Monday, 5 April 2010

Interview with a Debut Author: KATE MARYON

Hi Kate and welcome. Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, I was born in 1963 on September 18th at 6.45 am to an extremely dysfunctional family, in Teddington, Middlesex. If it hadn’t been for my totally batty but wonderful mum’s love I might have shrivelled up and died. But she adored my brother, sister and I and although she did a terrible job of keeping us safe, she made us all fell very loved and special in her own way.

I was a shy child. I loved primary school but found secondary school really painful. I mostly got the bus to the school gates, turned around and went back home again. My mum was cool with this, though it meant I have some big gaps in my understanding of maths and I have pretty terrible memory for general knowledge. My most favourite subject has always been anything to do with people, I’ve always wanted to know what makes us tick.

Age 22 I got married and age 23 I got into Roehampton Uni to study Psychology. I then discovered I was pregnant so decided not to go. I had my daughter Jane age 24 and my son Tim age 25. My babies were and are delicious. They were also quite difficult as children, constant illness, which we now discover was mostly allergy based. These experiences lead me to the world of alternative medicine, so I started studying Homeopathy in 1992. In 1993 my dad, who’d been very violent during my childhood, but who I was now just getting to know, killed himself by blowing off his head. Very traumatic – I don’t think I’ve managed to touch my feelings around that yet – I will in time.

I left my husband in 1994, but we are still close and we love each other very much. In 1996, three days after my lovely mum died, I qualified as a Homeopath, picked up my babies, a bag of clothes, three bikes, a mattress and a copy of Pippi longstocking and drove to Horningsham in Wiltshire where I rented a little cottage in the middle of a field. Here, I wept for my mum and my dad and our sad life and slowly and gently nursed myself back to some vague sense of normality.

In 1997 I met Daniel, my now partner and soon to be husband. Together we have raised our kids, nurtured our careers and created a very gentle and loving life together.

Twelve-year-old Tiff loves her mum, Carla, who is glitzy and fun and always coming home with shiny new amazing things.  
The trouble is, Tiff's mum doesn't buy these things, she takes them.
  The fact is, Tiff's mum is a thief...


What inspired you to write SHINE?

I was looking for a good strong plot when one morning, over breakfast, my partner, Daniel, suggested writing about a girl who’s mum is a con artist. At first I dismissed the idea, but a seed was sown and I found myself researching parents going to prison and the effects of it on family life. I was amazed to discover that approx 11,000 children per year are left alone, in care etc because their sole parent has gone to prison and felt it was a subject worth writing about.

My intention with my writing is to bring an emotional language to children who are stuck in difficult situations without the means to express what’s going on for them. I hope my books bring a sense of possibility to kids, helping them to navigate their way through challenging situations. I feel it’s important to show that recognising and speaking their needs to somebody is a key to finding resolution to difficulty and that it’s possible to embrace all hurt and pain through love. It’s also important for me to show that the ‘bad’ kids aren’t usually inherently bad, just suffering the hurt and pain of the family situation they find themselves in.

I chose to set most of Shine on Sark for two reasons:
1. It’s somewhere I’d always wanted to go, so I thought, why not let the tax man pay for the trip?
2. I liked the idea of Tiff finding herself in a place that contrasted so starkly to the shiny London life she lived with her mum.

You work as a Youth Counsellor, did your work influence your writing or the theme in anyway?

I work primarily as a Homeopath and through my work get to listen to the inner most secret world of my patients. Working with children is amazing, because when given the space to express themselves they are like a fountain of self-awareness and wisdom. They know what their needs are; they’re just rarely given the opportunity to express them.

My work as a homeopath influences my writing enormously. The privilege of getting very close to the kids I work with means I have access to their inner landscape and that combined with my ability to write means I’m able to express the world of a child with a degree of authenticity.

At first glance the book seems very ‘pink’ but actually tackles some serious issues. Ultimately the book is uplifting and positive but how important do you think it is for children to read books that deal with difficult situations, such as single parent families, broken homes and crime? Do you think it helps the younger reader know that they may not be alone, perhaps even empowers them in living their own lives?
I think it’s important for children to read a wide variety of books. Pure fantasy escapism can be really helpful for us all if we’re having difficulty, it offers a break from reality and a rest from the storm. But I also feel that reading about real life situations can be really helpful in navigating family/school/life traumas. I hope that children will be able to easily identify with my characters and their difficulties and that my stories will help them, like you say, feel that they’re not alone.

