Writer Wednesday: Tracy Fahey for Fennec Books


I’ve mentioned that aside from crafting, writing and being a full-time mum, I’m also a Commissioning Editor for Fennec Books, an imprint of Fox Spirit Books. Last year we did an open door and after reading multiple submissions, I selected a novel by Tracy Fahey called ‘The Girl in the Fort’ to commission. It’s been a steep learning curve, going from writer to editor and Tracy has been very kind, graceful and VERY patient as I work with her on her (in my opinion) fantastic manuscript. Anyway, publication day is looming, and we’re all very excited to show you Tracy’s beautiful novel (seriously, check out the cover by Jacob Stack,). Over on the Fennec blog, Tracy chats to me about writing Girl in the Fort and more. Check it out here

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The Big Interview: Louise George

I met Louise during my first ever ‘real’ job and we’ve stayed in contact ever since,first via email then Facebook and I was overjoyed when she announced her pregnancy in 2011. Her daughter, Jessica, was diagnosed with a Congenital Heart Defect during their 20-week scan leaving Louise and her husband, Michael, facing the difficult decision about her care, with medical advice suggesting that Jessica would not survive birth. Battling the odds, Louise and Jessica underwent in-vitro surgery which enabled Jessica to be born, then Jessica has had numerous surgeries since, with more planned for the near-future. I catch up with warrior Jessica and her true Wonder Woman mum, Louise.

GCH: Motherhood has given me a wealth of embarrassing moments (frankly, to add to an already impressive collection!). Can you tell us one of your embarrassing motherhood mishaps?

LG: Tiredness makes us do daft things as mums. I recently found myself tipping the contents of a potty into the kitchen bin instead of down the loo.

GCH: What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

LG: I sometimes shut myself in the kitchen and eat chocolate. I usually have some squirreled away somewhere!

GCH: I frequently joke about needing a LOT of tea to get me through some days with a cheeky toddler and crazy pup (or is that crazy toddler and cheeky pup?). So what’s your drink of choice – tea, coffee, wine, beer or something else?

LG: I tend to be a coffee drinker. That first cup in the morning is blissful. It’s amazing how it can transform me from a harpy to a human being. The transformation has not gone unnoticed by my girls though. Jessica will often ask me “Do you need coffee Mummy?” if I am a bit grumpy in the mornings!

GCH: You’re a trained midwife. What would you tell any expectant mum is a must have in her maternity bag (mine is face spritz, if nothing else it gave hubby something to do!).

LG: Face spritz was amazing! It was one of my must-haves both times.

My midwifery days are quite some way behind me now. But other than the usual essentials, I would say cereal bars and Lucozade were another must-have. They were great for giving me energy during labour and keeping hubby going too. Keeping birth partners fed is also important. Hubby almost passed out during my labour with Jessica and we realised that he hadn’t eaten anything for hours at that point. He felt much better when he was given some toast and jam!

GCH: Also, what was one of the best aspects to your job as a midwife? And one of the worst?

LG: That first cry of a new baby and the pure joy on new parents’ faces was the most magical thing. No matter how many times I saw it, it never lost any of that magic. I felt like I got to see a little miracle happen on a regular basis.

The worst is when a baby dies. It is the most heartbreaking thing. I have never forgotten that awful feeling of discovering that a baby had died in the womb and I still remember every single family I looked after whose baby was born sleeping.

GCH: Do you think you’ll return to midwifery?

LG: I don’t know at the moment. My registration lapsed a few years ago and I would need to retrain if I was to return. I have no plans to return in the foreseeable future. Hubby works in the events industry which has very irregular hours. If I went back to shift patterns or being on-call 24-7 as I was as an independent midwife, it would make childcare difficult to arrange. I now work part-time and mostly from home as an HR Manager which fits well with family life and means I can be there for the children when they need me. Any plans to go back to midwifery would be unlikely to happen before the children are old enough to be able to look after themselves.

GCH: Jessica was diagnosed with CHD at 20 weeks. Can you briefly explain what CHD is and what treatment she had? 

LG: CHD stands for congenital heart defect (or congenital heart disease which I think is a less accurate term). There are lots of different types of CHD – most people have heard of babies being born with “a hole in the heart” which covers some CHDs. Jessica has quite a complex CHD – she has hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) and a couple of other abnormalities. In children with HLHS, the left side of the heart is very underdeveloped. Basically this means she only has half a working heart.

With Jessica, there was also an added complication which limited the blood flow into the left side of her heart even further. This meant that her prognosis was particularly poor and we were told at 22 weeks’ pregnant that she wouldn’t be suitable for post-birth surgery. Thankfully the doctor also briefly mentioned an in-utero procedure which was being performed in Boston, USA. We considered going to the USA but were very lucky to be offered the procedure in the UK. This was carried out when I was 28 weeks’ pregnant.

Jessica had her first open-heart surgery when she was eight hours old. She had a second procedure a week later. Since then she has had two further open-heart surgeries (at 3 months and 7 months old) and several cardiac catheter procedures. She is due to have her last planned heart surgery in the next month or so.

