Category Archives: An Interview with…

Special Guest: Q & A with Lorraine Gregory

I am thrilled to have Lorraine Gregory as a special guest on my blog today to celebrate the launch of her latest novel, Interdimensional Explorers.

Lorraine has had various jobs over the years including school dinner lady, chef and restaurant manager but she has always had a secret desire to be a writer. She writes middle grade fantasy, with zany characters, which zip off on adventures, fighting monsters and evil villains.

Interdimensional Explorers is the first in a brand-new sensationally spacey, action-packed adventure. Nothing exciting ever happens on twelve-year-old Danny’s estate. That is until he falls through a locker in his grandad’s workshop and finds himself in an Interdimensional Lost Property Office! And – even weirder – his new boss is a giant purple squid on a segway.

Now Danny, best mate Modge and annoying cousin Inaaya find themselves in charge of returning alien items to all corners of the universe. But someone – or something – is determined to stop them. And there’s NOTHING these evil aliens won’t stop at to achieve complete multi-dimensional domination, even trapping Danny and his friends on a planet a million light years away from Earth.

Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for… the interview.


Hi Lorraine,

Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed on my blog on the day of Interdimensional Explorers release, Thursday 8th June 2023.

The multiverse has been something that has fascinated and inspired me since I used to watch Sliders as a child, so when I heard about your latest book Interdimensional Explorers I just had to learn more about it.

So to start, please tell us a little about yourself and the inspiration for your book, Interdimensional Explorers.

Hi Anita, thanks for inviting me on your blog. I’m a mixed race kid brought up on a council estate and I never saw myself in books growing up. I wanted to give kids like me a story – not an issue story – but an amazing sci fi adventure.

Why did you decide to write a book about the multiverse for children?

Having a multiverse gives me so many options and opportunities for different worlds and ideas. It allows me to play around with world building as much as I like which is what I love to do. At the same time I hope it will spark children’s imaginations and encourage them to explore more sci fi.

What comes first for you the plot, or the characters, and why?

It’s always characters for me. I have to find them first and the plot grows around them. It’s important to me that the characters drive the story because their motivations and reactions are key to making any story believable.

What are the underlying themes of your novel, Interdimensional Explorers?

I think there are a few, loyalty, friendship and learning to believe in yourself no matter where you come from or what other people might think.

How much research did you need to do for your book? 

Because the sci fi in my book is more fiction than science not a huge amount! I did read up on some theories about multiverse’s but everything is quite vague so I felt happy to just let my imagination go wild!

If you could be a character in any of your books, who would you be?

That’s quite a tricky question. I write quite a lot of evil villains and I’m mean to most of my main characters! I’d maybe be Tingle from Maker of Monsters because she has the confidence of all cats and I’d love a bit more of that!

What writing advice would you give to people aspiring to be a children’s book writer?

Read as much as you can! You can learn everything about story structure from reading, and then write as much as you can. Try different genres and styles until you find one that works for you, explore different ideas till you find one that you can’t ignore and then polish it as much as you can. Then  try and find a crit group – online or in person – and get people to read your work and give you feedback, then start editing your work. Repeat the process.

How did you celebrate when you finished writing Interdimensional Explorers?

Interdimensional explorers was written during Lockdown and opportunities to celebrate were limited so I treated the family to a takeaway and a movie for putting up with me writing all the time!

Thank you Lorraine for taking the time to answer my questions for my blog, Much To Do About Writing, I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Thank you for having me Anita and all the great questions. The next book will be heading to Earth in March 2024!


You can find Lorraine on twitter @authorontheedge and you can check out her website Lorraine Gregory Author:

Lorraine recommends the independent bookshops like and as two of the best places to purchase her books. You can also order online at at, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

An interview with… Lynne Hackles

For my last ever Research Secrets interview for the national Writing Magazine, Writers Forum I was lucky enough to interview Lynne Hackle about how she researched her romantic comedy when she was unable to go out of the house.

Lynne first wrote this romantic comedy novel, back in 2002 and states it is actually more comedy than romance. It didn’t have a title back then and she put it away and rediscovered this gem in 2020 when Covid struck. She explains she had learnt a lot in twenty years and knew it could be improved.

Lynne told me she was about to do a major rewrite when my brother died from Covid. Losing a younger sibling is hard and Lynne revealed she had a sort of breakdown because she found she couldn’t, and didn’t want to, go out. This meant she couldn’t get out to do any research and she really needed to find out how Job Centres worked.

She explained this was a problem because her opening chapter started with my main character, Gail, being in a Job Centre and she hadn’t been inside one since she wrote the first draft. There was only one solution – to set her story back in time. She decided that beginning it in the first few days of the new millennium would save her the stress of trying to go out into the world and risking a panic attack.

Gail starts off in the Job Centre because her boss has made her and her best friend, Dilys, redundant. The two women, both fifty years old and with no qualifications, find it impossible to find work so start a cleaning agency. Gail, stuck between an eccentric mother and a wayward daughter, lists her problems, the final one being to get laid, and then starts to solve them all, with what she hoped would be help from her imaginary agony aunt.

Lynne told me she always had a secret dream to be an agony aunt and always turn to the problem pages in magazines first. She has even used some of the problems she’s read to help her write short stories, many which were published in the weekly woman’s national magazines.

Gail needed an agony aunt but, instead of writing to one, she conjured up her very own. This lady in pink was going to be a proper agony aunt, kind and helpful, similar to the ones in the book, but she turned into one of those characters novelists talk about – the ones who have their own ideas as to what they are going to do. Sometimes she offered advice, sometimes she turned up when she wasn’t wanted, and she also had days off, refusing to answer questions.

Really, she was about as much help to Gail as thermal knickers in a heatwave. Her part grew as the book progressed and grew even more when Cahill Davis Publishing and Lynne came up with the title, Gail Lockwood and her Imaginary Agony Aunt.