The pink look is possibly an issue – I know pink sells well and it’s a great way of attracting girls to buy the book. It’s of some concern to me though the pink look might put some kids off who might otherwise have bought and enjoyed Shine. Someone told me that he feels my characters are very well rounded and have a depth to them that he likened to Michael Morpurgo’s characters. It maybe that eventually we move more to that kind of cover. Although to be honest, I don’t have a lot of say in that area.

You write vividly and engagingly in a first person pov as your main character Tiff. Did you use memories of how you were at that age or did you get feedback from girls of Tiff’s age?

I didn’t have the exact same childhood to Tiff, but mine was one fraught with trauma, violence and abuse. It’s clear to me when I’m writing that I’m connecting up with old feelings. I’ve spent years working on my trauma with various people and it’s interesting to witness that the more awareness and space I have around my own process, the more freely I can write about the subjects and feelings that used to be too painful to revisit.

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

I have a little band of readers, mostly patients of mine, who read my books as I’m writing them and they give me great feedback. My daughter sometimes reads bits but she’s decided that she prefers waiting until it’s a real book. She's 22 years old, my son, is 20 and stepsons range from 20-25, so as much as they really support what I’m doing none of them, so far have sat down to actually read!

Shine is your debut novel. Was it your first attempt at writing a novel or did you have other manuscripts hiding away?

I’ve always written, but as a younger person concentrated mostly on picture book manuscripts/plays and poetry. But I’ve always known there was a novel inside me, so when my kids started leaving home I decided to give it one more shot. I wrote a book called ‘Love Hearts’ for age 9+, which stole Eve White, my agent’s heart. She took me on and sent it out and got 7 rejections but all with comments that they loved my writing, but the story had been done before so they didn’t want to take it on.

I then wrote ‘Ruby Lou Raises the Roof’ for age 7-8 yrs and the same thing happened, except that Rachel Denwood of HarperCollins said she didn’t want the story but she wanted me! That was a very exciting moment in my life. We had a meeting and she sent me off to think of a new plot.

When I came up with Shine we both knew we’d hit on a great story and that gave her the confidence to give me a three-book deal. I’m writing stand-alone stories for girls age 9+, which are about ordinary girls who find themselves in extraordinary situations. It’s very exciting, so long as I bear that theme in mind I have pretty much free reign as to what to write about.

How long did it take you from initial inspiration to finally achieving the publication deal?

Once we’d decided on Shine the deal was promised but it took a bit of time for the contract etc to be drawn up – I’m discovering that publishing is a very SLOW process. I can’t remember the exact dates, but I guess it was few months.

Did achieving your first book deal change the way you approach your writing?

Not really, except that it’s now part of my working week, so it has to be done and I take it seriously. But I don’t have a routine, if that’s what you mean. I write in spurts, when I feel like it and can sometimes go a few weeks without doing any at all. I’m great though at meeting deadlines, so they’re always a great inspiration.
There’s always a small attention pocket in my brain though – I’ll often stop what I’m doing and view the world through 9-year-old eyes. Or I’ll lie in bed in the mornings “working’ – although it would appear that I’m just gazing into space and snoozing. It’s amazing what exciting ideas surface through the haze of a snooze!

Do you plan your stories in advance, or do they happen on the page?

I start with a pretty good idea of what the general plot will be but I just LOVE watching what happens once I begin. My characters take on a life of their own and they just insist on doing their own thing. They’re unstoppable!

In Shine, Rachel Denwood and I battled for ages about the scene where Tiff cuts her hair. Rachel was afraid that she’d have stressed out mums phoning her complaining that their daughters had cut all their hair off. So I tried cutting it but Tiff was having none of it – she just HAD to do it. This for me is the most exciting part of writing. I love starting a new book not really knowing what’s going to happen.

Rewrites and Revisions: How much did you have to do throughout the writing of SHINE?

I think I did three sets of revisions in the end. The first involved clarifying the plot. I kept moving away from the main thread and rambling in different directions. Once I’d mastered that I had to switch some chapters round and cut some bits out then work a little on the dialogue. Plotting has been the most difficult part of writing so far. But through writing Shine, I studied plot hard, learned a lot and with my second book, Glitter, due out on Sept. 2nd, I had one small amount of editing to do. I kept waiting for Rachel to send the MS back with more to do when I discovered it was already with the copyeditor!