This post explains a little more about the surgeries and how Jessica’s heart works compared to a normal heart: https://littleheartsbiglove.co.uk/jessicas-handmade-heart/

GCH: You’re a prolific writer and you’ve enjoyed musical theatre. How has being creative helped you cope with Jessica’s diagnosis?

LG: Writing has always been my way of processing my thoughts, especially if I find it difficult to talk about them. I find writing incredibly cathartic. I also enjoy drawing which is another way of processing my thoughts and I sing regularly too. Singing is something that makes me feel happy so is good for relieving stress.

GCH: Many people have described you as a Super Mummy, a title you politely declined in this blog post. However, you’ve coped with Jessica’s diagnosis with extreme grace and positivity. How do you manage to do that?
LG: My faith has helped hugely with this. My belief that God is walking this journey with us and helping carry us along the way when needed has helped give me the strength I need to get through each day and try to focus on the positives. We’ve also had so much support, love and prayers from friends and family which I am very thankful for. Knowing that we are held in so much love helps to keep me going.

I’m not always positive though! There are many times when I shut myself away and fall apart. I think it’s important too to feel able to let it all out every now and then. I don’t think I could focus on the positives if I didn’t give myself space to let go of some of the fear and worry too.

GCH: You set up your blog Little Hearts Big Love to document Jessica’s condition. Has it helped you connect with other ‘heart parents’?

LG: I’ve connected with a few heart parents through my personal blog and Jessica’s blog. Knowing that we are not alone on this journey makes a big difference. I am in contact with other parents who are further on in this journey who help to give me hope for the future. In the same way, our story helps to give hope to those who are setting out on their heart family journey.

GCH: Jessica was the first baby to undergo in utero surgery in the UK. Since Jessica was born, have you seen an improvement in the care, diagnosis and treatment of other babies with similar conditions?

LG: There are quite a lot of different in utero procedures for various conditions, some of which have been around for some time. Jessica had a procedure to open up a hole between the top two chambers of her heart which was done by inserting a balloon on a wire into her heart and inflating it. As far as we know she was the first (and possibly still the only) baby to have this done in the UK. I’ve only ever met one other heart mum online whose child has had a similar in-utero procedure and she lives in Australia.

With regards to improvements, I’ve been involved with raising awareness the heart charity Tiny Tickers for a couple of years. They do a lot of work to improve the early detection of heart conditions to help improve outcomes for heart babies. I am sure that surgical techniques also continue to improve.

As for Jessica’s in-utero surgery, I think it was very much a case of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. I am not sure that if I was pregnant with her today that we would have had this option without having to travel abroad. Our consultants back then had previously been involved in in-utero procedures (although not the one Jessica had). Their colleague, Dr Wilson, who performed the procedure, was on sabbatical in the States when I was pregnant. He happened to be back in Oxford the weekend after I first asked our consultants about the possibility of travelling to Boston for in-utero surgery and then was back again when I was 28 weeks’ pregnant – which is the ideal time for this surgery to take place. He’s now permanently based in the US.

Our main consultant retired a couple of years ago and the other one we saw regularly focuses on fetal cardiology so is no longer involved in our care. Since our main consultant retired, our care in Oxford has felt more disjointed. Our experiences with Southampton have always been very positive though and we are able to phone the ward there if we have any concerns about her health heart-wise. Our local hospital has also been very good and we have open-access to the children’s ward so can take Jessica straight there if she needs urgent medical attention.

GCH: You’ve written about your husband Michael and his journey dealing with Jessica’s condition. How have you supported him through it all?

LG: We very much support each other through this journey. The most important thing for us is making sure that we talk about our worries and concerns rather than bottling them up. Michael is better at taking in the information at appointments than I am – I am much more emotional in my initial responses whereas he tends to process it more rationally and then gets emotional later on. We balance each other out very well in this respect.

For me, being able to work from home and be flexible has helped. Michael works in the event industry which can be unpredictable and often means long hours when working on an event. He tries to be at as many appointments as he can, but I can work around hospital stays and appointments much more easily.

GCH: You’re thinking of turning Little Hearts Big Love into a book. Can you tell us more about this project?

LG: I’ve written a draft of our journey so far but I’ve not done any more with it at present! That particular project is on hold at least until after Jessica’s next operation.

I have written and illustrated a book for Jessica to help prepare her for having heart surgery. I’m looking into perhaps making this more widely available to help other heart families.

GCH: What are your hopes for your girls?

LG: To grow into young women who are loving, kind and unafraid to follow their dreams. I hope that they will grow up knowing that they are unique and wonderful just as they are; that a little love and kindness goes a long way and to see obstacles on their way as challenges to be met. I hope that they will learn that there is beauty in the journey, even when it means taking a different path to the one that you had hoped for.

GCH: Tell us a secret.

LG: I had an imaginary friend as a teenager. I still had occasional chats with him up until my early twenties. 

Many thanks to Louise for thanking the time to chat and I’m sure we’re all sending positive vibes to little Jessica as she moves towards her next surgery. I’ll keep you all updated as to how this loving, inspirational family gets on. 

