I'm a science writer and lived for several years in Japan. It was during this time that I became fascinated with Japanese folklore and the supernatural yokai or demons. I'm trained as a biotechnologist and work for a computing network designed to solve global problems.
I won the Voices on the Coast childrens writing prize in Queensland, Australia, and was selected for a Young and Emerging Writers fellowship at Varuna House in the Blue Mountains, Australia.
I've lived in Tauranga (New Zealand), Perth and Canberra (Australia), Hyogo and Tsukuba (Japan), Geneva (Switzerland) and East London (UK).
Takeshita Demons is my first published book.
Miku Takeshita and her family have moved from Japan to live in the UK, but unfortunately the family's enemy demons have followed them… Miku knows she's in trouble when her new supply teacher turns out to be a Nukekubi - a bloodthirsty demon who can turn into a flying head and whose favourite snack is children. That night, in a raging snowstorm, Miku's little brother Kazu is kidnapped by the demons, and then it's up to Miku and her friend Cait to get him back.
The girls break into their snow-locked school, confronting the dragon-like Woman of the Wet, and outwitting the faceless Noppera-bo. At last they come face to face with the Nukekubi itself - but will they be in time to save Kazu?
What inspired you to write TAKESHITA DEMONS?
I love entering competitions and was intrigued by the challenge of entering the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Award. I’d written children’s manuscripts before, but never strayed from using my own background as a skeleton for main characters. Suddenly, with the challenge of including and exploring a new culture, my imagination went wild.
TAKESHITA DEMONS was the winner of the inaugural Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Award 2009. How does it feel to be the winner and to have your first novel published?
Cristy Burne and members of the shortlist who attended the 2009 Award ceremony.
Amazing! I’ve won (and not won) writing competitions in the past but I’d never been published. I didn’t dare believe Frances Lincoln would want to publish TAKESHITA DEMONS, but they’re doing it this year! Even better, they’re talking about a three-book deal.
How long did it take you from initial inspiration to finally achieving publication?
Depends what you mean by “initial inspiration.” Ever since Mum started reading to us from Snugglepot and Cuddlepie at nights, I’ve loved books. When people asked me what I would be when I grew up, I’d say “book store owner” (and then “kindergarten teacher” and then “scientist”). I started writing for children in 2002, when I moved from being a “scientist” to a “science communicator” and found I couldn’t get enough of working with kids.
TAKESHITA DEMONS incorporates aspects of Japanese folklore and mythology. Did you do much research into these areas and if so, do you enjoy this part of the writing process?
Yes, and yes. I’d thoroughly recommend any writer experiment with incorporating non-fiction in their novels. I found it fired my imagination in all-new ways. I love researching yokai and with each page turned I discover new facts and tidbits, some of which have inspired complete chapters, others that sparked new characters.
Do you use your own children or any others as a ‘sounding board’ for your books?
When I wrote TAKESHITA DEMONS I was pregnant with our first child, Fergus, and although I used him as an imaginary model for Miku’s little brother Kazu, he wasn’t actually born at the time. In terms of sounding boards, I’m very shy about my writing, so I mostly use myself. I read heaps of childrens and YA books every year and like to stay abreast of what’s hot and what’s trending.
Is TAKESHITA DEMONS a stand-alone novel or part of a series? If part of a series how many do you hope to write?
TAKESHITA DEMONS is part of a series. Book one will be published in the UK in July 2010, and I’m working with Frances Lincoln on a contract for Books two (FORESTS AND FILTH LICKERS) and Book three (working title: YOKAI MATSURI). I’m half-way through writing FORESTS AND FILTH LICKERS. I love it!
TAKESHITA DEMONS is your debut novel. Was it your first attempt at writing a children’s novel or do you have other manuscripts hiding away?
