Happy Birthday blog!

Birthday cake by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

Can you believe it – it’s ten years to the day that I started writing this blog? What a roller coaster it has been! From the Scottish hills, down to Devon, two more children, changes of career, multiple house moves, exploding beer, sinking boats, wildlife spotting, gardening antics, seasonal musing, ups and downs, twists and turns! Some of you are regular readers who have been so kind and faithful, letting me know I’m not just bleating into the wind! Others of you are newer arrivals and you are most welcome. Thank you to all of you. Happy Birthday little blog. Ten years old today!

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How I Write

Photograph of my notebooks, by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

Look at this! I don’t talk about writing for months and then I talk about it for two weeks on the trot! You’ll be relieved to hear, this one is more light-hearted. In my last blog post I mentioned how I wrote the first draft of The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle in notebooks on train journeys. I used to work as an illustrator, so the idea of a sketchbook, carried continuously with me, always ready to record anything that caught my eye, is something that is seared into my DNA. To my current self’s amazement, the first draft of Avery Buckle poured out onto the page in long-hand form like one elongated narrative sketch. I didn’t know any other way to do it. I have only once managed to do that again. Back then I typed up Avery Buckle onto my ancient MAC, and as I typed I edited. Then, once typed up, I edited it again. This isn’t the way I work now at all.

The great thing about sketchbooks is how portable they are, but technology is becoming more portable by the moment. My partner bought me a tiny laptop last year (a glorified word processor really) and I haven’t looked back. First drafts go straight onto the laptop, and my notebooks have become the place where I generate my ideas, throwing around plot plans, sticking in newspaper articles containing little nuggets that have captured my imagination, notes, quotes, and links to topics I want to investigate. These days my notebooks feel more like comfy nests, where I want to snuggle down, and dream until the treasures they contain organise themselves into a story-shaped pattern in my mind.

‘Dreaming’ a book is a really important part of my process. I’ve tried sitting down in front of a blank page with a plot aim for a scene, and the writing has always been laboured. And that may well be an understatement. That kind of writing feels like pulling knotted rope down through my nasal passages. I write best when I have had time to imagine a scene, like a Pinterest mood board in my mind – the colour, the smells, the sounds, and to feel the emotions. In my imagination I push the scene to its most sickly sweet or cruelly dark extremes, and somewhere, there in my imaginings, I find the right note. Then, when I sit down to write, I’m brimming with excitement, bursting with all the feelings the scene has given me, and which I want my reader to feel too. 

Unfortunately this kind of writing needs a lot of editing. Writers who have it all planned out avoid significant pain at the editing stage. I tend to run to ten or fifteen drafts. I don’t actually mind editing at all but I do need help with it. I have two writing groups which I am part of. I have a couple of trusted beta readers. I am also incredibly lucky to have a very wonderful agent who is just fabulous. But my notebooks are still very much where my stories begin. And I’m sure that’s more down to the notebook itself than many might like to admit. There is absolutely a kind of magic in unused stationery, those delicious blank pages full of possibility. As Cassandra the witch puts it in The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle,

“Pens. Paper. These things are full of magic; down the spine, inside the nib – full to the brim with some of the strongest magic around.”

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Where I Write

My Middle Room desk by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannahcatherinefoley.co.uk)

I hope you had a lovely Easter. I was nursing the full bank holiday but got to see the children do their egg hunt before heading off on my rounds on Sunday morning. There are hundreds of baby bunnies down by the river when I pedal out on my early morning bike rides. It’s a bit of a job avoiding them! Now, onto other matters…

I have written previously about juggling my writing life. For accessibility and diversity reasons, I feel it’s important to be honest about these things. At the time I promised to be braver and write more on this topic. So here I am, being brave… This post gets a bit deep and a little political, so do feel free to move on if you prefer my lighter musings 🙂

I have never had a private space of my own in which to write. The novelist Virginia Woolf famously argued that for a woman to write, she must have £500 a year (a lot of money in those days) and a room of her own. Woolf was part of an upper class group of artists and writers called the Bloomsbury Set who were active in the first part of the 20th century. She decried how working class women were essentially reduced to servitude by poverty and motherhood, with no time to themselves, let alone chance to write. What she was saying was radical at the time. 