The Big Interview: Lois Kay

It’s funny and ironic but some of the loveliest Brits I’ve met have been one my travels and this is true of Lois. We both worked in Spain and would celebrate the end of a working week each Thursday (Feliz Jueves!) as we worked our way along Calle Laurel, tasting pinchos and wine as we went. Happy days!

Lois recently undertook the ‘plastic challenge’ from the Marine Conservation Society where she gave up using single-use plastic for a month and spoke to me about how it went. Lots of hints and tips which I’ll be using for my Earth Day Pledges.

GCH: Can you briefly tell us about your no plastic challenge?

LK: Promoted by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) for the month of June 2017, I didn’t use any food, cosmetics, toiletries or cleaning products contained within single use* packaging http://www.mcsuk.org/plasticchallenge/

Together with the MCS I tried to raise awareness of the reality which is that many single use plastic items end up in our seas and on our beaches, where they persist and impact our marine life and that nearly of these items we really didn’t need in the first place.

*a single use plastic is anything which has a very short lifespan in terms of its usage. Think of a plastic bag containing rice which rarely would get re-used, pots of ready prepared sliced fruit with a plastic film over the top – not resuable at all.

GCH: What motivated you to take part in a ‘no plastic’ challenge?

LK: I wanted to see whether it was possible, to see what positive changes I might be able to bring about amongst friends and colleagues. I love snorkeling and swimming in the sea, and it makes me so sad to see such a beautiful natural environment often damaged by humans wastefulness.


GCH: Did you need to buy anything new to help you with your no plastic challenge?

LK: Yes a lot!

I generally cook with fresh ingredients so that was just making the change from convenience shopping where the fruit and veg is in packaged in punnets to buying loose and visiting local fruit&veg shops – which I really enjoyed, and wish I had done more of before.

But then I realised that food really wasn’t the main problem – my toiletries, cosmetics and cleaning products are all in plastic packaging. So…I made a lot of things from scratch, didn’t wear make-up for the month aside from my homemade mascara (burn almonds until charcoal, and mix with vaseline), and have now switched permanently to Lush shampoo and conditioner bars. I also invested in a metal safety razor to replace disposable plastic ones.

GCH: What’s been the most challenging aspect of the challenge so far?

LK: Snacks. Everything in the shop bar fruit is wrapped in plastic! There’s only so much fruit you can eat! Once I found cashews, pistachios and almonds loose in a local Asian shop together with dates it got a bit better, and I have made quite a few cakes, biscuits, and my mum did make a batch of homemade crisps for my birthday party!

I didn’t manage to find pasta or noodles not in plastic anywhere so went without one of my favourite meals – pad thai in June!

GCH: Do you think it will be easy to continue once the 30 days are over?

LK: A lot of things now seem so easy. The first few weeks giving up Singe Use Plastics were really hard trying to find alternatives to my normal shop but now I have figured out a lot of it, I am going to continue with switching away from plastics as far as possible.

GCH: Any hints or tips for people looking to do the same challenge, or to even simply reduce the amount of single-use plastic they use?

LK: The four big nasties ending up in the oceans are Plastic Bags, Plastic Bottles, Plastics Straws, and Plastic Coffee Cups. I ask everyone to really try and unless an emergency, find alternatives or just do-without.

  • Make it fun and not a chore, spend a Sunday exploring your local shops and see what plastic free products you can find. Find a how-to online and make your own soap or lipbalm.
  • Stock up on glass jars and containers for all your lovely homemade products.
  • Talk to people about what you’re doing, You will feel empowered, people can be inquisitive and perhaps defensive about their habits to begin with but once you sow the seed in their minds, you will get a lot of respect and more

GCH: What other things have you done/will you do to minimise your carbon footprint?

LK: Cycle as much as possible and not just for recreation. Since I bought a second hand bike with a pannier rack (I am a big fan of bungee cords now!) I can go on adventures around Greater Manchester and do my shopping. You can travel through parks and along canal towpaths – something which you definitely can’t do in a car.

GCH: You’ve travelled extensively. Has seeing how different countries approach recycling and refuse disposal influenced you?

LK: It was sad to see the state of some of the laybys and waterways in Cambodia and Phillipines filled with rubbish but they are some of the loveliest people I have ever met and also some of the poorest. If they had access to the same infrastructure and education we have here in the UK, they and their environment would benefit in so many ways.

In the flip side, I don’t know how England is so far behind some of our European neighbours who pay a deposit for plastic bottles and on their return, the bottles are re-used. Knowledge and awareness around packaging and recycling, and the benefits of the basics of reducing and reusing could be so much better here!

GCH: We’re constantly asked if we have a favourite country and it’s always so difficult to choose because everywhere we’ve visited has been special. Do you have a favourite country or place?

LK:
• Cambodia for beaches and rivers
• Barcelona for its architecture
• Bangkok for its amazing buzz
• Manchester – my home
• Greece – for the food and friendly people

GCH: You’ve lived abroad. Any hints for people planning to move to a foreign country? How do you integrate yourself with the locals?