The shop from which Gail was made redundant actually existed in Worcester. Lynne revealed she once once worked there selling all sorts of interesting stuff like miners’ knee pads and gas mask holders. There were lots of baskets filled with miscellaneous goods and every morning they would take shoe rails and coat racks outside. she remembered her easy-going manager asking her to make a price label for some men’s grey Mac’s.

Using a felt tipped pen she drew a picture of the back view of a man with no trousers on, arms holding his Mac’ wide open and his bare bottom revealed in the split at the rear and added ‘Flashers Macs’ and the price. All the Macs were sold by the end of the day. She borrowed the men’s grey Mac’s and other stock for her fictional store BJ’s, called that because the owner, Bradley Jones, used his initials for the name, though Gladys and Dilys said it stood for Bloody Junk. Bradley was a cross between the manager of the original shop Lynne had worked at, and her boss from the building society she worked at later. In the novel BJ’s moved itself to an optician’s she had worked at in Malvern.

Lynne kept Malvern library in its original place but replaced Malvern Hills with a new housing estate and moved the whole town a little closer to Birmingham. She explained it was like looking at that entire area and stirring things around to get a new place. Lynne believes you need to be able to see where a story is set.

“I could have drawn a map but because of using a place I knew well, I kept Chenwick, in its entirety, in my head.”

Lynne Hackles

To research her other settings such as, Spain and Australia, she started watching A Place In The Sun in particular couples looking for homes in Spain. One pair wanted an apartment near a golf course and immediately, she knew this was exactly what she needed for Gail’s ex-boss to retire to. As for Australia, Dilys uses some redundancy money to go to her daughter’s wedding there.

“I asked my friend Glynis Scrivens, who I call my cyber-sister, for help. She made sure the times and seasons were correct. I’d watched Neighbours in its early years and seen what a hotel could look like and the sort of houses that were in Ramsay Street. Television can come in very useful.”

Lynne Hackles

Gail’s mother, Pearl, plays a good-sized part in the story. Her eccentricities included the way she dressed, jumping through different eras. No two days were alike. The 1960s weren’t a problem. Pictures of girls wearing mini-skirts, crocheted dresses, and white boots were all over Facebook. Going back to the 1950s meant trawling though and One outfit Pearl wore came directly from the film, Doctor Zhivago. Lynne said she enjoyed researching these different fashions from different eras by looking at photos and dress patterns on the internet.

Her tip for other writers and for anyone unable to go out, whatever the reason may be, then the internet is a wonderful resource. Not just Google, but friends online too. Ask a question and you’ll get lots of responses.

To find out more about Lynne Hackles and her books visit her website:

Blog Tour – Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani

Today it is my turn on the blog tour for Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani. This tour is part of the Book Bloggers’ Novel of the Year Award (BBNYA). This year, the BBNYA is celebrating the 55 books that made it into Round Two with a mini spotlight blitz tour for each title. BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors, ending with 10 finalists and one overall winner.

If you want some more information about BBNYA, check out the BBNYA Website: or take a peek over on Twitter @BBNYA_Official. BBNYA is brought to you in association with the @Foliosociety (if you love beautiful books, you NEED to check out their website!) and the book blogger support group @The_WriteReads.

Sunbolt is a young adult fantasy about an orphan called Hitomi. The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.

When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life. Sunbolt is publsihed by Purple Monkey Press.

The author, Intisar Khanani, grew up a nomad and world traveller. She has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah, on the coast of the Red Sea. Intisar used to write grants and develop projects to address community health and infant mortality with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. She is the author of The Sunbolt Chronicles, and the Dauntless Path novels, beginning with Thorn.

My stop on the Sunbolt tour takes the form of an author interview.


Hi Intisar,

Welcome to my blog. It is with great pleasure that I end your magnificent blog tour for Sunbolt with an author interview.

Tell us a little about your writing career and your latest novel, Sunbolt?

I’ve had a pretty varied writing career – I indie published my first novel, Thorn, back in 2012, and then jumped into writing The Sunbolt Chronicles. Then in 2017, HarperTeen picked up Thorn, along with a companion novel (that accidentally turned into a duology). I just put out the last book in the duology – A Darkness at the Door – last summer, and am cycling back around to this series. I’m re-releasing Sunbolt as well as Book 2 through a lovely little indie co-op called Snowy Wings Publishing (yay new cover!) in the lead-up to getting out Book 3. So I’ve done both indie, trad, and hybrid publishing (that last one was indie for North America, and trad through the UK!), and am excited to back in the indie sphere for this series!

What are the underlying themes of your novel, Sunbolt?

Sunbolt has a few different themes at play—from belonging and in-group/out-group relations, to colonization of the mind, to learning to make allies in the most unlikely places (by which I also mean, compassion). I’m sure some readers will also find other things that speak to them—for example, Hitomi deals with grief from both parent death and abandonment. While that’s a smaller thread, it’s definitely there.

What is your favourite thing about writing for young adults?

Young adults are questioning the underpinnings of their world, their looking sideways at authority and pushing back at injustice, and experiencing so many things for the first time. They also pack a lot of hope for the future—they’re not giving up, they haven’t hit some kind of overblown cynical middle-age where they just throw the towel in. Not at all. They’ve got their fire and their not afraid to use it. They’re an amazing group to write for, and having the chance to explore those realities through my writing is an absolute gift.

Is there an aspect of writing for young adults you wish someone had told you when you started out?

Not really. I’ve learned a lot as I’ve been writing, but I don’t have any major regrets as yet. I think just bearing in mind that writing is a journey, as is learning your craft, is a great help. None of us can get everything right the first time, or even the fifth. That’s okay! Just do your best, both in telling your story and making sure you do no harm in doing so.

What’s your favourite writing snack or drink?

I really love a flavored hot chocolate! I mix up my own varieties, as I tend to like less sweetener in my chocolate. Right now my two favorites are peppermint hot chocolate and a spicy blend that includes ginger, cinnamon, and red pepper (plus more!).

How did you celebrate when you finished Sunbolt?