While there aren’t the same levels of abject poverty in the UK now, the issues for working class women and girls who have stories in their hearts remain much the same. Working class stories by working class writers do make their way into the published literary mainstream, but they tend to be miserable, urban, and most often, written by men. The deprived son come good is a great story, but what about his single mum? Are we only to hear her story through his? It is as if working class life is, by definition, gritty, and masculine. 

For a long time, I didn’t even realise I was working class. I knew I certainly wasn’t middle class – that was abundantly clear from their confidence, the way their parents weren’t exhausted to the bone after work, and how their mums spoke to them like they were pet dogs. But my life bore no relation to what I saw on soap operas like Eastenders and Coronation Street either. My family weren’t constantly feuding with other families, binge-drinking to oblivion on a Friday night, and engaged in endless extra-marital affairs. From these soap opera portrayals, I assumed all working class people lived in cities and towns. I can’t remember hearing the term rural working class once in the whole of my childhood, but that is what we were, and are. My family came from a proud tradition of working class people who were politically engaged, well-read, and community minded. 

My parents and grandparents benefited from the economic uplift of the working classes in the 50s and 60s, but it came at great social and geographical cost. One cost is the current crisis in social care for the elderly. And for many of my generation, another is the effective rendering of us as placeless and rootless. Was it not ever thus? The Potato Famine? The Enclosures? The Clearances? Intentional projects by those with money and power to push working class people from the lands of their ancestors. But my parents and grandparents weren’t pushed, they left of their own freewill. Didn’t they make the choice? They left. And so there is the guilt. Didn’t we disinherit ourselves from the land of our forebears? Didn’t we?

I know that is not the whole story and the absolute poverty found in parts of the UK in the 50s and 60s was horrific. Of course you would flee from that. But to be working class is not to be poor – working class history which values education, engages politically, and seeks to raise all boats, is a history I have had to teach myself, and proactively reclaim as my own heritage. Still, I have no private space to write, but write a novel I did.

I wrote most of The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle on trains, in notebooks, balancing precariously on piles of luggage. I didn’t know I was writing a novel so the idea of carving out any dedicated time to do it, much less a private space in which to do it, never occurred to me. It was as though, as soon as I stepped away from my caring responsibilities, someone switched a tap on, and all this stuff just came pouring out on the page… page after page after page of it. I hadn’t thought of whether it was any good, but it felt good to write it. 

I won’t go into the details, but there then came a dark moment in my life when I felt my ‘working-classness’ more than I had in a long time. Doors closed and I felt I was being told to know my place. I was metaphorically sent back to the mines. How dare I dream of a creative life? I still didn’t see writing as part of that dream. More out of frustration than anything else, I typed up the story in my notebooks and entered it into a competition. 

And I won. 

And then I wrote another story in the kitchen of a holiday let while my littlest napped of an afternoon, still scribbling away in notebooks. I edited it on the decade-old MAC in my foldaway desk in our “middle room”. The “middle room”: a workhorse room for homework, den-building, model-making, car-track constructing, playdough moulding, colouring in, where my partner works during lockdown, and mealtimes when we have more people around the table than just us. And the only warm room in our house. The children clattered up and down the corridor outside, wondering loudly when on earth Mum would be out of the middle room so they could do X, Y and Z in there. 