LK:
• Speak the native language at every opportunity
• A smile will help overcome what may seem like many barriers in communication and will make you so many friends along the way
• Admit when you need help or even just a hug.

GCH: Where would you like to visit again?

LK: Budapest in summer! I visited in December, and the -8 temperature made sightseeing a little tricky. I’v also heard in summer they have amazing roof terrace bars. That said, one of my most memorable travel experiences was sitting in the dark in an outdoor 30 degree pool in Budapest whilst snow fell around me.

 

Have you done the plastic challenge? Let us know in the comments below.

The Big Interview: Kalkidan Legesse

One of the things I love about where we live is that there are so many independent shops selling a range of local, handmade and ethical products. One of my favourites is ‘Sancho’s Dress‘ which sells ethical and sustainable clothing. Co-owner, Kalkidan Legesse has a fantastic eye for fashion and all will fit you with the perfect outfit, either for a special occasion or day-to-day wear.

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I spoke to Kalkidan about her inspiration for Sancho’s Dress, how she selects pieces for the shop and what she has planned for the future.

GCH: Your inspiration for Sancho grew after your travels through Ethiopia. That’s an unusual destination for tourists, so what drew you to the region?

KL: Well the main reason is because I am Ethiopian. My family migrated to the UK when I was 5, and I grew up in Reading with a warm and family orientated Ethiopian community. We returned to Ethiopia for the first time when I was around 15 and then when I was 20 I returned again to work for the NGO World Vision Ethiopia for a 6 month period. As is the case for many first generation immigrants I sought to understand the country and culture that I was from to find some answers to the questions I held about myself. In Ethiopia I was first introduced to weaving, spinning, design and the textile markets of Africa’s largest outdoor market. I fell in love with the skill, the joy and the life of making and the independence and dignity of the makers themselves.

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GCH: Can you tell us a little about Sancho and its ethos?

KL: Sancho’s is a sustainable clothing company that helps people, mainly here in the UK, find clothing and gifts which have been made in a way that protects the environment and helps makers to thrive in their craft. We curate contemporary slow fashion pieces at affordable prices, striving to connect brands which are doing amazing work to you. We have jewellery made by communities who, before their current work, lived in the largest slums in the world. 90% of our cotton clothing is made from organic cotton, protecting land from deteriorating and farmers from cycles of life threatening debt. It all makes a positive impact in the world by fighting poverty and climate change.

GCH: Given the disposable, cheap fashion available in stores, how do you aim to change people’s perception of ethical, fair trade and quality clothes?

KL: I believe the most important thing is that we exist, we provide an example of an alternative, of clothing which is made to last and ethically made, clothing which of course is beautiful. Then people are put in the position where they need to make a decision, I think some people are more conscious of this than others, which is natural as with all social movements there are early actors and late actors and people who are never too keen.

I also think that we need to be working hard to provide options for people, we are working to carry larger ranges with more items in them..think swimwear.. so that people can choose.

Finally outreach is important, we use our instagram and facebook pages to talk about the ethos of our business and help people understand that organic clothing can be as significant as organic food and that fair trade is as powerful if not more so as aid in lifting people out of poverty.

Its all a work in progress but  I think we’ll get there.

GCH: How do you ensure your products are ethical, fair trade and organic?

KL: We have a sourcing criteria for the shop to make sure all the styles we carry are doing good in the world. The first is certification, there are some amazing audit bodies like GOTS, WFTO, BAFTS and the Fairtrade Foundation which set out a criteria for cotton farmers, and garment manufactures to follow in order to minimise their environmental impact and ensure poverty alleviation. These are often called the ‘10 Fair trade principles‘ and they protect the workers rights, ensure safe and fairly paid conditions and absence of forced work. We source 70% of our items from fully certified brands. The remaining 30% is sourced from designer-makers, usually made here in Devon. They are independent, and usually at least partially self employed, and their craft helps them to earn a portion of their living.

GCH: What makes you different from other stores on the high street?

KL: Profits are not the basis of our business, we are motivated by the belief that we can make a difference in the world by helping people to reduce their carbon footprint and to connect them with makers in the UK and in some of the most impoverished areas of the world.

We also spend a lot of time with our customers helping them to find items of clothing that suit them, make sense in their wardrobe, clothing which they can wear on a multitude of occasions and will last them at least more than 30 wears.

GCH: What’s your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur and working for yourself?

KL: I love that work is as serious or as playful as I need it to be, my partner and I can go from concentrating on strategic meetings to dancing to whatever is on BBC 6. There is a lot of joy in working with someone you love and trust, whose vision you share.

GCH: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be successful?

KL: I would say you have to be willing to learn, they are so many mistakes to make and you will probably make them all, and unless you can reflect on that and improve you’ll just go in circles. You have to be able to communicate your idea and the value of it, people are bombarded by different causes and worries in the world not to mention their own lives so unless you can speak to them you wont hold their attention. Finally, you have to enjoy your work, there is a LOT of hard and dull aspects of being an entrepreneur and unless you can find joy in them, or in between them you are not going to have much fun.

GCH: I love your Instagram account. How important is social media to your business?