I don’t tend to celebrate too much beyond grabbing a bowl of ice cream. XD For me, a lot of the satisfaction is in doing the work. But some of my happiest moments are getting tagged on reviews where the story meant something special to a reader. I always hope for that with my stories, and there have definitely been a couple of really special (to me) reviews that I think back to for Sunbolt.

What are your social media links where can people find out about you and your books?

I use the handle @booksbyintisar pretty much anywhere I go. Right now I’m most active on Instagram @booksbyintisar and Twitter @booksbyintisar … though really, I’ve been reducing my social media usage overall to help both my mental health and my writing time (talk about a time suck!). That said, I do have a monthly newsletter where I love to chat with readers and also share my news, and currently have a new story going out a chapter a month to subscribers. You can find out more at

Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed on my blog for the last stop of your Sunbolt blog tour.

Thanks so much for having me!


You can find out more about Intisar Khanani and her books on her website: and follow her on Twitter @BooksByIntisar and Instagram: @booksbyintisar.

You can buy a copy of Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani from Goodreads: and Amazon:

An interview with… Liz Flanagan

For the last ever issue of Writers’ Forum #254 May 2023 I interviewed Liz Flanagan about her inspiration and worldbuilding for the Wildsmith adventure series.

Liz explained the spark for the Wildsmith stories occurred in the strange quiet summer of 2020 when life was so starkly different from what we’d expected. Before her daily walk of those lockdown months, Liz had never realised how essential walking in the woods was for her mental health.

“Even in those dark and worrying times, as soon as I was outside under the trees, I started to feel better, and I’d return from my walk more able to cope.”

Liz Flanagan

She found writing was an anchor for her and tried new things to keep busy when her other work was cancelled. She discovered she enjoyed writing for younger children. Her agent, Philippa Perry, suggested writing a middle-grade series, full of magic and hope. It’s not a massive leap to see where Liz got the idea for a beautiful forest, fostering magical animals, and discovering the magical power to heal animals and speak to them.

Liz elaborated she had been fostering cats and kittens for an animal charity, and so had three unexpected additions to their household during lockdown – a very nervous young cat and her two kittens. She often wished she could speak to her foster animals to reassure them and to find out what was wrong when they were ill or scared.

She told me she believes fantasy lets us explore real-world problems in an oblique way that can be safe for young children. Perhaps all writers do this: taking the stuff of our lives and weaving it into stories, even if it’s not immediately apparent where each element came from?

Liz said she started sketching out ideas on a piece of paper – characters, issues, locations – and this grew into a detailed chapter by chapter outline. Her outlines tend to be about a quarter of my final word count as she thinks it is think easier to make changes to a plan than it is to rewrite a whole story. She created a map, and added to it as the series grew. She also did sketches of rooms and locations around Grandpa’s house to make sure it made sense on the page. Joe Todd-Stanton’s bought these places brought to life with his incredible art.

In terms of worldbuilding she needed to be clear on the magical attributes of her characters from the start. she explained it had to be consistent within the story world and also have limits – otherwise there’s no tension. But, the witches’ spells and the wildsmith’s magical healing were described in more detail quite late on in the writing process.

After writing the first two books Liz realised the passage of time was important. and decided that time passing at the rate of around one season per book should be a feature, which is highlighted on the covers. Book one has glorious green summery forest leaves, and book two has lovely autumnal shades.

The story developed with a longer-term conflict in the shape of the war, which begins in book one and is resolved by book four. Then each story has an individual problem to solve, connected with rescuing a particular magical creature (or being rescued by one in the case of book three). There are several baddies who re-appear, as well as friends whom Rowan isn’t sure she can trust.

Liz revealed it was a challenge to keep the conflict mainly happening ‘off-stage’ so it remained age-appropriate and not too scary, but early reviews from teachers have been really encouraging. Having short chapters helps to keep the children turning the pages. It gives you that structure and encourages a natural ‘cliff-hanger’.

“My protagonist needed to have a very clear goal throughout, even if this changes as the story develops. I’m used to having lots of action in my older books, so I wanted to make these younger books equally exciting. However, it was certainly a challenge for me, learning how to write simply while keeping the pace, learning what to leave out and what to keep in.”

LIz Flanagan

LIz’s writing tip for writing for children is to think back to your own childhood. She said one thing we know really well is the childhood we experienced and how we ourselves felt as a child of different ages. So we have this incredible resource, if we can access these memories.

“Having once been a bookish, animal-fixated child who loved to climb trees, I definitely think I wrote Wildsmith: Into the Dark Forest for the seven-year-old I once was.”

Liz Flanagan

And even if we can’t retrieve our own memories, we can observe the children around us. Liz found this a helpful place to start: instead of trying to please everyone, select a child you know, or the child you once were, and write to please them.

Liz Flanagan can be found at:, Twitter @lizziebooks, Instagram @lizziebooks17

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #254 May 2023 issue of  Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

Blog Tour – Inheriting Her Ghosts by S. H. Cooper

Today it is my turn on the blog tour for Inheriting Her Ghosts by S. H. Cooper. This tour is part of the Book Bloggers’ Novel of the Year Award (BBNYA). This year, the BBNYA is celebrating the 55 books that made it into Round Two with a mini spotlight blitz tour for each title. BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors, ending with 10 finalists and one overall winner.

If you want some more information about BBNYA, check out the BBNYA Website: or take a peek over on Twitter @BBNYA_Official. BBNYA is brought to you in association with the @Foliosociety (if you love beautiful books, you NEED to check out their website!) and the book blogger support group @The_WriteReads.

Inheriting Her Ghosts is a Victorian gothic horror novella. Eudora Fellowes discovers she’s the sole heir of her estranged great-aunt’s seaside manor house High Hearth, so leaves her childhood home with her two faithful hounds hoping for a peaceful escape and a new start.