Then my littlest got her free childcare hours and suddenly there was a bit more time, not much, because I worked a day job too, but a bit more. I wrote a first draft of another story, this time between notebooks and a cheap laptop (glorified word processor) my partner bought me. The laptop gave me freedom to get out of the house and so I started to experiment with writing locations. I tried writing in cafes but couldn’t get over my squeamishness about it. I had worked too many waitressing jobs in the past to sit there hogging a table, making each coffee stretch out for hours. I discovered a private library in the city and we paid for a subscription. But the upper-middle class volunteers seemed determined to broadcast a running commentary in plummy accents on their activities for the benefit of the whole library. I couldn’t write there either. I considered a co-working space but the cost was prohibitive. At last I settled on splitting my time between a corner of my little boy’s attic bedroom and my foldaway desk when the kids were at school, and the hospital library when everyone was at home. I still don’t have a room of my own or £500. And writing still isn’t part of a dream of a dedicated creative life for me. The truth is, I don’t think such a dream exists for working class women. Not unless you want to starve. I write because the tap comes on as soon as I’m free of my responsibilities. I guess that is my ‘room’, for want of a real one.

Of course, Covid put a spanner in the works of even the writing arrangements I had made. During Covid, my ‘writing time’ was lost to childcare, and when I wasn’t doing that I worked my day job, in a healthcare system in crisis. On social media, men pronounced how lockdown had given them the time and space to finally write that novel. Women replied with raised eyebrows, interested to know who was looking after their children. And meanwhile, working class people of all genders carried on going to work, and kept the hospitals open. I have heard men on social media decry the “over-representation of women” amongst children’s book authors. The truth is that children’s books are shorter. I simply don’t have the time, space or financial backing to write 100,000 words. I do have time to write 40,000 words, sentence by sentence every time the computer system at work goes on the blink (my latest first draft). 

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The Team Behind A Book

Publishers have always been a slightly mysterious entity to me. I don’t suppose it helps that they are often called “Publishing Houses”, from which I imagined somewhere not too different to my own home. Perhaps the person who did the front covers sat at the kitchen table, and the person who packed up the books to go to the bookshops worked in the shed? I imagined the editors typing away on old-fashioned typewriters up in the attic.

It wasn’t until my own book was published that I began to understand a bit more about what publishers do, and all the jobs there are within a publishing house. It wasn’t anything like I imagined!

Editors

In general it is editors who find stories that become books. Once, an editor has shown a story to all the other people who work at the publishers, and they’ve all agreed they like it, it’s the editor who works with an author to get the story shipshape (or bookshape, should I say). I suppose it’s a bit like the job of a coach, working with a runner to get them ready for a big race. While the runner is the one doing the actual running, they need training and advice from the coach. In the same way an editor helps the author find the best ways of telling their story. Thankfully I had two wonderful editors to work with at Kelpies, but I worked most closely with Jennie Skinner. I have been so lucky to have her clear thinking and enthusiasm channelled into my book. 

At the beginning of the process we started off by talking about the magical world my characters live in and some of its history. This helped clarify aspects of my story which had been a bit woolly. I suppose I’d just hoped no one would notice! But let me tell you, editors notice everything.

Once we’d got that straight we moved onto Structural EditsStructural Edits are about plot, pacing, and cutting out the flabby bits of the story. Scenes and characters are examined and if they don’t pull their weight they’re sent packing. 

The next stage is Line Edits. This is all about looking at the words you use to tell the story. During Line Edits your editor wants to make sure that your writing is clear and effective. 

Then on to Copy Edits. This stage is about making sure your writing is consistent and accurate, and often a different editor may be asked to review the text with fresh eyes. It feels like you’re nearly there, but even at this stage your editor may discover a glaring plot hole which will need sorting out before you can go on. 

Finally there’s the Proof Reading stage, and by now, you really are nearly there. This stage is about spotting typos and any sentences that don’t make sense. 

Design Team

The Design team have the job of turning a lump of white paper and black squiggles into something someone is going to actually pick up off a bookshop shelf. They are responsible for page layout, cover design, use of illustrations, and other non-text elements. Leah and the team at Kelpies came up with the brilliant ‘cat’ font for the cover of Avery Buckle. They found and commissioned the very wonderful Xavier Bonet, the illustrator who illustrated the incredible front cover. They’ve also worked on a few little surprises in the story itself, but you’ll have to read it to find out what they are!