I wrote my first manuscript, ONE WEEKEND WITH KILLIECRANKIE, in 30 days, aiming to have it finished in time to enter the Voices on the Coast competition in Queensland. I finished, I entered, I didn’t so much as get shortlisted. But I kept rewriting and editing and sent the reworked manuscript to Varuna House, hoping to win a Young and Emerging Writers fellowship. And YAY! I was selected as one of six emerging young writers in Australia and won a free trip to the Blue Mountains plus a week-long fellowship at Varuna House. AMAZING! I entered Voices on the Coast again two years later, and this time? I won! The manuscript for ONE WEEKEND WITH KILLIECRANKIE is still in my bottom drawer.
Since then I’ve written a sequel to ONE WEEKEND, (the working title is ONE WEEK WITH KILLIECRANKIE), plus a post-apocalyptic thriller for older kids, called BEYOND THE SAFE ZONE.
How long have you been pursuing your writing ambitions and what have you done along the way to improve your writing?
I’ve written something (almost) every day since 2002. Sometimes I write science articles, sometimes travel articles, sometimes magazine features, sometimes shopping lists. I’ve worked as editor of Scientriffic (a science magazine for kids aged 8-12), and as editor-in-chief of International Science Grid This Week (a weekly e-zine produced by CERN in Geneva: home of the atom-smashing Large Hadron Collider). And then I read: books, newspapers, magazines, blogs. And more books. Having baby Fergus has definitely cramped my reading and writing style, but I’m learning to work around that. And he’s certainly worth it.
Do you plan your stories in advance, or do they happen on the page?
At first I used to let them happen on the page, but then I always wrote myself into awkward positions and required long walks and lots of angst to fix things up. Now, with the TAKESHITA DEMONS series, I write a plot summary (about a page long), and use that to kick the book along its merry way. I can change it whenever I like, but having it is a great cure for writers block and keeps me motivated.
Did winning the Frances Lincoln competition and achieving a book deal change the way your approach your writing?
Not really. Winning a competition or getting published is just another step in the journey. I’ll keep getting rejected. I’ll keep getting stuck. And I’ll keep writing. Hopefully, along the way, I’ll keep getting published and I’ll have a chance to work with kids at school events and festivals. That’s the big dream.
Before achieving publication did you have to deal with rejection along the way?
No, and I’m also an excellent cook, and very clever at reading maps, and I’m hoping my husband will buy me a salad spinner for my next birthday. :-)
Do you think your experience of working as a teacher has influenced or helped your writing in any way?
Absolutely. I worked as a teacher in a Japanese school for two years, so that really helped shape Miku’s character and gave me a huge reminder about what it’s like to be a kid. Plus I’ve worked for two years as a performer in the Shell Questacon Science Circus and with Questacon Smart Moves, so I’ve been into hundreds of schools and performed in front of nearly 100,000 children. When you’re that close to that many kids, it’s easier to stay tuned into how they think and what they like.
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?
I loved (and still love) adventure stories…the Famous Five, Secret Seven, Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Three Investigators, Willard Price, anything by Roald Dahl, plus Kiwi authors like Margaret Mahy and Maurice Gee. When I was very small I loved Aussie classics like Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Blinky Bill, the Muddleheaded Wombat and the Magic Pudding.
Today’s books aren’t much different: Back then I could read about young detectives with hideouts and chauffeurs; now I can read about young spies with hideouts and helicopters. Then I could read about a bunch of friends pitting their wits against the local bad guys to save the day; now I can read about a bunch of friends pitting their wits against global dictators to save the day.
Kids today want to read exactly what I want to read: something exciting, something empowering, something that takes them somewhere thrilling and magical and new.
Words of wisdom and advice to any aspiring writer?
Enter competitions!! You’ve nothing to lose and tons of experience (or free trips!)(or cheques!)(or industry contacts!) to gain.
What advice you would you give to anyone considering entering the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices competition for 2010?
Just do it, and soon.
Entries close 26 Feb.
Published by Frances Lincoln. June 2010
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