KL: It is the primary way in which we communicate with our customers and friends so I would say it is of huge importance to our business. Social media is fantastic as it works to start leveling the playing field between huge companies and independents, it has allowed us to capture the attention of our customers in a way that other business on the high street, with less heart, can’t and something like a TV ad probably wouldn’t have.

GCH: What are your plans for Sancho in the future?

KL: So many plans, I want there to be a sustainable shop that everyone in the UK can access within the next 10 years. We’re currently laying down the groundwork for the next shop so we’ll see if we can make that dream a reality.

GCH: What’s your favourite or most meaningful piece you’ve sold in Sancho?

KL: What a lovely question, everything we sell is hand picked, tested and curated by me so I feel an attachment with all of it. The past few days, when I’ve been walking through town or by the river I’ve seen a few dozen people wearing items from Sancho’s, and each time my heart leaps. I never know if I should introduce myself or if that would be too weird, but yeah at the moment I don’t have a favourite item but I absolutely love seeing people wear our collections.

GCH: Who has been your greatest inspiration?

KL: Well I’m a fortified member of the Beehive and I am in awe of Beyonce’s bold and brazen power, creativity and femininity as the mug says ‘Beyonce has the same hours in a day as you’ so I try to remind myself. More deeply though I love and respect my parents and all that they sacrificed and invested in order to raise me and my sister in the UK. From my experience, migrating to another country is one of the hardest journeys to take so I see their strength and perseverance as a source of my own.

GCH: What drew you to Exeter?

KL: I came to Exeter university to study PPE and I stayed because of the amazing people, the liberal and inclusive community and the easy access to fish and chips by the sea!

GCH: It’s no secret that I love books and there are some special ones I always keep close by. Do you have a favourite book and why?

KL: I have to say I haven’t read a lot recently although I have 11 more books to read before the end of the year. Now that I’ve told you the context, I love the poetry of E.E Cummings, disjointed yet whole – it’s beautiful. I love Othello, the perception of black males in western society hasn’t moved too far forward and it is eternally relevant. I loved the vampire novels of Anne Rice I grew up with a crush on Lestat rather than Edward of Jacob. I’m reading a few management books at the moment haha, they are not so exciting. And if podcasts count, they count right? I’ve completely addicted to the Serial series right now.

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GCH: Your passion for your work is clear, but what do you do in your spare time? (if you have any!)

KL: In my spare time I like to run, to cycle, to see my friends to hang out with my boyfriend. We have this thing where we harmonise badly on acoustic songs which we enjoy a little too much. I’ve always loved writing poetry so I’m trying to do more of that. I love to travel, so I like to make plans in my mind and wish them into reality, I have 3 trips planned this summer so it’s kinda working.

GCH: Tell us a secret.

KL: Hmm, lets see… I a huge star trek fan and wish I got to speak about that more often. Does that count? If not DM me. (GCH. You all know we love our geek shows here! I’ll let you decide who the best ‘Enterprise’ Captain is, although I do love Picard personally)

If you’d like to know more about what Kalkidan is up to, check out her blog, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

The Big Interview: KT Davies

Karen Davies

I met Karen at my first FantasyCon. I was just starting out as a writer, as was Karen so we shared ideas and suggestions before meeting the following year. Shared work on The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse and other projects shored up our friendship. She makes amazing masks, has worked in theatre, lived in China, rides horses and enjoys LARPing and swordplay (she’s even started teaching the Lamb how to swing a sword!). She has two novels out, my favourite The Red Knight and the award nominated Breed and her website. So lets find out more about this fantastic story-teller.

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GCH: If you could edit your past, what would you change?

KTD: Nothing. I’ve thought about this on many occasions as I’m sure everyone does (you and I at least;) I’ve come to a conclusion that I’m happy with in that good or ill, everything that’s happened to me has brought me to the place I am today and I rather like that.

GCH: Do you have any superstitions/quirks/unique qualities others would call odd?

KTD: Gosh, hundreds, I should think, I just hide them reasonably well.

GCH: What would you consider your greatest achievement?

KTD: Making two human beings.

GCH: You’ve worked as set and costume designer. How did you become involved in this? Can you share some of the creative process, how you approach these projects, some of your triumphs and, well, not so triumphant creations?

KTD: I’m more of a prop maker than a set designer. I fell sideways into making props when I was working as an actor in various, small theatre companies.

GCH: I’m in awe of the masks you’ve made. How do you create them?

KTD: Aw, shucks, thanks!:) If it’s not to a brief from a client I let my imagination off the leash and, when I’ve got an idea I draw it and then make a pattern keeping in mind what it will look like in 3D…you still awake? When I’m happy with the pattern, I cut it out of leather or make a mould to cast from in whatever material I’m using. Simples!

GCH: What keeps you awake at night?

KTD: Everything. Not everything every night, that would be exhausting, Everything is on rotation. I have a noisy, childish brain that constantly clamours for attention and refuses to shut up unless it’s really, really tired.

GCH: If you could be a character in any movie, book or TV show, who would it be and why?

KTD: Dr Who, fo sho. I can relate to the eccentric outsider and I have a time machine…okay, I don’t have a time machine but I’d still be really good.

