Interviews

Interview with YA author Clare Owen

We chatted with author Clare Owen recently all about her new YA novel, Zed and the Cormorants.

Can you tell us a little about your novel, Zed and the Cormorants? What made you want to write it?

It’s a story of a young girl who moves from London to Cornwall. Zed’s dad is convinced that a fresh start and a simpler lifestyle will improve the family’s life – he even gives up his job to start an artisanal bakery – but Zed is riddled with anxiety about starting a new school and becomes increasingly convinced that she’s under attack from a flock of cormorants who live in the woods near her home.

 It’s got ghosts, mythology, romance, Cornish history, baking, environmental issues and bucket loads of teenage angst!

The inspiration came when I was walking my dogs and I saw two cormorants on the sand banks, and it struck me how poised but also how sinister they looked!  I went home, began to research them and learned how adaptable they are – they’ve been around since the dinosaurs and live in all parts of the world – but also how often they feature in mythology and literature. I’d been playing around with the idea of writing a story about a young girl struggling with anxiety, but the cormorants wouldn’t go away.  In my mind they stretched out their wings, and said, ‘If we’re good enough for The Bible, The Odyssey, Shakespeare and Milton, don’t you think you should give us a look in?’

Zed and the Cormorants is steeped in mystery, family and centres around a haunting love story that spurs on the entire book. Did you know what you wanted to include from the start, and did anything change through the course of writing it?

I knew I wanted to explore anxiety, loneliness and the oblique ways that we find to face difficult emotions and overcome them. Love needed to be a part of this: the fear of never finding it and the fear of finding it and having it taken away. I also wanted Zed to have a loving family – for that never to be an issue – but for them all to be real, flawed and struggling themselves, so they aren’t always able to give her the support that she needs.  The question was how to combine this very ‘real’ story with the more fanciful elements; how to introduce all the mythology, ways of communicating with the birds and the possibilities for making a truce. And that was where Denzil (a young man who sometimes sleeps rough in the woods) came in.  Once I’d got to grips with who he was – his particular challenges and coping strategies – then he became a kind of bridge between the two worlds. 

This book has themes of mental health, parental illness, loss, and new beginnings. Can you tell us a little about why you felt these themes were important to include? Were any difficult to write about?

All these things are part of our lives and as such they should be written about in literature for any age. The joy of writing YA is that you can tackle them head on, with characters who are hungry to learn about the world, open to self-discovery and their feelings are usually pretty close to the surface.  I didn’t find those bits hard to write, in some ways they were the easiest because they needed the least imaginative input.

Your writinghas been described as ‘Daphne Du Maurier for the 21st century’. Do you find your writing has been influenced by gothic style?

It’s funny, I never set out to write a gothic book and didn’t think I was drawn to the gothic style! I’ve never ever read Frankenstein or Dracula, and it’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve read Poe’s The Raven and du Maurier’s The Birds.  But, of course, Zed is gothic – it has mystery, suspense, foreshadowing, the supernatural and overwrought emotions. And I’ve always loved the Brontës, particularly Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and they are all about wild landscapes, hidden secrets, haunted buildings and passionate, intense love affairs.

The setting and landscape plays such a key role in this book. Did you ever think about setting it anywhere else?

No, right from the start it was always set in a particular wood near my home.  Partly because it’s where I first saw the birds that inspired the story, but also because although it’s specifically a story about a girl at war with a flock of cormorants – why they are seeking revenge and how she can make amends – it’s also about someone being forced to engage with the natural for the very first time and what they gain from that.  I needed a setting that would be alien and isolating to a city girl but also offers her headspace and access to wildlife, so that she can learn to live in harmony with it and at the same time find some peace within herself.

What’s next for you and your writing? Are there any more books on the horizon?

Last year I wrote a lot of short stories and now I’m working on a novel for adults. I’ve had to do a lot of research trips on Google Earth which has slowed me down a bit and isn’t half as much fun as spending the day away from your desk: drinking lots of coffee and lots eating lots of cake to fuel hours and hours of hours of walking round locations that may or may not be used. 

What are your top 3 tips for aspiring writers?

Read. Read. Read. As much as possible and as widely as possible and when you like something – whether it’s a description, a punchy bit of dialogue or even just the rhythm of a sentence, copy it down somewhere.  I put it in Notes on my phone.  Then when you lack inspiration, you can just dip into it and you’ll get all fired up again.

Be nosey. I don’t just mean listening to other people’s conversations (although I do this a lot, I’m afraid!) but also follow your nose. Be curious. Most of us have the internet at our fingertips, so use it.  If you have a phone, don’t just use it to scroll through social media, but use it to investigate things. Any number of questions can be answered in a ten-minute bus ride, and those questions can lead to any number of ‘what ifs’ which can lead to any number of stories.

