Monday, 9 March 2009

Interview with a Début Author: STEVE FEASEY

Hi Steve, please tell us a bit about yourself.

My former life was in photography, but I turned my back on that to set up a printing company about five years ago. I'm now writing full-time. I live in Hertfordshire with my wife and two children. I enjoy amateur dramatics (I still act when I can find time) and rugby (which I coach to under-9's)


Is he a boy or his he a beast?
Trey thinks he is an ordinary teenager. Then he meets Lucien Charron - a mysterious stranger with eyes that seemed flecked with fire, and skin that blisters in sunlight. Suddenly Trey finds himself living in a luxury penthouse at the heart of a strange and sinister empire built on the powers of the Netherworld - vampires, demons, sorcerers, djinn. And Trey discovers his own secret: a power that's roaring to break free.
Meet the last hereditary werewolf. One thing's for sure: Trey Laporte will never be ordinary again.

It must have been very exciting to have been shortlisted for the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize 2009. How did it make you feel having this happen with your first book? Do you think this kind of recognition helps boost sales and publicity for you as a writer that might not be possible otherwise?

It was a huge honour to have been shortlisted for the award so early in my career. I kept telling myself that I wouldn't make it past the longlist, and I was bowled over to discover that I'd made the last eight.
I think receiving any kind of nomination can only be helpful to sales and publicity.

How did it feel seeing your book on bookshelves and online?

We went out as a family to see the book on the shelves on the day of release. My kids were jumping around the shop floor shouting and pointing. They were making so much noise that I had to go and explain to the staff what was going on before we were forcefully ejected.

is your debut novel. Is it your first attempt at writing a novel or do you have other manuscripts hidden away?

Changeling was my first novel, and my first real attempt at writing, so I don't have any secret manuscripts squirrelled away in the loft. I know how incredibly lucky I am to have had my first try at writing a novel published (although at the time, I didn't have a clue how difficult this really was), and I know that some people will be gnashing their teeth reading this answer, because now I do know how hard the vast majority of people try in order to get their work published. Put it down to beginner's luck.

How long have you been pursuing your writing ambitions and what have you done along the way to improve your writing?

I'm a very latecomer to writing. I've never taken any courses or read any creative writing books, and the thought of taking part in an online critique group fills me with terror (I don't let anyone see my work until it's late in the editing stage).
I did however join an online writers' forum, writewords, once I was serious about writing the book because I knew absolutely nothing about the publishing industry or how it worked. It's a fabulous source of good advice from a whole host of people, from established authors to people just starting out on their journey into writing.
I think the only real advice I could give to anyone seeking to improve their own writing is to read, read and then read some more. And read across a host of different genres. Oh, and beg, buy, borrow or steal a copy of the Writers' and Artists' Handbook.

What was it that made you think 'I want to write for children'? Is it a genre you enjoy reading?

I have a terrible confession to make: until very recently I didn't read children's books. When I set out to write Changeling, I knew that it was going to be a children's book, but I had no idea what the rules for writing for children were. As it happens, there really aren't any. Naturally there are some subject matters that you can't touch upon, and you have to be aware that certain scenes have to be written in a way that aren't too gratuitous in depicting acts of violence or unacceptable language, but otherwise I think you have a huge amount of freedom when writing for teens and young adults.

Have you changed genre since you first started writing? If so, do you feel your writing suits a specific genre and do you enjoy writing this genre more than any other?

One of the exciting things about writing for children is that you don't get as pigeon-holed in a particular genre. At the moment I am writing teen horror, but I have some great ideas for a series in a completely different genre that I intend to start work on in the near future.

Have you ever tried writing for adults? Is it a market you'd like to write for in the future?

I'd like to write purely for adults in the future, but I've had a number of 'grown-ups' write to me to tell me how much they enjoyed Changeling. I think if you have a good enough story to tell it can appeal across a wide range of age groups.

In your experience, do you think agents/publishers are more approachable when it comes to writing for children?

Agents and publishers want books that they think will sell. It doesn't matter whether the book is aimed more towards children or adults, if the story is good enough, and the writing is enjoyable, an agent/publisher will be interested.

In the case of, Changeling, how long has it taken you from initial inspiration to finally achieving the publication deal?

It was all very quick. About two-and-a-half-years from starting to write the book to it being published (again, I can hear that gnashing of teeth)

Before finding your agent, Catherine Pellegrino of Rogers, Coleridge and White, and achieving publication, had you approached any other agents and publishers? Have you had to deal with rejection along the way?
(NB Catherine Pellegrino's comments can be found at the end of the interview.)