But High Hearth is a place of tragedy and deception, and Eudora discovers that the secret to her great-aunt’s clandestine history lies behind the door with no key. She soon realises Inheritance often comes with strings attached, but rarely are they as tangled as those hanging over High Hearth. What awaits is a dark legacy shrouded in half a century of secrets. It doesn’t take long before Eudora realizes she’s not the only one to call High Hearth home.

The author, S.H. Cooper is a Florida based, multi-genre author with a focus on horror and fantasy. Her work has been published by Sleepless Sanctuary Publishing, Cemetery Gates Media, and Brigids Gate Press. In addition to short story collections and novels, she is also the writer for the horror comedy podcast, Calling Darkness.

When she’s not writing, she’s thinking about writing, talking about writing, or sleeping (wherein she dreams about writing). She is kept up and running through the tireless efforts of her extremely supportive family and coffee. Her horror novel, Inheriting Her Ghosts, is published by Sleepless Sanctuary Publishing on the 9th July 2021

My stop on the tour involves an interview with the author, S. H. Cooper about the writing of Inheriting Her Ghosts.


Welcome to my blog. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by me as part of the penultimate stops of your blog tour for your haunting new book Inheriting Her Ghosts.

Tell us a little about yourself and the inspiration for your book Inheriting Her Ghosts.

I’m an American author of horror and fantasy. I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, completing my first novel-length manuscript (which would much later become my YA fantasy novel, The Knight’s Daughter) at eleven years old. While I’ve always loved horror as a genre, I didn’t start writing it until 2016, when my sister suggested I check out the NoSleep subReddit to combat a long bout of writer’s block. It worked like magic and suddenly the words were flowing! Since then, I’ve published a slew of short stories, six books, co-edited two anthologies, and co-wrote a podcast.

Inheriting Her Ghosts drew inspiration particularly from Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black and Guillermo del Toro’s 2015 film, Crimson Peak. I’ve always been drawn to haunted houses and the gothic flair of both works struck a chord with me. The story of IHG came quite unexpectedly as I’d not done much in the gothic vein, and never anything Victorian. One day, I just heard a very distinct voice in my head (that sounded exactly like voice actress Erika Sanderson of The NoSleep Podcast) say, “The house inherited me as much as I did it. We were alike, this house and I…”, and wrote it down, not knowing I’d just met Eudora Fellowes and been given the opening lines to her dark tale.

How do you select the names of your characters?

Honestly, most of the time, there isn’t much of a selection process at all. It often feels less like I’m coming up with stories and more like I’m simply transcribing something that’s being told to me. Crawford Bentley was always Crawford Bentley, I never wondered over what to call Black Shuck and Cerberus. They just were. Eudora was actually a rare exception. She started with an entirely different name that never quite felt right, and early on, my editor, Elle Turpitt, confirmed my suspicion that it seemed off. Without knowing exactly what I was looking for, I started scouring Victorian baby name lists and when I finally came across the name Eudora and surname Fellowes, it just clicked and I knew without any doubt that was meant to be her name.

What is the most difficult part of your writing process? 

Getting in my own head. Longer works in particular give me a lot of time to second guess, cast doubts, and worry over the most minute details that a reader probably won’t even notice, much less question (“Is the color of this furniture appropriate for the time period?”, “Is ‘nightgown’ or ‘night clothes’ the better term?’, etc.). Thankfully I have a wonderful group of fellow author critique partners and, as mentioned before, my editor, Elle. They’re great at helping me work through my own thoughts and excellent motivators.

What part of Inheriting Her Ghosts was the most fun to write?

100% Eudora’s relationship with her dogs, Black Shuck and Cerberus. They’re loosely based on my own dogs and it was so easy and enjoyable to bring the love I have for them to the page. While my pups aren’t as large, intimidating, or (let’s be honest) well trained as their book counterparts, I have no doubt they’d put themselves between me and any perceived danger and I’d definitely throw down with a ghost if it threatened them.

Where is your most productive place to write?

This is my “Don’t be like me, be better” answer: My phone. It’s a horrible habit. Don’t do it. Since I can take it anywhere, location doesn’t matter that much, but it must be totally quiet and uninterrupted. While music can help get me in the mood to write before I actually sit down to do so, it gets shut off the moment I’m ready to put proverbial pen to paper and if anyone interrupts me while I’m in The Zone, I…typically politely ask them to wait until I’m done, but there is some serious side-eye while I do it.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever been given about writing?

Take every piece of advice you’ve heard about writing and chuck it out the window. Ok, maybe not the stuff about having to be disciplined and, as with any art form, needing to practice, but most of the other fluff. The “How Stephen King Writes a Billion Novels a Year” and “One Hundred Ways You NEED to Change to Be a Real Author” type schlock. Writing is an extremely personal process and what works for Mr. King might only be a roadblock for you. Maybe you’re a plotter, maybe you’re a panster, maybe you write better with a set word count to reach, maybe it’s easier to never count words at all. The how you do it isn’t nearly as important as the fact you’re just doing it. Figure out your system and grow in the way that works best for you (unless your way is writing on your phone…).

Thanks again for your time in answering my questions. I am looking forward to taking a peek at the last posts in the tour tomorrow.


You can find out more about S. H. Cooper and her books on her website: and follow her on Twitter: @MsPippinacious and Facebook: @pippinacious.

To can buy a copy of Inheriting Her Ghosts by S. H. Cooper on Goodreads: and Amazon:

An interview with… Natasha Farrant

When I interviewed Natasha Farrant for issue #241 20 Jan 2022 of Writers’ Forum, she explained how she ensures there is a message of hope in her books for children.

At a fundamental level, The Girl Who Talked To Trees is about our relationship to nature and about finding the strength to stand up for what you believe in. The inspiration for the book was born of a conversation with her publisher at Zephyr. They had worked together on another collection of stories, Eight Princesses And A Magic Mirror and were thinking of ideas for a new book along a similar format. For a long time she had been thinking about how to respond creatively to the climate and ecological crisis.

She said it is so difficult to know how to do this for children – at an existential level, how do you balance the magnitude of the crisis with hope for the future? One of Natasha’s publishing friends suggested to do it through myth and fairy tale, and that really struck a chord with Natasha.

