What was your favourite children’s book as a child?The first book I really fell in love with was Elizabeth Goudge’s Little White Horse. I was enthralled by the mystical world and still to this day long for a circular bedroom. I couldn’t wait until my daughter was old enough to read it, but sadly it didn’t speak to her like it had to me. If anything it highlighted how much children’s literature has moved on. Contemporary kids need page turning action and humour, sadly mysteriously appearing sugar biscuits just aren’t enough anymore.
What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?That’s a toughie. It’s a toss-up between His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, Twilight and Mr Gum. Can I have all of them as equal favourites? Please?
What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?It’s the escapism. Good YA and children’s fiction creates a world of fun, magic and mystery. Who doesn’t want to be transported to another world on an adventure. You can sign me up now!
Why did you start writing for children?To start with I was just writing – without any audience in mind at all. Short stories, flash fiction, just writing for writing’s sake. I didn’t define it as adults, childrens or YA, and with hindsight that was very liberating. After some success with the short stories I thought I’d try a novel, and then I had to pigeon hole my writing. As I’ve written a story about 12 year olds I suppose it must be mid-grade, even though adults and teens are enjoying it too. To be honest I don’t find categorising books very helpful. Especially as I love all the books for 8 – 12 year olds and the YA stuff, even though I’m dangerously older than that. I know this categorisation needs to be done, but really I just see it as writing something that I would like to read – and I hope everyone from 8 to 108 will enjoy it too.
What made you want to write Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost?My daughter was in Year 5 or 6 and doing evacuees at school. Being an avid reader myself I was keen that she read Goodnight Mr Tom to support her studies. She was unimpressed. She point blank refused and stuck to reading the fast paced adventures of Alex Rider. (I should have realised I was in for trouble when she hadn’t liked the Little White Horse!)
At the time I was reading Kate Mosses’ Labyrinth. I was enjoying the time slip novel and thought children may find that a more palatable way to digest historical fiction. If I could get a contemporary adventure story to intertwine with a historical novel, in this case evacuees, I could have a winning formula. Parents and teachers would like it because it would support the school curriculum, and children would like it because it was a modern story with a 12 - 13 year old protagonist they could relate to. I could link the two stories by having the ghost of the evacuee and Callum’s Grandad appear in both stories – and if this worked I could take the idea forward to any period, depending on where the KS2 History Syllabus decided to go.
What is your favourite aspect of writing for children?I love the humour that you can build in, and creating the alternative world. In this instance I also really enjoyed playing with the two parallel story lines so that they mirrored each other, highlighting similarities and differences between the eras. I found the most difficult part of the process getting the two protagonists voices right, so that the reader knew instinctively which time frame they were reading about.
Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost is part set in Summer 2014 and part set during WWII, following evacuee Jim, How much research did you have to do, and what is the challenges of writing the historical element?I found plenty of reference material on WWII and evacuees. The BBC History Archive was very useful and I got hold of a couple of autobiographies written by people who had been evacuated to Cornwall. My favourite source document was a family history written by my uncle, Jack Holmes. My family ran a B&B and a market garden business in Mousehole around that time. Also one of my great uncles was lost at sea in 1942 in St Michael’s Bay, and there were detailed records of that. It all helped me form a pretty clear picture of Mousehole during WWII.
You have published Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost, yourself, what are the challenges and benefits you have found with self-publishing?I had originally hoped to be traditionally published. The manuscript was picked up by a literary agent very quickly and I was convinced a lucrative publishing deal would follow – but I may have been a little naive! My agent spent five months trying to get a traditional publisher and despite coming close a couple of times it wasn’t to be. In March this year she came back to me and suggested that I move on to the next novel and forget this one, or self-publish it and see what happened. So very rashly I announced I would do it myself and self-publish. I knew the book would sell well over the summer holidays, so if I was going to do it I wanted it out before the schools broke up for the summer. I made the decision to self-publish in early April and set the date of the book launch for the middle of June. It was a very busy two and a half months!
I soon realised the term ‘self-published’ (or ‘independently published’ as some call it) covers a myriad of sins. I looked at several different packages from companies that wrapped up all the various parts of the process and charge the author for the privilege, to doing everything through Amazon and being tied in with them. But I wanted to have total control over my book, and I soon realised I could only get that by doing it all myself. So I purchased my own ISBN numbers and set up a publishing company – Woodside White Books. I sourced my own cover designer, proof editor, and printer, and I had the manuscript professionally formatted for paperback and e book. I launched the book in my home town of Beaconsfield and in Cornwall, at Geevor Tin Mine, where part of the story is set. That was two months ago, it’s now stocked in all the independent bookshops in Cornwall, and nationally through Waterstones, Amazon and many wonderful independent bookshops. I’ve even had to order a second print run already.
There are several downsides to self-publishing. The first is having to differentiate yourself from those vanity published books that have given the business a bad name, and the second is not having a marketing department. I’ve found that if I give a book to a book seller or librarian and if I can get them to read it, they really get behind the whole project and are very happy to help me get the book out there. For example, I gave a copy to the staff in Waterstones in High Wycombe, they loved it and have had me in to do a book signing, I used this to get onto the Waterstones system and then I pushed it into other branches of Waterstones through the Cornwall connection. I’m also doing a reading at my local library as part of their summer holiday activity programme and talking to various writing groups about my experience. I’m setting up school visits and speaking at literary festivals in the autumn - the marketing is hard work, but without it no one is going to know about my book, and it won’t sell.
The other difficulties with self-publishing that I have found are not having a huge team to check and double check everything, and bringing that wealth of experience of the business that I assume the traditional publishers have. I have had to make do with my own research and my own efforts. And of course cost – the risk of ending up out of pocket is huge. The more you push the book sales, the more it costs you. I am starting to recoup my fixed costs now, but very very slowly.
However, despite all of that I can honestly say I am loving learning about the self-publishing process. I have total control over the finished book, the cover, where it’s stocked and how it’s sold and ultimately I will be solely responsible for its success or failure. It’s much more than just seeing the book in print – it’s starting a new business. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is prepared to put the work in and take it seriously – the process itself is a great adventure, and who doesn’t want to go on an adventure – you can sign me up now!
Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost, by AC Hatter is available from selected bookshops. Her website is www.achatter.co.uk