If you want to write, you have to be willing to accept rejection. I had almost fifty rejections before somebody saw Changeling and thought, 'Let's see the rest of this.' You just have to grow a thick, rhino-like hide and get used to the rejection letters plopping onto the welcome mat in the mornings. In the end I was lucky enough to have a few agencies interested, but it took a long time to get to this stage.

If several agents were interested in working with you, how did you decide which one to choose and did you meet them face-to-face to help you decide?

I met up with Catherine first because she had been so constructive with suggestions as to how I might make certain parts of the story work better. We hit it off, and I left RCW knowing that she was the person that I wanted to work with. I decided not to meet the other agencies and signed with RCW a few days later.

Would you recommend having an agent and, if so, why?

Any good agent knows the business inside out. They know which publishers are looking for what to fill their catalogue, and they can get to talk to people that we mere mortals wouldn't have a hope of contacting. Much more than that, a good agent should be a friend that you can talk to when things aren't going as planned. Agents are part schmoozer, part Rottweiler, part agony aunt, and in my opinion, wholly essential.

Do you think there has been any other deciding factor in your success other than simply writing a good novel? For example, a competition win or a literary consultancy?

Just a grim determination to write the best book that I possibly could, that and an obstinate belief in myself and my work.
I do think that whatever route helps you get the best out of yourself is a good thing. What works for someone might not be right for someone else.

You achieved a fantastic three-book deal. Has achieving publication changed the way you approach your writing? Do you plan your stories in advance, or do they happen on the page?

Having a three-book deal is great, but also a little bit scary. We pitched Changeling as a five-book series and Macmillan were very excited by the ideas that I had for the books. The problem is that I don't plot or plan, so the books tend to have a life all of their own and go off into areas that I didn't anticipate at the start. At times I find myself wrestling with them to get them back on track.
Writing to a deadline means that you have to be far more disciplined with yourself, and I've had to get my act together a lot more than I did with Changeling (which I wrote here-and-there whenever I could fit the writing in). Now I try to write in the mornings after I have dropped the kids at school, when I am at my most productive.

Do you think your enjoyment of amateur dramatics has influenced your writing? Having acted out written dialogue, do you think it helps you write dialogue? Are you a writer who likes to act out his work?

Yes, I think that playing a role on stage and performing written dialogue when I act does help me with this aspect of my work. I think that it can help you develop an ear for what aspects of verbal storytelling work and hopefully avoid 'clonky' dialogue. I don't act out any of my work, but I do like to put myself behind my characters' eyes and see everything through them in a way that is very similar to the way that you do when trying to get into an acting role.

Which authors/stories did you enjoy reading as a child/teenager? How do you think they compare to the children's/YA novels available today? What do you think children of today want to read?

My dad encouraged me to read a lot of classic children's literature when I was young, so I loved Stevenson, Kipling, Rice Burroughs and Blyton. I think that their books still stand up today, and my kids love The Famous Five as much as I did at their age (the language seems a bit clonky at times, but the stories hold up fabulously well). Children's books are more sophisticated today, but I believe that great adventure stories like Treasure Island or the Tarzan books can still hold a modern reader's attention.
For me, writing is all about the story. Get that right and I think you can grab even the most reluctant reader.

Where do you get your inspiration from and what inspired you to write Changeling?

I was watching a television programme on BBC4 (yes, I am that viewer) about the demise of the adventure story in the Seventies and how modern writers like Horowitz, Higson and Rowling had rekindled an interest in this type of book whilst inventing modern, up-to-date protagonists. I started to jot down a few notes about a teenager who discovers that he's a werewolf, and the story came from there.

Some authors get themselves into the writing mood by playing music. Do you use such an approach and, if so, what music did you listen to while writing Changeling?

I can't have music on when I'm writing. I've read that other authors like to have music on, and that they have the equivalent of a movie soundtrack that goes with their book; associating certain songs with their novels. But I can't listen to music passively. If there is music on, I find myself tuning in to it, and before I know it I'm humming or singing along to that and not concentrating on the words.
When I've finished my work for the day I do like to listen to music. With Changeling I would often kick back in a chair and listen to The Killers or Kings of Leon.

Rewrites and revision: How much have you had to do throughout the writing of Changeling?