“I knew I wanted to write about the crisis but I also knew I wanted a book that would give hope for the future. I’m not saying trees are going to get us out of this mess, but they are a key part of the jigsaw – and such a relatively simple part.” 

Natasha Farrant

She continued there are two elements to the book: the major element is the stories themselves, but each story is introduced by a number of science facts. Natasha feels stories are such a powerful force in bringing about change, but without the science we’ll get nowhere.

As with all her books, though the themes are serious and the starting point in this case was so huge, the overall aim remained the same: to tell stories which would captivate and transport. She spent a long time thinking about Olive and getting to know her, wondering what traits I could give her that children could identify with.


‘She was clever and kind and intensely shy and her best friend was a four-hundred-year-old oak.’

Extract from The Girl Who Talked To Trees

Which fits, because:

‘When you are so shy you dare not even look at anyone in case they want to talk to you – or worse, want you to talk to them – a tree is a very sensible choice for a friend.’

Extract from The Girl Who Talked To Trees

From the moment they decided on the theme of the book, Natasha was on the look-out for trees which captured her imagination, like the baobab plane in our local park, famous because after World War Two it was struck by lightning. Everyone thought it was dead, but then it came back to life and became known as the Tree of Hope. Then there were the box trees in the woods near one of her friend’s homes. Once part of a formal planting scheme on a grand estate, they were now growing wild. Natasha liked the idea of a tree that had escaped. 

Natasha revealed she prefers to write long hand, using a refillable fountain pen (no throwaway plastic) her husband bought her as a gift twenty years ago. She uses extra-large Moleskine notebooks because she likes their paper, and few things give her greater pleasure than the sensation of ink gliding across those smooth pages.

“This is a serious point: writing is hard, so it’s important to make those bits I can control as pleasurable as possible.”  

Natasha Farrant

The notebook writing is for doodling, or as a fellow writer calls it, noodling. Natasha sets herself a goal of three pages a day for a first draft, and tries not to think too much about what she is writing so it is more like exploring, free to go in any direction she desires. She writes on the right-hand page, leaving the left-hand page free for notes, observations or actual doodles. She allows herself absolute creative freedom.

At a later point she starts to type everything up. Natasha claims this is where the more rigorous work begins, of trying to shape all that noodling into a story. This can be a hard slog, with many, many different versions printed and scribbled over and retyped until it’s just right.

For Natasha, the key to get anyone turning the pages is to make sure they really care about the characters and understand what is motivating them. For this, your characters must have a clear goal, that really matters to them personally and – because they care about the character – also matters to the reader. There should also be a sense that your characters are growing.

In the case of The Girl Who Talked To Trees, Olive’s goal is to save her tree. As she strives towards this goal, she also learns to overcome her shyness and to speak up. Natasha stressed this question of motivation and growth should apply to every character, not just the main protagonists.

Natasha said, if you want to write for children, it’s important that you read other children’s authors as widely as possible. And also that you acquaint yourself with some children.  We all to an extent write for the child reader that we once were, but unless you are very, very young, tastes may have evolved since that time. Without losing sense of your own voice, do bear in mind trends and mindsets which may have changed since you were a child.

You can find out more about Natasha Farrant at, @NatashaFarrant1 (Twitter) and @natasha_farrant (Instagram)

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #241 20 Jan 2022 issue of  Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Rachael Davis

I spoke to Rachael Davis about her experience of working with the children’s book packager Storymix, for the Writing for Children slot in Writers’ Forum issue #253 19 Apr 2023.

Rachael explained book packagers are companies that essentially put together books for publishers by pairing up the right talent with the right ideas. They are NOT a publisher. Once they create a book idea, they commission a writer to do a sample. This sample is submitted to publishers and the book packager will hope to get a ‘traditional book deal’. The writer may receive a percentage of the royalties the book packager is paid by the publisher, but this is not always the case. Sometimes the writers work for a fixed fee.

In some cases, a publisher may approach a book packager with an idea of the type of book/series they are looking for. The book packager will then work up a plot and outline, bring on an author to write the sample, and then the publisher will be given an exclusive first-look opportunity to acquire the series from the book packager. If that particular publisher doesn’t move forward with the project, the book packager would then have the right to try to sell the project to other publishers.

In all cases, it is important to realise that the intellectual property of the book/series belongs to the book packager, not the writer. The book packager is the creator of the series. The writer’s job is to bring their unique creative flare and voice to the project.

Jasmine Richards is the founder of Storymix. She isn’t a fan of the word ‘book packager’, she prefers ‘book incubator’. At Storymix, they have a unique mission to centre black and brown children in super fun, often fantastical adventure stories. Previously, Jasmine worked at a book packager called Working Partners, who developed Beast Quest and Rainbow Magic.

After working as an editor for 15 years, she founded Storymix to bring about positive change in the industry and make sure books on the shelves reflect all children. Jasmine works exclusively with diverse writers and illustrators, providing many of these unagented creatives with an unparalleled opportunity to work with the biggest publishers in the industry.

Rachael told me that back in November 2020, Jasmine reached out to Rachael’s agent to see if I might be interested in sampling for Storymix. She explained the opportunity as a ‘paid creative writing course’. It’s an opportunity to be paid to work with brilliant editors, learning about plot, characterisation. If the book is commissioned, you get to experience the publishing and editorial process. But it is not the same experience as getting a traditional book deal as there is less input at later stages. Jasmine told Rachael about a few different projects and as soon as she described Secret Beast Club she knew it was a project she wanted to be a part of. In Spring 2021, Jasmine commissioned Rachael to sample for Secret Beast Club.

“Thankfully, she loved my sample and it went on submission to publishers in the summer 2021. Puffin snapped up the series in a three-book deal. At this stage, Jasmine brought on the wonderful Clare Whitson to work as my editor who kept me updated with proofs and cover choices, alongside Puffin editor, Jane Griffin.”