‘Write with the handbrake off’!  I don’t know who said this, but I put it in block capitals somewhere prominent when I start any new writing project.  It’s really just a mantra to push you to the end of the first draft – because that for me is always the hardest bit.  Once you have a first draft then everything slows down, and you can spend as long as you like fiddling with one paragraph!

What are your top YA book recommendations for young people today?

I think every teenager (and probably every adult) should read All the Places I’ve Cried in Public (Holly Bourne) as it explores how easy it is to get into a toxic relationship and how painful it is to get out.

The Space Between (Meg Grehan) – a tender, lyrical novel in verse about mental anguish and coming out.

Sisters by Daisy Johnson. It isn’t marketed as YA, but it explores the dark relationship between two teenage sisters.  It’s beautifully written but very disturbing and not for the faint-hearted!

How would you sum up your novel in three words?

‘The-Birds meets Bake-off’ (ha.. that’s really cheating isn’t it?)

After working as an actor in London – performing in venues that ranged from The National Theatre to the boot of a Ford Fiesta – Clare married a boat builder and moved to Cornwall. Her short stories have been published by Mslexia, Storgy, Litro & Fairlight and in the anthology An Outbreak of Peace.  Zed and the Cormorants (Arachne Press) is her first YA novel. 

You can keep up to date with Clare by visiting her website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Zed and the Cormorants is available now and published by Arachne Press.

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine here – and they’re all completely free!

Interviews

Interview with YA author C.G. Moore

In our spring issue, we chatted with YA author C.G. Moore about his own life experiences and how they led to writing his new book, Gut Feelings. You can catch the interview in the full magazine by clicking here and scrolling down to our Spring 2021 issue.

Can you tell us more about your new YA novel Gut Feelings and how it felt to write it?

Gut Feelings tells my own story of living with a rare genetic illness known as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (or FAP for short). Wart-like lumps known as adenomas or polyps grow in the bowel and rectum and eventually they turn cancerous. The book opens with my diagnosis at eleven, then treatment, before looking at the aftermath of chronic illness. Writing Gut Feelings was cathartic but emotional. The book is incredibly personal and doesn’t hold back.

How does it feel to be able to share your story in this way?

Scary. I was terrified readers will get an insight into my deepest fears and most embarrassing moments. As someone that didn’t see their chronic illness represented in the books I read as a teenager, it was so important to put myself out there and write the story I wanted to read. While it’s been scary, it’s also been hugely cathartic and the response has been overwhelmingly positive! I’m hugely grateful to my publisher (Hazel) for believing in me and Gut Feelings.

This and your previous novel, Fall Out, deal with important topics. What do you hope readers will take from them?

I hope it will inspire readers and create more empathy for those that have had different lived experiences and challenges in their lives. Reading for empathy is so important and it’s something that fascinates me about the power of the written word.

What made you decide to write this book in verse? Did it create any challenges?

Not many people have heard of my illness and fewer truly understand how it impacts the lives of those that suffer with it. When you try to explain it, you’re trying to get as much information across as possible in the most concise manner and it’s near impossible to describe the physical, emotional and psychological impacts. It was because of this that I had the idea of writing in verse. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. It felt right. It didn’t create challenges; it created possibilities for me to explore the illness in ways I would never be able to accomplish in prose.

What books/other verse novels do you enjoy?

My favourite verse novels include The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover and Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust. Each has a different message and distinct style, but they are all beautifully immersive and engaging.

Is there anything you wish you’d known before becoming a writer?

When you’re writing with the intention to get published, you need to be so resilient and determined, but also willing to take chances, try new things and take constructive criticism. For me, I needed to learn this over time. I started writing with the intention of being published ten years before Fall Out. I needed that time to learn these lessons and wrote something that was true to me and the best story I could create. Knowing this before I became a writer would have changed my trajectory and the kind of stories I told.

Christopher (C.G. Moore) is a freelance editor and marketer. He currently lectures on the BA and MA in Publishing courses at the University of Central Lancashire. He is the author of Fall Out and Gut Feelings which are both published by UCLAN and available NOW!

Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @YAfictionados

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine here – and they’re all completely free!

Interviews

Interview with Caroline Logan

We chatted with author Caroline Logan about her YA fantasy series, The Four Treasures, in the Winter 2020 issue of PaperBound. Read on to discover more about Caroline’s books and what inspires her writing …

Can you tell us more about The Four Treasures series and what readers can expect?