Nobody likes rewrites, or rather, nobody likes the thought of rewriting. However, the actual act of 'killing your babies' is never quite as bad as that expression suggests, and I quite enjoy seeing how an editor or agent sees certain passages of my work differently to the way that I did when I originally penned it. Normally, their suggestions are made to make the book 'sing' when it's started to 'hum' a little, and it's all too easy as the originator to not be able to spot these sticking-points in your work.
I was extremely lucky to land an agent that has a great eye for a story, and she helped me to mould Changeling before Macmillan saw it for the first time. Of course, Macmillan had a whole different view on, and Rebecca McNally helped me turn a good story into, what I hope is, a great book.

Having achieved a three-book deal for Changeling - did you have ideas in mind for the sequel, or have you had to think about it from scratch? Presuming the rewrites have changed the story, what would your advice be for anyone writing sequels without first achieving a deal for book one?

Sequels are hard work. You fight with how much backstory you need to go into in every book to satisfy new readers, you worry about checking details against earlier works, you wring your hands in worry when the main story arc starts to go off in a different direction. If I was more organised, I would plan. I would write a plan for each book and stick to it. But where would be the fun in that, eh?

Titles: How many titles did you work with until settling on Changeling? Aspiring writers are often told how important a title is - do you have any advice on what a good title is?

I am absolutely rubbish at titles. I didn't even have a working title for 'Book One'. The title eventually came about through a piece of chance research that I was doing: I was looking at trolls (well, somebody has to) and I read about the legend of changelings - human children that the trolls would swap with their own, taking the beautiful looking human children to live in their underground world and leaving the troll baby behind. When I thought of Trey's discovery early on in the book that he isn't a human, I knew that I'd found the title for the book.

Do you use your own children or any others as a 'sounding board' for your novels?

Heavens,no! My kids are all very excited about the whole thing, and they keep trying to get me to reveal what is going to happen next, but if I used them as a sounding board my daughter would insist on heaps more romance, and my little boy would settle for nothing less than a complete gore-fest. I'm not sure how I could satisfy both of those demands.

Regarding artwork for the book covers. As the author do you have any input into the choices made or is the decision left entirely to others?

I was so happy when I heard that Kev Walker was to design the cover for the Changeling books. I'd seen some of the work he'd done for Warhammer, and once I found out that he'd created the covers for the Artemis Fowl books, I immediately went out to have a look at them.
As for input: the first book's publication date was brought forward by almost seven months because of the Waterstone's Prize, so the cover had to be perfect first time (and I think it was). With the cover for book two, Changeling: Dark Moon, I was given the chance to make comments on what I thought of it.

What sort of publicity and marketing have you been undertaking? Was it arranged for you, or do you have to initiate your own ideas?

I've been doing a number of library visits, talking to teenage reader groups about what they like to read. I've also started to do school visits. I'm very fortunate to have a great publicity manager at Macmillan who helps sort these things out.

You recently did a radio interview. How did you find that experience? I'd imagine it's quite daunting?

It was all so quick! I only had a five minute slot. I was ushered into the studio with about two minutes to go until I was on, and the presenter told me I had five minutes to 'sell it' before they moved on to the next feature. I actually enjoyed the whole experience, and now that I've got the first one out of the way I'm looking forward to doing more.

Have you got any other books coming out?

Changeling: Dark Moon comes out in August 2009 and we are hoping to follow that up with book three (still no title yet) in January 2010.
Dark Moon picks up where Changeling finished with Trey and Alexa undertaking a mission to retrieve an object that has the ability to save Lucien's life. There is also a dastardly sub-plot that involves a demon so ghastly that I couldn't even begin to go into it here. It's great fun and I hope that the fans of Changeling will love it just as much as the first book.

Words of wisdom and advice to any aspiring writer?

Write the books that you would want to read, and know that you can. Don't try to write something for a market, or because you think it's the kind of book that a publisher might be looking for.
And read. Lots.


Why I chose Steve -

There were a number of reasons why I took Steve on as a client, all part of a process which involved editorial discussion and meeting him face to face which is terribly important. The author/agent relationship is by its very nature quite an intimate one and one that involves a lot of trust. It is therefore fundamental that you both hit it off and share a common vision about what can be a long and hopefully fabulous journey from placing a book with an editor, through to its publication.
None of this would, of course, have happened if it wasn't for Steve's enormous writing talent which, even though the first draft of Changeling was far from perfect, was in my opinion, blindingly obvious. Steve's ability to take direction and his intelligent approach to making editorial changes also reassured me that this would be someone who could work with the right editor and make Changeling a great book which of course it is.
Catherine Pellegrino

Published by

Foreign publishing rights have also been sold to:

1 comment:

Jon M said...

Another great interview, Tracy, inspiration for all of us! :)

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Popular Posts

The Bookseller