Unlike with a traditional publishing deal, when you work with a book packager you don’t have the same level of responsibility for planning, plotting and story arc consistency. This is where the brilliant team at Storymix come into their own. As the writer, your role is to bring the voice and develop strong characterisation.

Often when working with book packagers, you receive less rights and lower royalties. However Rachael would absolutely recommend Storymix. She has found their rates and treatment of authors to be exceptional. But Rachael stressed this is not true of all book packagers and you should make sure you know what you are signing up for. While you can be unagented, having an agent or the Society of Authors check any contracts is important.

The Secret Beast Club series is written under the Pseudonym, Robin Birch. Rachael explained series developed by book packagers, particularly for young readers, are often written under a pseudonym. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, as mentioned the concept is the intellectual property of the book packager, not the writer. Secondly, if a series becomes successful additional writers may be brought in to write subsequent books.

Robin Birch is the collective pen name for children’s writer, Rachael Davis and series creator Jasmine Richards, who is the founder of Storymix and the Inclusive Children’s Fiction Studio. Together with their editors, Clare Whitston and Jane Griffiths. The Secret Beast Club adventure took shape and was brought to life by illustrator Jobe Anderson, designer Jan Bielecki and text designer Anita Mangan.

Rachael’s advice to writers wanting to work with a book packager is to work out who the book packagers are and what types of books they publish. Working Partners is a good place to start, and if you are a writer of colour (agented or unagented) she definitely recommends getting in touch with Storymix.

Some people can be a bit snobby about writers who work with book packagers, because the series plot is developed by the packager and not the writer. Rachael said this kind of collaboration is used all the time in other creative industries such as film and TV, and I personally have had a fantastic experience.

“Not only have I got to be part of a fantastic, ground-breaking chapter book series, but I have also had the opportunity to work with talented editors and hone my writing skills. I would highly recommend writers (agented and unagented, published, unpublished or self-published) consider whether working with a book packager is a good fit for them.”

Rachael Davis

Working with a book packager is not for everyone. Some writers will absolutely thrive, while others might find the lack of creative freedom to deviate from the book packager’s plot line constraining. You also have to be able to work to tight deadlines and not be precious about edits. It is not uncommon for a book packager to make changes to the text after the writer has completed their final draft.

However, if you can embrace the collaborative approach, working with a book packager can be a fantastic way to develop your skills as a writer, and go on to get traditional book deals later down the line. When you submit a sample to a book packager, they are looking for a fresh, original voice. Always keep in mind – what makes you the right writer for the project? Once the plot is created, technically any writer could write it, but what is it that your unique voice will bring to the project?

“At the heart of the Secret Beast Club series is friendship and teamwork, which is ever so fitting because this book has been a real team effort to create.”

Rachael Davis

The first book in the series Secret Beast Club: The Unicorns of Silver Street is out this month and Secret Beast Club: The Dragons of Emerald Yard is released later this year, in July 2023. At the heart of the Secret Beast Club series is friendship and teamwork, which is ever so fitting because this book has been a real team effort to create.

To discover more about Rachel Davis and her writing see her website: and follow her on Twitter @RachDavisAuthor & Instagram: @RachDavisAuthor

To find out more about Storymix go to:

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #253 19 Apr 2023 issue of  Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Barbara Henderson

For my Research Secrets slot in this month’s issue of Writers’ Forum #253 19 Apr 2023, Barbara Henderson explained to me some of the research she did into the building of the Forth Bridge to Dunfermline for her middle-grade novel, Rivet Boy

Rivet Boy is her eighth book for children and was published by Cranachan Publishing on 16th February 2023. It features Edinburgh, Dunfermline and the Firth of Forth as key settings and is woven from historical events entwinned with her imagination.

As a historical fiction writer, Barbara is always on the lookout for story possibilities. Almost every single one of her books was inspired by reading an interesting snippet or visiting a heritage site. She told me she has been fascinated by the Forth Bridge for a long time. Her first job was across the Forth. She had to cross the water daily, which meant either rattling across the iconic Forth Rail Bridge by train or staring at it in awe as she drove across the road bridge beside it. In fact, her wedding reception was held right beneath the bridge. She said it eventually clicked – the world was crying out for a light-touch engineering book about the building of the Forth Bridge as readers love knowing a story is rooted in real events.

Barbara’s tip to other writers wanting to write a novel on true events is to read around the topic for a few months to gain an overview. Once a possible story presents itself, find the person who knows most about it. They will love being asked about it – all their friends and relatives will already be thoroughly sick of hearing about their pet interest and your keen interest will be very welcome.

Barbara explained for her children’s book, she needed a child character to take centre stage. So she researched the ordinary people who built this bridge and discovered a book called The Briggers – The Story of the Men who Built the Forth Bridge. However she found many of the anecdotes in this book of young people were depressing, and the Briggers had campaigned long for memorials to all the men who died during the bridge’s construction. The youngest victim she found was David Clark, a 13-year-old who fell and also a young boy called John Nicol who fell into the water from the bridge and survived unhurt, who became her main character.

Barbara hunted down the author, Elspeth Wills and found she was part of a research consortium of local enthusiasts who also called themselves ‘The Briggers’. More online digging even yielded an email address. Frank Hay answered her email and agreed to talk on Zoom. Barbara revealed her most valuable resource turned out to be Frank, and the others who had already studied the subject: ‘The Briggers’. When she asked for more information about John, the boy who survived, Frank spent a few days to look into it for her and sent her a ten-page document: He’d checked the census records, identified the most likely John Nicol, found his birth certificate, his parents’ marriage certificate and his two addresses in Dunfermline.

In addition, he discovered his father had been killed in an industrial accident in Australia before John was born. For a time, the widow was supported by charity, but it made sense for John to seek work when he was twelve, old enough to be a breadwinner. The newspaper extract describing John’s accident was also in there. Barbara was able to use this information to construct a timeline.