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

I’ve written since I was 4 years old – it was clearly a way for me to express the supressed trauma. When my kids started to leave home I decided to see if I could get published. I’ve always known I could do it but had never really found my voice. I joined a local writing class and it became apparent from week number one that I really could write. Each week I got great feedback, which inspired me to write ‘Love Hearts’ – and suddenly I’d found my voice and had an agent and a publisher. It all happened quite quickly. The only other study I’ve done is to read lots of kids books and to read a book on plotting.

Before achieving publication did you have to deal with rejection along the way? How did it feel to finally secure the publishing deal?

I didn’t have to deal with much rejection – I’d sent a few picture book MS off when I was younger, which all plonked back on my doorstep with a thud, but it was never a big deal. I didn’t turn myself into a failure for it.
To finally secure a deal felt very settling and very ordinary. Excitement was there but it was more like I’d always known deep inside that I could do it and now other people were happy to validate that feeling and put their money on it. I feel so very blessed and have enormous gratitude to both Eve and Rachel for taking me on.

The most exciting moment was seeing my book in WHSmiths – and seeing 15,000 copies being bound was pretty awesome too.

Do you have any plans to feature and her mum in any future books?

No, Tiff and her mum are done now. My second book Glitter, features a sweet girl called Liberty Parfitt and book number three, which I’m working on now, is about a little girl called Summer.

What made you think ‘I want to write for children?’ Is it a genre you enjoy reading?

I do love reading children’s books but I think my motivation is more that it’s a easy and natural place for me to write from. My childhood was painful, so it’s easy for me to access that.

Random House are interested in some picture book MS and of course, I’d LOVE to write the world’s best love story – it’s marinating in brain soup at the moment though.

And I’d LOVE to write a screenplay. I’d have to rent a painted wooden house on a gorgeous beach for that though. I’d definitely need great views, seagulls and a wild grey sea to look at whilst drinking red wine, listening to Mahler and tapping away on my lappy. And there'd be lots of crying, because of course it would be a love story too!

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

I read so many books as a child; I loved reading so much. I read stuff like Black Beauty, Heidi, Little Woman, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, The Family from One End Street, Ballet Shoes, Paddington Bear, Winnie the Pooh, Huckleberry Finn, Swallows and Amazons, all of Enid Blyton, I just loved them, Jane Eyre and on and on it went.

I loved reading about adventures and the things kids get up to when there are no adults around. They were much more innocent and much more literary. There was so much more descriptive prose to work your way through.

I think that children still love to read all of those books, they’re timeless and as well they love to read more contemporary themes and boys really love humour.

Words of wisdom and advice to any aspiring writer?

Think of the most troubled time in your life and write from there – that’s where the juice is!

Any other comments/observations/general mind-blowing information you‘d like to add?

I’m consistently touched, moved and inspired by us humans and how we travel through this phase we call life. With all it’s highs and lows we keep going, through every trial and culturally varying tribulation we sweep the floor and put decorations on the tree. And we do all this even though we know, in some small, quiet pocket of our minds, that one-day, and we don’t know when, we’re just going to die and not be here anymore. For me this isn’t depressing – it’s inspiring.

Agent’s comments: EVE WHITE

Why I chose to represent Kate Maryon:

When I read a few chapters of Kate's first novel, I loved her style and her characters. Kate is a homeopath who cares deeply for the people she works with and this comes through in her work. There's beautiful warmth in her writing and her plots are gripping. I know girls are going to adore her books.

Eve xxx


Clare said...

Another fantastic interview, Tracy - both Kate and her books sound fascinating and fun!

Nick Cross said...


William Goldman says that "an unhappy childhood is a gold mine for a writer." I never really knew what he meant by this, except that there was no way I wanted to write about my unhappy childhood!

Recently, I've come round to the idea - as I think you have - that we don't need to use those experiences directly, but rather remember our emotions at the time. It's funny how every word feels like therapy sometimes!

Good luck with the books.


Wendabubble said...

Congratulations Kate on writing two superb books. Reading Glitter was really an amazing beginning to the end of a difficult life for me. It helped me to understand where the soul lies and how listening to and following our gut feelings leads to, well no tummyache! You are always so positive and inspiring regardless of what happens, thank you x x

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