GCH: Favourite food? Restaurant or take away?

My favourite food is seafood, although, like Wallace, I’m quite partial to cheese.

GCH: What made you travel to China?

KTD: Escaping the law after a bank job went wrong /jk. I’m quite partial to the occasional BIG adventure and went to Taiwan on a bit of a whim and ended up teaching English out there.

GCH: What was the craziest thing you did while there?

KTD: I got caught in a landslide and fell down Yushan also known as Jade Mountain while out hiking. Not one to do anything by halves, I made sure I fell down the biggest mountain on the island. Whilst lost in the jungle I was lucky enough to come across a couple of tribesmen who showed me the way back to town.

GCH: Strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? 

KTD: 1000 year egg. They’re not really a thousand years old, but even so, I can’t recommend them.

GCH: What music do you write to? 

KTD: It depends on what I’m writing. When I’m editing a final draft, I quite often don’t listen to anything other than the voices in my head. Rock, goth and techno feature heavily during first drafts depending on the mood I’m after, but it varies widely.

GCH: How do you go about writing a novel/short story/poem?

KTD: If it’s not to a brief/prompt from an editor then it starts as most stories do with a random idea, quite often of the ‘what if?’ variety. It’s then a case of putting one word after another until the story is done. This can take a while and many, many drafts as I’m a bit of a fiddler; I never feel anything I write is ever finished and quite often have my fingers peeled off the keyboard by my wise and patient partner when I’ve revised the same sentence for the twentieth time.

GCH: Tell us about your latest project.

KTD: My latest project is Breed 2, the follow up to my fabulous, award shortlisted novel, Breed. I’m also going to be working on Breed 3 and a spin off novel. (GCH: um, what about the sequel to Red Knight??)

 

GCH: Tell us a secret.

I could, but then I’d have to kill you.

The Big Interview: Chloë Yates (C. A. Yates)


Life’s a funny old game isn’t it? You never know who you’re going to meet, and in today’s virtual world, you never know who you’ll meet very briefly in the flesh, but who you’ll end up becoming friends with online. However, that’s how I met Chloë – we met very briefly as Alt-Fiction four years ago, then worked together on different Fox Spirit books, before chatting online and becoming friends.

Chloë has been very open about her struggles with her mental health and as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2017, she’s kindly agreed to discuss her issues, what methods have worked for her and how her creativity has saved her. She writes as C. A. Yates and is on twitter as @shloobee

WARNING: Chloë discusses her issues with mental health which may be a trigger for some readers. Also, there may be a little swearing. You have been warned.

GCH: Which living person do you admire most and why?

CAY: Do they have to be alive? Almost all my heroes are dead. Let me have a think. Okay, I’m going to have to go with “someones”. I’m involved with a collective of creative dames, called The Speakeasy, who support each other through thick and thin. There’s musicians, artists, writers, crafties, all sorts. I admire every single one of them and I’d be lost without them. There’s always someone (quite often a dozen someones!) you can speak to and bounce ideas off, to encourage you, to talk over problems with, expel your fury, laugh with, and almost anything else you could need. There’s so much creativity, chutzpah, and common sense in the group, it can’t help but keep me going. I’m honoured to be a member because these women are balls out cool… and that makes me sound like I think I am likewise some cool shit. Maybe I do, maybe I am… *lights cigar and tips hat*

GCH: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

CAY: I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I mean aside from stuff like chopping up your granny for pies, whatever floats your boat, however it floats your boat, shouldn’t be apologized for. An it harm none, y’know? Guilt and shame are what society uses to pop us in our assigned boxes, to keep us on the supposed straight and narrow so we can “fit in”. Ugh. Fitting in. So vulgar.

GCH: If any of your stories could be made into a movie, which one would it be, who would direct and star?

CAY: Hm. ‘Tuna Surprise!’ from the Fox Pocket, Under the Waves, might be fun. Live action, everyone dressed up as fish. Either Terry Gilliam or Guillermo del Toro would do a magnificent job, natch. Not sure about the stars. Anyone who could cope with the demands of Sub-Aquatic Operatic training? Kate Winslet might give it a decent bash. Of course, I already wrote part of a script for another Fox Pocket, The Evil Genius Guide, called PROFESSOR VENEDICTOS VON HOLINSHED VERSUS THE SORORAL LEAGUE OF BAZOOKA-BIKINI-WIELDING DEMONIC DIVAS FROM OUTER SPACE (it won’t let me write it in anything but capital letters, sorry). Ed Wood is dead though and who else could do it justice?

GCH: What music do you write to?

CAY: The Cure (aka The Greatest Band in the World Ever) is always my first port of call. My story in Fox Spirit’s anthology Respectable Horror is called ‘The Holy Hour’ and I listened to the song on repeat the entire time I wrote it. They make my brain swell in that good way that means it’s really ticking.

