because they both deserve more recognition for their books.
As a teenager, I loved Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger and I read a lot of Thomas Hardy.
(Hardy’s inspiration for ‘Tess’ taken by Jane in Bere Regis)
Jane: Regardless of genre, what are the elements that you think make a great novel?
Wendy: A really strong narrative voice is very important, and characters I care about; characters who leap off the page and shout in your face, “Look at ME!” Beyond that, a seamless plot, real life, emotion and a hopeful resolution.
Jane: Is there a phrase or quote about writing that you particularly like?
Wendy: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemingway
Jane: Where can we find you when you’re not writing?
Wendy: Walk dogs, eat peanut butter, dream of a glittering career as an actor, laugh as frequently as possible. I’m also very good at cooking gluten free cakes.
Jane: The publishing industry recognised in 2003 that reading as a pastime was in steady decline and that for some, book buying and reading had ‘little relevance to their lives’. How do you respond to that?
Wendy: *shrugs* It’s a shame. Maybe we can change all that by writing great books?
Jane: Wendy, thank you for taking time out to take part in this interview and I wish you all of the very best with all of your projects. Where can readers find out more about you?
My website – http://www.wendystorer.ws/
My blog – http://wendystorer.blogspot.co.uk/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/WendyStorer
Google + – https://plus.google.com/u/0/+WendyStorer/
You can read the opening chapter of Bring Me Sunshine at my website – here
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