In January, the bestselling writing duo Saffina Desforges released a new novel – with two unknown and previously unpublished teenage girls, Miriam Joy and Charley Robson, whom I have known for a while. The ebook has already received a bunch of 5* reviews and much praise from reviewers for being a “light and engaging read” amongst others praising the humour.
You can buy the ebook ‘St. Mallory’s Forever!’, a novel about friendship, boarding schools and mysteries, here on Amazon.com as well as other Amazon sites. Print books are also available on demand. Also, check out the St. Mall’s blog.
Since I have not yet had the chance to read the novel myself, I’m interviewing Charley and Miriam on what it’s like to be a teen published.
Hi! First off, well done for publishing. I bet that’s an amazing feeling.
AB: St. Mallory’s meant writing in a new genre for you both. What was the trickiest part of making this change?
CR: I think it was having to adjust my language and mindset. I write a lot of high fantasy, science fiction, and historical works , so having to adjust to a modern setting was a bit of a leap, especially with regard to words I tend to avoid in my habitual writing. That, and having to deal with a mindset of a teenage girl – oddly, not something I’d do instinctively, as I generally use older characters – meant having to make sure the character wasn’t just a reflection of my own personality (something which, I find, is a lot easier with characters who are further removed by age and background).
MJ: Not killing anyone. (You think I’m joking? I have a habit of killing off my main characters. The narrators, sometimes.) No, it was mainly an issue of narrative voice and plot. I usually write things with some elements of fantasy, even if they’re in an urban setting, and having to keep everything very realistic, as well as having characters who were fourteen-year-old girls instead of age-old fairies, was a change.
Haha, I definitely can relate to that.
I’ve read that you met on a collaborative writing site [Protagonize.com, where I first met Charley and Miriam], which must have helped with the collaborative nature of St. Mall’s. But did you have much writing experience before that?
CR: Plenty! I’ve been writing properly since I was about 13 (though I shudder to look back on those early monstrosities. All that purple prose!), and lots of scribbles and silly things before that. I’ve done NaNoWriMo three times, as of this year, as well, so I’ve got plenty of experience in the novelling department. To varying degrees of success.
Varying degrees of success?
The trouble of producing novels is my inner procrastinator. I’ve got a pretty hectic life as it is, so when it comes down to time when I might novel I feel too lazy to apply myself. Inspiration is a rare commodity for me, so I often move quite slowly unless someone’s badgering me.
MJ: I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I wrote a play called … um, I think it was called ‘Escape’, and I turned it into a story later, but I wrote that when I was eight. I started turning it into a ‘book’ when I was nine. I was already interested in writing for publication when I was twelve, but it wasn’t until I joined Protagonize when I was thirteen that I really started committing myself to writing, and even then it wasn’t until NaNoWriMo that I wrote my first novel.
If you had had to do something different on the journey to completing St. Mall’s what would it have been?
CR: Less procrastination. I used to dither over the writing of chapters because I was worried I’d scuff everything up. With hindsight, I know now that my lovely co-authors wouldn’t have allowed me to get away with anything horrific, and I really needn’t have worried so much over it. Even if I deserve to be stoned to death for my incurable comma addiction.
MJ: Probably prioritise it a bit. It slipped to the bottom of our lists a lot of the time, with exams and whatnot, but it would have been nice to finish it a bit quicker. And not leave proof reading until 1am on publication day.
Yeah, that’s a bit of tip for anyone self-publishing: don’t leave things to the last minute!
Apart from St. Mallory’s, what has been your favourite piece of your own writing to date? And, of course: why?
CR: Hmmm . . . oddly enough, I think it would have to be a story named “Ikarus”, that I wrote for NaNoWriMo this year. I love some of my first stories dearly, but “Ikarus” has really taught me a lot, and I think it shows how much I’ve changed as a person since I started writing. I’ve worked with themes and elements of setting and character that I’ve not been quite brave enough to approach before and, although I despise the writing quality and want to gouge my eyes out over the plot holes, I’m pretty proud of the story’s complexity and themes in comparison to my earlier works.
MJ: WATCHING, the first book in my YA urban fantasy trilogy (which is actually complete!) is the only thing I’m pleased enough with to be looking at publication, but I’ve got a whole bunch of first drafts waiting to be edited that I’m really proud of. One’s about the apocalypse. Another is about modern day knights.
If music is inspiration, what sorts of songs did you listen to get inspired for writing the boarding-school-mystery genre?
CR: I listened to the “St Trinians” soundtrack a lot, for obvious reasons. Miriam also introduced me to the joys of a band called Santiano – a German group who sing sea shanties. The bounce and energy and general happy quirkiness really put me in the right mood for writing “St Mallory’s” . . . even if I don’t understand a word of most of the songs!
MJ: The BBC Sherlock soundtrack? I don’t know. My writing playlists are fairly general: I have ‘All Writing Music’ (2 days long), ‘Death Scenes’ (6 hours long), ‘Fight Scenes’ (3 hours long), and ‘Epic Writing Music’ (2 hours long). Then I make playlists for some of my novels, too. But I didn’t make a St Mall’s playlist, mainly because I was never writing for more than about half an hour / 45 minutes at a time. I couldn’t do too much without the others’ approval.
I read on your blog, Charley, that you applied to Oxford University; do you think that writing a novel with end of publishing affected/effected your university applications (for the good or bad)?
Luckily, I don’t think it had much of an effect at all. I’m a pretty good prioritiser, and I definitely put the immediate needs of university application before writing (we were in a bit of a slow period during the time I did most of the application, too, so that helped). That said, I did mention the imminent publication in my personal statement, but what effect that had on my offers I cannot tell you, if it had any at all!
Miriam, people have asked it before, but how DO you manage multi-instrumentalism with writing?
I don’t sleep a lot. I write at lunchtimes and eat at breaktimes. I don’t practice my instruments as much as I should. I type quickly. Writing is my hobby as well as something I have to make myself do, so it takes priority. I don’t really watch a lot of TV and my social life is based around the orchestra-band-ballet-archery circuit – there’s nothing outside of that.
Finally, has anything changed now that you two are published authors? Has it changed your opinions of whether to go traditional or continue the self-publishing route?
CR: Pshhht, what hasn’t changed! Forgive the cliché, but it’s a real dream come true for me – and I never would have suspected it would be achieved like this at all until now. We’ve done pretty well sales-wise, even with very little pre-publication promotion, and I think that’s taught me that self-publication isn’t as risky as I thought it was. That said, I’m still very open-minded and situationist about publishing on the whole, so depending on the book and my own needs at the time, I’d make decision about that book’s route accordingly.
MJ: Yeah. Teachers come up to me and say, “I heard about your book!” (and if I tell them I was working on St Mall’s stuff, they might let me off missed homeworks…) No, it’s not really changed a lot yet. I’ve been looking at agents for WATCHING, but I’m not making any plans about publishing. I don’t know what’ll happen next week, next month, next year … things might change my mind, so it’s best not to make it up!
Definitely! I’m glad it has gone so well for you two. Thanks for giving some insight into your published world!