A few years ago, I got an idea for a story based on Scottish legends. I read a lot of Young Adult Fantasy but hadn’t really seen mythology represented. Originally, the story was supposed to be covered over one book but once I started plotting it out, I knew it would take a series to do it justice. I immediately knew what would happen in the first and second books, but then I had to make a decision about whether it would be a trilogy or a quadrilogy. Around that time, I stumbled upon the legend of The Four Treasures (which is actually an Irish story) and since my lucky number is four, I took it as a sign and plotted the other two books. 

The first book, The Stone of Destiny, is about a quest to find a magical stone, to save the kingdom and guarantee the safety of the king. But it’s actually so much more than that and I think people are always surprised when they read it. It’s really about the main character, Ailsa, who has been shunned all of her life by superstitious neighbours. She saves a pair of selkies who convince her to help them find the stone. But, meanwhile, something terrifying is stalking Ailsa through the forests of Eilanmor. There’s friendship, romance, action, and many monsters (my favourite things to write).

Have you always wanted to become a writer? How did you start?

No, I never thought I’d become a writer. English wasn’t my strong suit in school – I was much more suited to maths, science and art. I didn’t like dissecting poetry and hated writing essays. It wasn’t until I got back into reading again that I started thinking about writing. I had a New Year’s Resolution to read a book a week. By the end of the year, I wanted to give my own story a try. 

I started by coming up with characters, a plot and by building my world. That’s the best bit of writing a book in my opinion. I watched Youtube videos on writing and read blog posts. Then I just started. I didn’t think I would ever finish and I especially didn’t think anyone would ever read it. But a few years later, here I am with one book out and another on the way!

Did you have to do a lot of research into Scottish myths and folklore, or history, to write these books?

I already knew quite a few myths but I had to dig a little deeper when writing the book. There are often different versions of the same story, so I just chose the ones I liked best. Sometimes I’ll add a twist to them, like the selkie’s water magic. Sometimes I’ll just make something up. When I was in primary school, my friends and I pretended there were bog monsters in the mud, waiting to steal your wellies, so I put them in the book. I reckon it still counts – I am Scottish after all, so I can make Scottish myths!

In terms of history, originally I was going to set the books in a certain time period, but nothing was really lining up and I wouldn’t have been able to give my characters kilts or have them eat curry. That’s why I decided to set it in a fictional land based on Scotland. I always joke that I just couldn’t be bothered researching all the history.

The main character in The Stone of Destiny, Ailsa, is treated differently from a young age because of the way she looks. Is there anything you hope readers can take from this?

I really wanted to have interesting, diverse characters to set them apart from other medieval based fantasy books. Though all my characters in book 1 are white, I hope they all have distinctive features and personalities. As we move through the books, we’ll start to meet people from different places other than Eilanmor and the cast will become even more diverse. Hopefully, it conveys the message that if you broaden your horizons and meet people from different places, with different sexualities and gender identities, and abilities, your life will be better for it.

When I was creating my main character, I wanted someone who felt like an outcast. The Changeling Mark was another myth I’d heard about and when I saw this picture of a beautiful woman with a birthmark on her face, it all just clicked into place. I think Ailsa’s struggle is something we can all identify with. I believe that everyone has the experience of feeling left out at some point in their lives, so hopefully I made a main character who was relatable and could show the reader that being yourself is better than being another face in the crowd.

What do you love most about writing? What comes next for you and your books?

I love coming up with plots and characters. I really don’t like the actual writing part that much but it’s just part of telling the story. I have a four book contract with Cranachan Publishing. The Cauldron of Life, the second in the series, was released in October. Meanwhile, I’ll be writing Book 3 which will be out in 2021.

I have a few side projects on the go, but I just don’t have the time for them right now. One is inspired by the Gorbals Vampire legend, another is a fairytale retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses set in Ancient Egypt, and the last is an adult Science Fiction Western that’s about a gang of female criminals on the hunt for treasure. Maybe when The Four Treasures Series is finished, I’ll be able to get on with those.

How will you be spending the winter season?

Playing with my dogs: Ranger and Scout. I know it’s a bit cringey, but they really are my babies. I’ll also be up to my eyes in school work. I’m a secondary biology teacher and I have a lot of senior classes this year. It’s been a challenge working through the pandemic but I’m so glad to see my students again. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in months.

Writing prompt:

You explore a hidden cave and discover two portals. One will take you to a beautiful place with a terrifying secret. The other will take you to a dangerous place with a great treasure.

Write about which one you would choose and what you see when you step through the door.

We’d love to read what you come up with. Send your stories here: paperboundmagazine@outlook.com

We may even print it in a future issue!