I can’t lie; I will listen to pretty much anything. To pare it down, any old Eighties playlist (I LOVE making playlists, every story has one) is likely to please me. Zoë Keating is a more modern favourite. She’s a cellist and her music is incredible. I really can’t recommend her enough. Epically talented. Sometimes I need absolute quiet, depending on what I’m tackling, sometimes I need something loud and thumping; I recently discovered Rage Against The Machine (yes, I know, I know). They seem very cross about a lot of things and the fury and the loud keeps my head in the game, as the kids say in Management Cliché school.

GCH: Any tips for how you edit your work?

CAY: Editing is my favourite part of writing. I’m a procrastinator and a perennial self-loather with first drafts, but once I have something down, it’s best to go at it like the Devil eating cherries. Yes, he likes cherries, ask Jack Nicholson. Keep at it for a while, take a break, and then go back (to the editing, not the cherries; too many cherries will give you the raging Trotskies, and I don’t mean you’ll get all revolutionary and such). Never get to the point where you feel like you want to bang your head through the screen or page (even though I do it all the time; what’s good for the goose sucks for the gander). Get up, Taylor Swift that shit off, and go back when you’re less frustrated. Just don’t stay away too long.

GCH: Writers are always asked where they get their inspiration. Where do you get yours?

CAY: Moonbeams and rainbows and coke bottle bottoms… there’s no real answer to this because ideas come from anywhere and everywhere! I read a lot, love art of most kinds, take frequent trips through the internet, keep notes about everything – news stories, the people I meet and see, places I visit – I love quote websites, surfing through image stashes online, etc. All these things can trigger an idea into being. I recently felt a tingle of inspiration while staring at an embankment on the M25. Story lives in the air we breathe, even when it’s thick with noxious fumes.

GCH: Tell us about your latest writing project.

CAY: My primary focus at the moment is on something called Feral Tales for Fox Spirit Books. I can’t tell you too much, but I guess you could say it’s concerned with what happens when you leave the path…

GCH: What’s your favourite drink? Wine or beer? Tea or coffee?

CAY: Water predominantly, although a mug of sweet, strong coffee always goes down well. That said, I’ve yet to say no to an ice cold Martini, two olives, no dirt.

GCH: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

CAY: When I was very small we lived right by a river. My mum would often find me behind the sofa, which was in front of the window, eating all the poor insects that had flown in and died (there were a lot). Necrophagia ain’t just for the ghouls, baby… or perhaps I was a ghoul baby?

GCH: You’ve been very open about your mental health issues. Would you mind giving a brief outline of how they affect your day-to-day activities?

CAY: It might sound like a cliché, but some days simply getting out of bed, feeling like it’s worth it, like I’m worth it, is the hardest part. Sometimes it lasts all day, sometimes there’s just a flash of it, but it happens every single morning. It’s a bloody ballache to be honest, like waking up and hitting a brick wall. That said, and I don’t want to sound glib, lately I’ve found coffee can help immeasurably. The ritual of making it – measuring out the grains, heating the water, pouring it into my special mug, sipping its inky delights – gives me a specific task to focus on first thing. It’s one thing I can definitely get done. Small things can change your mindset more than you might imagine.

Focussing can be hard work – I admire anyone who can do it. I munch up people’s advice about it like a starving man, but applying it successfully can seem like the Holy fucking Grail. This is of course pepped up by the wonder that is self-doubt which, on a bad day, can come at me like a petrolhead’s pimped out monster truck. I mean, we all have self-doubt, and with creative types I guess it’s especially endemic, but it can paralyse me, dousing me with a whole ‘can’t do right for doing wrong’ feeling that’s very frustrating and wholly unproductive. I can sit in front of my computer for long stretches seeing nothing but emptiness and pointlessness. Well, I say nothing but obviously I am EPIC at making myself feel terrible about myself and if reinforcing negativity were an Olympic Sport you wouldn’t have heard of that Redgrave fella. It’s very difficult to talk about all this without sounding like a liability, but if people want to think that about me, let them. Being more open about it has really helped my recovery and maybe it can help someone else too. That’d be a genuinely Good Thing.

GCH: You’ve recently been having some successes at dealing with your anxiety. How have you managed this?

CAY: Last autumn, stuck in bed with bronchitis and the broken rib of doom it caused, my mental health in total disarray, I felt pretty much like I was over, that I was going to be trapped in this awful cycle for the rest of my life with no way out. It was suffocating. I’ve felt bleak before but that was something else entirely. Anyway, during a half-hearted Internet perusal, I read about something called DBT – Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. It focuses a lot on mindfulness, calming yourself down, analysing what you are really feeling, and gives you the tools to help keep you balanced. When I say it’s changed my life, saved it even, I’m not overstating the case. I’m clearer and calmer than I’ve been in so long it feels almost like a miracle. It’s not, it takes hard work and constant vigilance, but it is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I’m still learning and probably always will be, and that gives me more hope than anything.

GCH: How has your writing helped you to cope?