“I tend to think of historical fiction as a washing line. Your fixed events and real people are the pegs, pinning the story to the timeline. These are the things that are both true, incontrovertible and relevant to your story. In between, the washing can flutter in the wind of your imagination.”

Barbara Henderson

Construction was big for this particular book, so Barbara had to research the processes. She explained she finds it astounding that these Victorian engineers managed to calculate so accurately without the aid of modern computer technology. Much of the foundation work had to be conducted beneath the water. By the time her main character John begins his work on the bridge, the structure had emerged from the waves, but the fact that she feature so many details and incidents from real life meant that she had to constantly double and triple check that she had my order right.

In an early draft, she had the squirrel Rusty visit John on the bridge from North Queensferry – only to realise that it couldn’t have happened yet because the cantilevers weren’t connected at that point. Her tip is also not to assume anything. When describing the noise of the building site, she referred to a list along the lines of ‘hammering, drilling, scraping and shouting’ – only to be informed all drilling was done in the workshops, some way off and in advance. Many sounds added to the cacophony on the site, but drilling was not one of them.

Research can be a lonely business, as can writing. Her final tip is to join a writing group with similar interests to you. Barbara is part of the Time Tunnellers, a group of five historical fiction writers for children with weekly YouTube videos and blogs aimed at schools and historical fiction readers. Barbara told me she often learns something new from unexpected places – including my fellow Time Tunnellers’ posts.

You can discover more about Barbara Henderson and her books by following her on her website:, and follow her on Twitter @scattyscribbler and Instagram @scattyscribbler and @BarbaraHendersonWriter on Facebook.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a back copy of the #253 19 Apr 2023 issue of  Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An Interview with… Kesia Lupo

I interviewed Kesia Lupo for this month’s issue of Writers’ Forum #253 19 Apr 2023 about how far you can go when writing horror for children.

Kesia Lupo’s recent novel, Let’s Play Murder, is 100% a pandemic book. Kesia told me she had the idea during spring 2020, when she was confined to a one-bedroom flat shared with her husband, and she wrote/edited it over the following two years. The characters are trapped in a house, desperately attempting to figure out what to do, surrounded by fear and doubt… sound familiar? Kesia explained writing the book was a way of working through the feelings raised by living through a pandemic.

She said there’s definitely been an uptick in scary YA thrillers in recent years, thanks to authors like Holly Jackson, Cynthia Murphy and Kathryn Foxfield. However, the market tends to swing one way and then another – a few years ago, it was all about fantasy, now the market is balancing itself out. Kesia thinks the upper end of YA has been pushing older and older for some years now – it’s not really just for teens.

Even so there are definitely grey areas but it’s difficult to be specific. Everyone has their own sense of what is TOO scary. Generally, for middle-grade, Kesia recommends avoiding graphic violence and disturbing themes. She explained as a rule, thrillers for middle-grade tend to be focussed round a mystery – even if they are murder mysteries, they will largely avoid any truly difficult content and will generally have a happy ending. For YA, the boundaries are more relaxed – you can have violence, death and dig deep into atmospheric horror. However, there is a line: e.g. very graphic or disturbing violence will probably be inappropriate.

Kesia told me you can definitely include blood and gore – as she does in Let’s Play Murder. The first instance is where she describes, in detail, the corpse the players find at the beginning of the game… it’s pretty gross. There are multiple instances of violence on the page, too – for instance when some of the players are attacked by rogue zombies from a different game, or when certain other murders occur. Kesia believes this level of violence is appropriate for readers aged 12+.

The violence is always necessary for the story so isn’t gratuitous, nor is it of a truly disturbing nature, it’s never sexualised, and there’s no torture. Sometimes YA is classed as 14+ so may go a bit darker. Ultimately, if you’re not sure, Kesia suggests it is a good idea to share extracts with your writing group and gain other perspectives – especially if you have teachers/parents of teens to help you.

“One of the things that helps me create tension when writing eerie scenes is to think about my main character’s backstory and what they’re scared of. For Veronica, even being in the Game is her worst nightmare due to a terrible VR accident that occurred in her past. Another aspect is playing with the unknown – what you don’t see or know is much scarier than what you do. So withholding information is super important for horror. Not quite seeing is a lot scarier than definitely seeing.”

Kesia Lupo

Her tip to other writers wanting to keep teens turning the pages is to firstly, keep the story moving: in YA, every scene has to earn its place – no room for filler scenes. If she ever loses steam and finds herself writing a sort of ‘in between’ section, she ask herself: what’s the worst thing that could happen to her character at this time? Then, she makes it happen. Secondly, end every chapter on some kind of cliffhanger so that every time they take a break, your readers can’t wait to pick up the book again. And lastly, make sure YOU are enjoying writing the book. If you’re not, it’s probably going to be a chore for readers too.

“Let’s Play Murder is (in my opinion) the best book I’ve written, hands down, but it was REALLY hard to write. I sold it on the pitch, then produced the worst first draft ever. My poor editors, Zoe and Katie, had to work really hard with me to knock it into shape. All that’s to say: don’t worry if you’re struggling. Find a writing group or a critique partner – different perspectives are your most valuable tool.”

Kesia Lupo

She recommends if you aspire to write thriller/horror books for children should read loads in the genre to get a sense of what’s popular. You don’t want to follow trends, but it really helps to get a sense of voice and how to pitch your story for the age-group. Immerse yourself in the YA worlds. Also, it’s always fun to eavesdrop on conversations if you can, to pick up tips – if you’re sitting in front of a chatting teen couple on the bus, take note of how they interact. Beware, though, not to try too hard – using too much specific/current language will date the book quickly.

If you’re struggling for ideas, have a think about what really scared you as a teen – or even what scares you now. Sometimes it’s not as obvious as ghosts or vampires – it could be ‘being watched’ or ‘feeling trapped’. Can you build a story around that?