Caroline is a YA fantasy author. Her debut novel, The Stone of Destiny, is the first in The Four Treasures series. Caroline is a high school biology teacher who lives in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, with her husband. Before moving there, she lived and worked in Spain, Tenerife, Sri Lanka and the West Coast of Scotland. She graduated from The University of Glasgow with a bachelor’s degree in Marine and Freshwater Biology. In her spare time she tries to ski and paddle board, though she is happiest with a good book, a cup of tea and her dogs.

You can keep up to date with Caroline by visiting her website, or by following her on Twitter and Instagram.

The Stone of Destiny and The Cauldron of Life are both available to purchase now!

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine here – and they’re all completely free!

Interviews

Interview with author Damaris Young

We spoke to author Damaris Young about her new novel The Creature Keeper in our Winter 2020 issue. Read on to discover more, or head over to our issues page to read the interview inside PaperBound Magazine itself.

Tell us a little about your new book The Creature Keeper. What made you decide to write it?

When animal lover Cora learns that Direspire’s mysterious owner is looking for a new Creature Keeper, she realises this might just be the chance she’s looking for to save her parents’ farm. But Direspire Hall is a spooky place, and the strange creatures who live there are nothing like Cora is expecting. As Cora settles into her new life, it soon becomes clear that Direspire has its secrets, and that somebody will do whatever it takes to keep them…

Growing up, I was always more comfortable around animals, and sometimes I struggled to talk to people. I wanted to write a story about a young girl who, just like me, feels a connection to animals, and send her on a journey of self-discovery and adventure, where she learns to find her voice.

What does your typical writing day look like?

The first thing I do is take my two dogs for a long walk near the river, which helps wake my brain up. When I get home, I’ll make breakfast, toast and a cup of coffee, and take it up to my home office. I usually write for a few hours, before finishing off the day by catching up on admin. I send out author letters to schools, sign bookplates, write articles for blog posts, and prepare for virtual workshops. I love connecting with schools and readers, it is one of the best parts of the job.

Your book The Creature Keeper has been described as having a ‘creepy gothic setting’. How important is setting to your writing?

The setting is incredibly important to my writing and I will treat it as a character, with its own quirks, personality and different moods. In The Switching Hour, the setting of the drought-stricken land became the antagonist that thwarted Amaya on her mission to save her brother. In The Creature Keeper, Direspire Hall is found near the coast and ‘The sea, the one that bordered our part of the world, wasn’t like any other. It had a mind of its own. Ma said it had eyes and ears and even teeth, and that it would gobble you up if you weren’t careful.’ The setting is wild and unpredictable, not unlike the creatures Cora discovers in Direspire hall.

What other middle grade novels do you love? What is it about them that you enjoyed?

I’m currently reading When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten, set on a small Caribbean island. I love the strong sense of place, and the clever, and perceptive protagonist, Clara. I’m also a huge fan of the author Kirsty Applebaum, and her new story Troofriend is excellent! It follows a robot manufactured to be a child’s companion, and the curious and clever robot stole my heart from the very first page.

You’ve completed a writing course; how valuable was it to have people to share your writing with?

Being able to share your work with other writers and critique each other’s stories is invaluable. Writing a book is tough, and it is easy to lose motivation. Having other writers who support and encourage you is essential, as is being able to celebrate each other’s successes!

What other things do you enjoy when you’re not writing books?

I’ve recently started to learn cross-stitch, and it’s a great way to relax your mind! This year has been particularly challenging for lots of people’s mental health and being able to do something creative and relatively simple, like cross-stitch, has helped me.

If you could share one piece of writing advice with our readers, what would it be?

Don’t compare yourself and your writing to anyone else. When I started on my writing journey I often felt like a chameleon as I tried to emulate the writers I admired. I wasn’t allowing myself to find my voice as a writer, and I caused myself no end of frustration when I couldn’t get it ‘right’.

Once I stopped comparing myself to others (although full disclosure, I do still sometimes find myself slipping into those bad habits) I began to celebrate what made my writing unique.

Writing prompt:

In my new book The Creature Keeper, Cora looks after extraordinary creatures that are extremely rare. When writing your story, imagine your character comes across a rare or endangered creature. What is it? Write an adventure, helping the creature get back to its natural habitat.

We’d love to read what you come up with. Send your stories here: paperboundmagazine@outlook.com

We may even print it in a future issue!

Damaris studied on the Writing for Young People MA at Bath Spa University, where she wrote her debut novel, The Switching Hour. She is passionate about inspiring and empowering young readers with knowledge and action about climate change, as well as encouraging a love of the natural world with her stories. You can catch up with Damaris on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

The Switching Hour and The Creature Keeper are published by Scholastic UK and both books are available now!