Production Team

The production team are all about quality, schedules, and costs. Headed up by Morag at Floris, the production team liaise with printers and distributors to make the book become a real, hold-in-your-hand, object. Wow! 

Marketing Team

I feel exhausted even just thinking about what the marketing team have to do – they wear so many hats. I had a big panic about marketing because I’d read a lot about how a debut author must go out and ‘sell’ their book. I thought the success of Avery Buckle was all on me, and that felt very big, and very scary. Would I literally have to stand on street corners waving my book in people’s faces until they bought it?  Thankfully the marketing team at Floris are fab-u-lous, and once the wonderful Kirsten had told me to calm down because they really did have it all under control, because it is actually their whole job, I stopped panicking (I do still panic occasionally). The marketing team work on branding, publicity, and promotion. They work with editors to produce sales copy (that’s the words you see on websites and in brochures that make books sound so enticing). They work on promotional material, deal with the press, arrange publicity events, and manage and develop promotion for the publisher. See, I told you, time for a lie down.

Office Team

The office team are like the mechanics who keep the bus on the road. They do lots of very important jobs to do with finances, dealing with distributors, contracts (that’s the legal bit), and the buying and selling of rights (for example a publisher might want to sell the right to publish a book in a foreign country). This all sort of happens under the bonnet. You can’t see this machinery going around underneath the bus, but if it doesn’t happen, the wheels fall off, and there are no books. They would probably work between the garage and the kitchen in my idea of a publishing house. 

So, there you are, the team behind a book! They all need a round of applause I think 🙂

Floris Books office sign. Photograph by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.hannahfoley.co.uk)
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Thank you

I just wanted to quickly pop on here and thank you all for your amazing support for The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle. Many of you regular readers will know I struggle with legitimacy issues! Who am I to have my story published? Well, no one will read it any way. And if they do, they’ll hate it. And even then, if they do like it, it’s all a total fluke, and I’ll never have another one of my stories published!

But many of you have sent me kind messages telling me that, not only have you read Avery Buckle, you actually quite liked it. I have received wonderful pictures of books arriving and being read, and it has really, truly, been such a heart-warming experience. Thank you all xxx

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Interview with Xavier Bonet

Cover artwork by Xavier Bonet

Though we know the old adage not to judge a book by its cover, we all do. I love the cover of The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle. It tells a potential reader so much about the book before they’ve read a single word. Anyone picking it up knows they can expect magic, adventure, mystery and atmosphere, and they would be right! I’m absolutely delighted that Xavier Bonet, the incredible illustrator of the Avery Buckle cover, agreed to answering a few questions for me…

First of all, I have to tell you that I was absolutely bowled over by the cover artwork for Avery Buckle. It is perfect, full of atmosphere and magic! I have had so many people telling me how much they love the cover. Could you tell us a bit about your process for illustrating a book cover?

Thank you so much, it was an incredible privilege being part of this project. I’m so excited about this book, I can’t wait to see it! 

Well, answering your first question, normally I receive a template with the available space for the illustration, and some art directions by the publisher. Sometimes, I don’t have the manuscript so, with these few details, I need to move my imagination. Fortunately, both characters have a lot of personality and special features, so it was really easy, thanks to you. 

After few character sketches and one color study about the palette, I start with the composition of the cover. This part is so important to distribute all the objects and text. Finally, I send the publisher the final sketches, and after their revision, I can continue with the final art. 

One of the things which I think is particularly special about your work is your ability to convey character. I especially love the fantastical creatures you draw, such as the witches and trolls. How do you go about developing characters in your work?

I try to put emphasis on the look of the characters, and the expressions. It’s true that I feel really comfortable with the magical characters. For me, it’s easier because this kind of character doesn’t have limits, and this is liberating. On the other hand, for me, illustration is another language to express emotions, like novels, music, or poetry, so I always try to draw like all creators, with soul. This is basic.