For teen or YA readers, kesia suggests 60k-80k as a rule of thumb. In terms of point of view, first or third person is fine – if third person, try to write a ‘close’ third person, meaning you are not a detached omniscient narrator but someone who is practically inside the main character’s head. This means that your readers will still feel very connected to the main character and involved in the story. Chapters should be relatively short – maybe 2k-4k.

You can follow Kesia Lupo on Twitter @keslupo and TikTok: @keslupo and on Instagram Instagram: @kesialupoauthor

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #253 19 Apr 2023 issue of Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Writing 4 Children or Research Secrets interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

An interview with… Alyssa Sheinmel

When I heard about Alyssa Sheinmel’s extraordinary research into face transplants for her novel Faceless, published by Chicken House, I was stunned the movie Face Off could have been based on reality. Face transplants are a real thing. Maybe not in the same way as in Face Off but still a possibility.

I was so intrigued to discover more I decided to interview best-selling YA author, Alyssa Sheinmel, for my regular Research Secrets section of Writers’ Forum, issue Aug 2016 #178.

Alyssa told me she knew she wanted to write a book about a girl who was in a horrific accident, a girl who struggled to understand how much of who she was is tied to what she looked like and it was her American editor who suggested a girl for whom a face transplant was her best hope at having a normal life after reading an article in The New Yorker about a full face transplant.

“I’m pretty sure I underlined more of the article than I left blank! My favourite line came from a plastic surgeon, who explained that while other surgeons made you well by taking you apart – by cutting out the parts of you that are no longer functional, that are diseased, that have turned toxic – plastic surgeons make you well by putting you back together. (A version of that explanation made its way into Faceless.)”

Alyssa Sheinmel

She explained she began her research by reaching out to doctors she already knew – her general practitioner, a friend who’d gone to medical school and a friend of her sister who was a plastic surgeon that specialized in reconstruction who answered her myriad of questions.

In particular, she wanted to ensure Maisie’s injuries were realistic. For example, could she have been burned in such a way that she’d need to replace her cheeks, nose, and chin, but retain her jaw? This doctor explained that pretty much everything about these surgeries is unusual, so there were no hard and fast rules. He also provided Alyssa with a detail that really stayed with her: it takes a while for the nerves to grow into transplanted skin, so for a period after her surgery, Maisie’s face would feel like sort of a mask hanging off of her – it might actually feel heavy. This detail made its way into Faceless.

Even so, Alyssa revealed she was worried about taking up these doctors’ time with her incessant questions but found these experts often wanted to talk about their respective fields

“It’s challenging when you’re talking to such ‘important’ people – when I was interviewing a plastic surgeon, for example, I kept apologizing for taking up time that he could be spending with his patients. But he insisted that he was happy to give me his time and answer his questions.”

Alyssa Sheinmel

Like all transplant patients, face transplant recipients are put on immunosuppressive drug regimens. Alyssa revealed her editor had a few doctor and medical student friends who were incredibly helpful with these questions in particular. What were the side effects like? How many pills would she have to take? At sixteen, Maisie has already been told that she can’t carry a child because her medication could cause birth defects. She found what the pills looked like by searching on Google.

Alyssa explained the immunosuppressive regimen became a big part of Maisie’s journey. It’s difficult enough for Maisie that she doesn’t look like her old self, but being on these drugs keeps her from feeling like herself too. She’s tired, nauseated, achy. She’s a former straight-A student who can barely stay awake in class anymore.

For Alyssa there isn’t always a straight a line between my research and the story as everything she reads and watches teaches her something about how to tell a story. She told me as she was writing Faceless, she found herself thinking about stories she’d read and movies she’d seen that – on the surface, at least – didn’t really have much in common with her book. But they still were every bit as helpful as all the articles she read and doctors she spoke to about face transplants. There were also things going on in her life that influenced the story such as, a family member underwent surgery and her stay in the hospital and subsequent recovery impacted on Maisie’s experience, too.

The emotional aftermath of surgery was another one of those times when her unintentional research came in to play. Years ago – well before she started working on Faceless – she watched a documentary called The Crash Reel about American snowboarder Kevin Pearce. Heading into the Vancouver Winter Olympics, it looked like nothing would stop Kevin from bringing home a medal (except possibly, his long-time rivalry with fellow-snowboarder Shaun White). But during practice one day, a horrific crash sends Kevin to the hospital, where he’s treated for a traumatic brain injury. All Kevin wants to do is get back on his board, back to the life he knew before – but his friends and family are worried that snowboarding again could kill him.

In Faceless, Maisie was a runner before her accident – she ran track on her school’s team, she ran alongside her boyfriend, she ran for fun. Running was a huge part of who she was, part of how she defined herself – and after her procedure, she can’t run the way she used to. In fact, she might never be able to run again. Just as Maisie has to give up running, in The Crash Reel, Kevin Pearce has to come to terms with his new reality – a reality that might not include snowboarding.

Another piece of unintentional research helped her with the aftermath of Maisie’s accident – a novel called The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman, which I read years ago as well. It’s the story of an ordinary New Jersey librarian to whom the extraordinary happens: one day, she’s struck by lightning. Afterwards, the world looks different – literally: she can no longer see the colour red. Though Hoffman’s protagonist doesn’t have much in common with Faceless’s main character, Maisie (other than the fact that each have a run-in with lightning), they’re both characters whose lives are changed by somewhat random events, and they have to come to terms with a new normal.

“When I was a freshman in college, my psychology textbook taught me how to insert humour into a dry topic. Magazine articles have prompted (sometimes completely unrelated) story ideas. And certainly, when I watched a documentary about snow-boarding a few years ago, I had no idea it would someday influence a novel I wrote about face transplants.”

Alyssa Sheinmel

Alyssa’s tip to other writers when researching is to keep an open mind. She explains you never know where your next idea will come from, which book or article or essay will help you learn how to tell your story. Just keep your eyes and ears open, and learn as much as you can.

You can find out more about Alyssa Sheinmel on her website: and follow her on Twitter: @alyssasheinmel.

To read the complete unabridged feature you can purchase a copy of the Aug 2016 #178 issue of Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.