I am delighted to welcome Sheila Rance to the RNA Blog today. Sheila was born and grew up by the sea which is probably why Maia’s adventures in SUN CATCHER start among the cliff dwellers who live at the edge of the ocean. When she’s not thinking about Maia’s adventures, she works with dyslexic pupils in a mainstream comprehensive school, and is currently working on the second book in the trilogy, STORM CHASER.
Sun Catcher is your debut children’s novel. Tell us how it came to be picked up by Orion.
I was incredibly lucky. I’d recently completed an MA in Writing for Young Adults at Bath Spa University and used part of Sun Catcher as the final dissertation. It won the United Agents prize for my year and was shortlisted for a Chicken House competition. I found an agent, John McLay, who was starting up a new agency for children’s authors. He liked Sun Catcher and agreed to take me on as his first client if I was prepared to refine the story, which at the time was much too long at 100,000 plus words. We had a meeting with the editor, Fiona Kennedy, at Orion, who felt it suited their children’s list. Now, two years later, Sun Catcher is being published on World Book Day. It’s already been taken by a German publisher, which is fantastic. I’ve been sent a copy of the book – just to hold it is amazing. A dream come true.
What would you say were the major influences that inspired you to write Sun Catcher?
In short: children, the Bronze Age, silk, lizards, eagles.
I’ve taught in comprehensive and primary schools and wanted to write a gripping, ripping adventure for this crossover age group. I think the rite of passage from small to big school is fascinating; friendships, loyalties, popularity, responsibilities, all the themes in the book exist in the turbulent teen coming of age. Of course, I’m hoping adults will love the book too. RNA’s lovely Katie Fforde is a fan. On reading a proof copy she wrote: “exciting and beautifully written. I found this unputdownable. It’s brilliant”. I’ll take that review!
The Bronze Age has fantastic resonance. I think, maybe naively, that it offers a simpler world where understanding and respecting the environment was key to survival – a good model for us.
Silk is a gorgeous fabric with an amazing history. Who isn’t captivated by the image of the Silk Road crossing different lands and cultures? Maia’s journey eastwards to meet her destiny has an element of those epic, exotic journeys along ancient trade routes.
I didn’t believe my eyes when I saw two monitor lizards swimming in a muddy waterway in Malacca. They were huge and slightly scary. They had to be in a story, as did eagles. Watching their flight is amazing, and there are still Eagle Hunters in Mongolia.
Did you love fantasy and adventure as a child?
Yes. I lived between the sea – long beaches, harbour, pier, lighthouse – and the countryside with a river, woods, castle and lake. A great place for adventure games with my brother and sister. Saturday morning pictures were also a huge fund of adventure stories. So was the library with its museum, cases of pottery, fossils and rocks, glass-topped drawers full of butterflies and a terrifying stuffed grizzly bear. I read adventure, cowboy books, historical novels, Arthurian legends. I didn’t read Lord of the Rings until my late teens, then Strider was my hero. I loved Peter Jackson’s interpretation in the epic films. I still love Aragorn, but maybe Sam Gamgee, a gardener like my husband, was the true hero – as is he.
What are the particular challenges in writing for young adults?
To capture and keep their interest from page one. No saggy middles or flabby bits. Keeping the chapters short with cliff hangers so that readers will be desperate to come back to it. Not being tempted to write down while making the language and structure accessible. As with adult fiction, to have great characters, a problem to solve, tight dialogue, an intriguing setting, and to make the story as gripping, vivid, and as good as you possibly can. And to have fun while you write.
Are there limitations on language, or subject matter such as political correctness in today’s world?
Children’s fiction has always dealt with everything, real life and imaginary. You only have to read excellent books by Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo to see the range of issues they deal with – war, abuse, loss, divorce, bullying, death. Having said that, I think we all have a duty of care and responsibility to protect as well as entertain. Freedom to write carries responsibilities. A book should be a safe place to explore life, to have adventures, be a hero and be reassured that others are dealing with familiar even scary issues.
Have you suffered rejections? If so how did you deal with them?
Of course. Childishly, I might weep, shout, sigh, sulk. I toss the reject in a drawer out of sight. Then when I’m over feeling unloved and a terrible failure, I start all over again.
I’ll see if I still love the story, and then try to do the sensible thing, which is to check the market and send it off again. I might re-write bits, trying to make use of any helpful critique there might have been on the rejection slip (usually none because editors are frantically busy). I cross my fingers and hope that it will arrive on the right slush pile in time for the right reader. But some rejects are destined to be practice pieces, exercises from the writing gym.
Can you work anywhere, or do you have a favourite place to hide away and write?
Anywhere. Huts and trains are good. Occasionally in cafes. In the car waiting for family and inspiration. I always have a notebook with me just in case. I use the laptop for manuscripts though, as my handwriting is almost illegible. With a laptop I can follow the sun round the house. My dream is to blow my advance and build a writing hut in the garden. This could well turn out to be a recycled wooden pallet with an umbrella and cushion, wedged in the apple tree if the blackbirds don’t mind.
What piece of music is most likely to make you feel happy?
This is subject to change and depends what I’m doing. Music to cook to is different from music I put on when I write, which I then never hear because the story takes over. The first bars of By The Sleepy Lagoon because it’s the theme tune for Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, and I know I’m going to listen to half an hour of fascinating chat and music and that makes me happy.
Where will the story take us next?
At the moment to a Sun Catcher sequel. Storm Chaser sends Maia on a perilous adventure back to the silk garden hidden above the Sun Deeps where she grew up. She must find the last of the moon moths which make the whispering silk. And discover which of her friends will betray her and steal the powerful silk.
The song of silk tells of destiny and danger. Prepare for the adventure of a lifetime.
Maia, flame haired daughter of the silk Weaver, has always been an outsider, and when danger threatens her cliff top village, she’s swept up in a perilous quest.
But, who should she trust? Tareth, her father and keeper of secrets? Razek, the weed boy and storm chaser she has known all her life? Or Kodo the lizard boy the cliff dwellers call Untouchable?
All the while the silk sings her destiny, and Maia learns that though the sun’s fire may be dangerous... so is she.
ISBN 978 1 4440 0620 9
Publication date 7th March 2013
Find out more about the upcoming trilogy:
Thank you, Sheila, for sparing time to talk to us today. We wish you every success with your debut novel.
Best wishes, Freda
Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org