Could you tell us a bit about your working day? When and where do you work?

Well, I have two incredible boys, they are my true inspiration, so I start the day like a father, going to school, and after, I come back home, where my little studio is, my mini refuge. I’ve been working from home for years, but a few days a week I need to get out of my studio to connect with nature, so I take my iPad and I try to work outside when it’s possible. In any case, I have a strict schedule table to complete all the work.  So I divide my day into three parts, drawing at first because this is when I feel best able to concentrate. Before lunch, I try to complete administrative tasks. And in the afternoon, I continue with drawing time. Sometimes this order is changed, or exchanged, one block for another, like social media.

Could you tell us how you came to be an illustrator?

It was an incredible rollercoaster – I started working years ago at a little studio as a cartoonist of animation backgrounds. But at this time, this kind of industry in Spain was on the decline. So I spent a long time working in different jobs as an IT specialist. In the mean time, I didn’t stop drawing and improving my skills as an illustrator. One day, after my second son was born, I felt that I couldn’t run away anymore, so I started to create a portfolio, and began to show my work to several publishers. Finally, a great opportunity came up at a fair – showing my portfolio, I met my agency, Plum Pudding, when I work currently. They are an extension of my hands and my legs, so I can thank them for the incredible projects I get to work on. This was seven years ago now. So, I’m really happy to finally achieve my dream and have this opportunity to grow personally and professionally.

What are you working on at the moment? And what should we be watching for which will be coming out soon?

Nowadays, I’m working on an incredible series for Branches Publishing by Tracy West – Pixie Tricks, about fairies and mysteries. It will be 8 novels and the first book is already available. A graphic novel version of the classic The Wind in the Willows for Usborne, based on the story by Kenneth Grahame, with text by Russel Punter, was published on 4th March 2021. Another graphic novel, one of the famous series The Last Kids On Earth by Max Brallier comes out on 12th April 2021. And obviously the amazing story of The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle by Hannah Foley (18 Mar 2021). Hope you like them!

Check out Xavier’s brilliant artwork by going to his website HERE, and by going to his Instagram account HERE. 

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Today!

The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle is out today!!! It’s a very special moment. I loved chatting to my friend’s daughter outside school this morning. She has already read the first few chapters. Her enthusiasm for the book (my book!) made me want to cry with joy!

Here is a link to another review which came out today:

And here is a video clip of me introducing The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle to everyone:

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One day…

That mysterious door has continued to put in appearances all over the country and the world over the last week. This morning it was spotted at Kelpies HQ which can only mean one thing… The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle is officially out tomorrow!!!

It has been really special seeing photographs of pre-orders arriving in reader’s hands over the last twenty-four hours. You can read two interviews I did this week with book bloggers My Book Corner and Roaring Reads. Click on the links below to read them:

You can also read my very first review by clicking on the link below. I’m beyond relieved to say it’s a good one!

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One week…

Witches front door for The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle

Since last week, the mysterious door has been popping up all over the country! From Edinburgh to Exeter! 😉 Follow my social media accounts over in the side bar to see where it pops up next —>

As well as being  children's author, Hannah Foley has worked as a nurse through the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is just one week now until The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle hits bookshops (cue lots of nervous nail-biting by me!). To celebrate I have written a guest blog post for my publisher about being a nurse and an author during the pandemic. You can read it here: https://discoverkelpies.co.uk/2021/03/hannah-foley-guest-post/

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Two weeks…

Photograph of the witches' front door from The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle at Knightsridge Primary School, West Lothian. All rights reserved (www.hannah-foley.co.uk)

Counting down… two weeks until The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle publishes, and reports have been coming in of a strange door appearing in the reading corner of Knightsridge Primary School in West Lothian! It looks a lot like the front door to the witches’ house in Avery Buckle. Can this be a coincidence? I don’t think so!

Two children were seen bouncing out of the door, then settling down on the sofa to read some books, all before the school open-end for World Book Day! Who on earth could they be??? 😉

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