I downloaded "The Golden Acorn" onto my kindle after reading the rave reviews about it on Amazon and gave it to my 8-year-old to read. He loved it and immediately asked for the next book in the series. He also insisted I read it, and it was obvious why he enjoyed it so much! Welcome, Catherine!
Tell us a little about your background and how you became an author.
I had two great ambitions when I was young; the first was to be a teacher, and the second, to write books for children. I never really left school. I left college, with a teaching certificate and a degree, and went straight back into school. I taught for 29 very happy years. I would still be in the classroom now if ill health had not necessitated I take early retirement. For my 50th birthday I found out I’d got degenerative bone disease and was also diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. Neither of these had been on my present list! With my teaching career at an end I had a choice to make. I could either sit back, and let illness rule my life, or I could fight back and start a new career as a writer. I chose the latter.
I planned the Jack Brenin series during weeks of hospital visits, subsequent treatment, followed by countless nights spent in the chair when I could not sleep. My characters gave me a focus and a reason to persevere. That was six years ago. I’m still here, still writing and really enjoying having a 24/7 job I can do from home. I go back into schools as an author visitor, speak to writing groups and am affiliated to a voluntary reading helper scheme. I never thought my books would be translated into many languages, be readily available throughout the world or that I’d sign a contract with a Hollywood film company. At the end of last year my Jack Brenin series was tipped as one of four in the running to fill the Harry Potter void. It’s been quite a journey.
What is one of your favorite books and why?
My favourite adult fiction book is Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I love the humor in the book. The subtitle is ‘The Nice and Accurate Prophesies of Agnes Nutter – Witch’. It’s a tongue in cheek apocalyptic parody. I love the book because it makes me laugh out loud, every time I read it.
I was a designated World Book Night book giver last week and when asked for my first, second, or third choice of the books from the list, I’m afraid I wrote Good Omens down each time. I had a great time giving out the book.
What inspired you to write this book series?
I live in the beautiful English county of Shropshire. The countryside around me, the myths and legends of the area and my love of history and nature greatly inspired me. I also read an article, a few years ago, about ‘Sudden Oak Death in America’; no one seemed to know why the oaks were dying. Having been brought up on classical myths and legends I knew all about Dryads and Hamadryads. The plot of book one, The Golden Acorn, was conceived from that article. No scientist on earth would agree with my theory but it is crucial to the plot of my books.
For any of you who have read any of the Jack Brenin books you’ll know there are maps in each of the books. The map of Glasruhen is a real landscape. I see it every morning from my study window (unless it’s misty!). I’ve changed the names of the locations, some are anagrams of real places and some are a play on words. Newton Gill is an anagram of the small market town where I live, and the real location of Falconrock is a place called Hawkstone. I’ve started some ‘secret’ pages on my website where the real locations for the series will appear. As soon as I’ve finished book five I’ll make sure the photos and explanations are complete.
How would you describe your writing process?
I do a lot of research and handwrite copious notes before I start planning. I do an overall plan for the whole series first, on the blank side of a long piece of wallpaper. This is then sectioned into books, which in turn are divided into chapters. I add the main plot for each chapter, the characters, action, and outcome. I use the ‘who, where, why, what, and when’ method for each chapter.
I usually get up at 6.30am, edit any writing from the night before then continue writing until breakfast. I have a facebook page for my main character and I usually sort out his daily post next, answer emails, prepare visits, and work though all admin work until lunchtime. I constantly update the website. Author visits take place in the afternoon, talks or meetings. After supper I edit the morning’s work before continuing with the chapter I’m writing. I always clear my email inbox before going to bed.
What has proven to be your most successful marketing tool?
I think ‘word of mouth’ has been the most important factor that has helped promote my books far and wide. The Internet, and sites like Amazon, have played a major role in making the books accessible. Facebook, my own website, book sites, and blogs, can inform and reach a very wide audience too.
What advice would you give to other authors?
Write, read, edit, and then edit again. I have a process I go through when I write. Once I’ve finished a chapter I read to myself first and correct any glaring errors. I then read it aloud to my husband. You would not believe how many times your brain gives you a better alternative, when reading aloud, to what you’ve written down. Next my husband reads the chapter to me. If I’m not hearing what I intended to say, I re-edit, until what I’m hearing sounds right. When I’m satisfied I’ve edited my writing to the best of my ability, it goes off to the publisher to be edited professionally.
Please provide a favorite excerpt from your book.
(Before reading a word of explanation… a lath is Welsh for wand. In the book it is a twig, given to Jack by Arrana, the last Hamadryad on earth.)
They entered a large meadow full of knee length grass and tall buttercups. It looked like a golden carpet in the sunlight. Nora stopped in front of an open well. A crystal clear stream ran down from the hillside and trickled into it. Pieces of rock, covered in moss and strange carvings, surrounded the well. The clearing was almost circular and looked as if some ancient building had once stood there. Nora knelt down and put her lips to the water. At first Jack thought she was drinking but then realized she was speaking.
A multitude of bubbles broke the surface and a mass of long disheveled green hair, entwined with waterweed, old twigs and some dead leaves, rose from the water. Underneath the tangle was a pale green face with strange slanting eyes. The creature shook its head and sent a spray of water everywhere. Jack could see its ears were pointed and it had unusually long arms. The foaming water clung to its body like a gown. When Nora said he might see some strange things in the forest she’d not been wrong. This was the strangest creature Jack had ever seen.
‘What is it?’ he whispered to Elan.
‘A water nymph.’
‘A water nymph!’ exclaimed Jack. ‘But aren’t they supposed to be beautiful?’
‘She thinks she is!’ explained Elan, but before she could say any more the creature began to speak to Nora.
‘I hope it’s important?’ she wheezed, ‘I was very busy and you’ve disturbed me.’
‘Jennet,’ said Nora, addressing the water nymph, ‘Elan is here and we’ve brought Jack Brenin to meet you.’
She stepped aside so that the water nymph could get a better view of Elan and Jack.
‘Well that’s quite a different matter. Why didn’t you say they were coming today?’ She looked at Elan first and nodded her head, then turned towards Jack and spoke to him directly.
‘Come here Jack Brenin so I can get a good look at you.’
Jack stepped forward rather reluctantly and stood in front of the nymph whilst she inspected him. He felt uncomfortable as Jennet not only looked but also sniffed the air around him. When she’d finished she turned back and addressed Nora.
‘He’s not much to look at is he?’
‘I agree,’ croaked Camelin. ‘He’s going to be as much use as a chocolate teapot.’
An awful sound came from Jennet and Jack only realized she was laughing when Nora looked crossly at her.
‘I’m going to do my best,’ Jack announced loudly.
This must have satisfied Jennet because she turned her attention back to Nora.
‘Does he know what he’s got to do then?’
‘Not yet, but he’s spoken to Arrana and she’s explained our problem to him.’
‘Is that all you wanted to tell me? I’m very busy you know.’
‘No,’ said Nora sternly, ‘I want you to promise to help Jack should he ever need it and tell the other water nymphs they must promise too. You can start by working out which symbol Jack needs for the lath Arrana gave him.’
Jennet screwed up her face and narrowed her eyes.
‘What do I get in exchange for this?’
The water began to bubble around Jennet again as she waited eagerly for her gift. Elan stepped forward and produced a large black shiny marble from her pocket. The bubbles were now turning into what looked like a mini whirlpool. Jennet stretched out a long arm and wrapped her spindly green fingers around the offering.
‘This is very acceptable,’ she crooned and pointed towards one of the rocks in front of the well. ‘This will be your mark. Come and touch it.’
Jack approached the well, taking care to stay out of Jennet’s reach. He put his right hand upon the cool mossy rock. There was a flash of light. The rock became burning hot. He pulled his hand away. Glowing in the rock was a strange symbol. His finger was throbbing and when he examined it, the same symbol was glowing there too.
‘Make sure you succeed Jack Brenin. We’re all counting on you.’
Jennet’s words were almost lost as a final surge of bubbles engulfed her. Then she was gone.
Where can readers find you and your book?
My books are available on Amazon UK and Amazon USA, from the bookshop on my website at http://www.pengridion.co.uk/ , or from the publisher at http://www.infideas.com/.
Thank you for inviting me onto your blog.
Thank you so much for joining me today, Catherine! Your books are loved by both children and adults, and you have had a remarkable journey! It was such a pleasure getting to know you! I encourage everyone to read the Jack Brenin series!