CAY: Ironically enough, while I often find it difficult to focus, writing is a lifesaver. It’s a bit like me wishing on those Ruby Slippers; it’s been there all along, I just had to realise it. I can channel all my negative emotions and frustrations into my work, I can control it (if it sometimes feels like it’s the story dragging me along that’s okay because I brought it into being in the first place), and it’s a place of shelter from the cacophony of the world. I’d rather be there than most anywhere else. Except libraries. Libraries are the best.
GCH: Mental health is increasingly coming into the (I hate to use this phrase but it’s either this or the worse ‘popular consciousness’) ‘mainstream’ with books by Matt Haig and the ‘Heads Together’ charity set up by the royals. Has highlighting these issues helped you to cope better?

CAY: To be honest, I don’t feel like it has helped me cope better on a personal level, but anything that highlights the issue and tries to de-stigmatize mental illness is just fine by me. I often find that people are happy to pay lip service to the fact that mental illness is the same as physical illness, that we should take it every bit as seriously, but I can’t tell you how often that goes out the window when the latter does come up. I understand it, but it shows how much work still needs to be done. It sure as shit can kill you just as easily as cancer can and needs to be taken every bit as seriously. I don’t say any of that lightly.

GCH: Whilst treatment and the complexities of individual diagnoses, what would you say to others suffering from mental health problems?

CAY: To be clear, while I am pretty open about my mental health issues, I am in no way an expert and have no desire to set myself up as such. With that in mind, there are two things I personally rely on. First, remind yourself to breathe. Stop a moment, concentrate on your breathing. Give yourself time. Repeat. It might sound banal, but it’s the easiest form of self-soothing there is. Second, YOU MATTER. Don’t let anyone, not even that nasty little inner voice that’s so bloody convincing, tell you otherwise. You. Matter.

GHC: Tell us a secret.

CAY: Everybody’s pretending. None of us know what we’re doing, so keep on trucking.

The Big Interview: Darcy Lazar

I always say I’m so lucky to have some incredible women in my life. It’s rare to meet someone and just ‘click’ but that’s what happened when I met a crazy American in Ecuador, looking at the fish on the reef. Over ten years later, Darcy is still my sounding board, chief advisor and generally amazing person.

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In my original interview, I asked about Darcy and her husband Bruce’s travels. They sold up their life in Arizona and went on the trail, first living in Costa Rica, then assorted other countries in Latin America, Australia and Europe. She rediscovered her Jewish heritage in Eastern Europe. Since then, they’re relocated back to the US and are working in their local community, fostering animals and helping care for the wildlife. They were even featured in their local paper for their efforts. You can read the article here.

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GCH: Any quirks or cultural misunderstandings you’ve experienced on your travels?

DL: Lots! In Costa Rica they have a saying, “Pura vida”, which literally translates to “pure life” but means everything from “Have a nice day” to “You got robbed? Oh well, nothing you can do about it!”. While we were feeding cats in the Buenos Aires botanical gardens we accidentally told our friends in Spanish that we were going over to EAT the cats rather than FEED them. And in Spanish speaking countries don’t ask your buddy to pass the “preservativos” assuming that means preservatives or jam, “preservativo” means “condom” in Spanish!

GCH: Was there anything you learned while living abroad which has stayed with you when you go home?

DL: I learned that you need hardly any things at all to be a whole and happy person. A clean toothbrush, some good spongy earplugs, and enough money in the bank to know you’ll be eating for a month is all anyone truly needs, the rest are extras. If you have your health then you’re very, very rich.

GCH: What made you keep travelling?

DL: The world is huge, and there’s so much to see. Once you’re out there and you’ve got some momentum it only makes sense to keep going and going. Also, it was easier to keep traveling because there wasn’t much to return to – no house, no kids, no pets, no jobs, no attachments.

GCH: We’re constantly asked if we have a favourite country and it’s always so difficult to choose because everywhere we’ve visited has been special. Do you have a favourite country or place?

DL: My answer is usually Krakow and Rome for the history, Galapagos and Queensland for the wildlife, Central America for the coffee, Granada for the food, and Victoria (BC) for the people.

GCH: What was the most important thing you learned to help you integrate where ever you were?
DL: How to say “please” and “thank you” in the local language. Just making the attempt opened many doors, and so did having a friendly smile.

GCH: Strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

BL: Blood sausage in Argentina. Talk about non-vegetarian cuisine!

GCH: Your trip helped you learn more about your roots and reignited an interest in Judaism. Can you tell me more about what you witnessed to encourage this?

DL: I remember going to the big Jewish cemetery in Prague and seeing familiar names on the headstones – Kohens, Siegels, Ruths, Esthers – and a Rabbi was singing a sad old prayer over an ancient grave. He noticed me and said, “These are YOUR people” and I began to cry. I didn’t know why at the time, but I realized later that I’d never felt I had people before, and that he was right, Jewish heritage is my heritage. That was the moment I felt Jewish for the first time in my life.

GCH: Where would you like to visit again? 
DL: I’d love to go back to Eastern Europe now that Bruce and I both know a bit more about our family histories. I’d start in Poland where we’ve already been – Krakow, Wroclaw, Lublin, and then go further and trace routes our ancestors may have taken through Romania, Austria, what was Prussia, etc.

GCH: We all watch nature programmes with bizarre and odd creatures. What’s the strangest animal you’ve ever seen (please don’t say me!)?
DL: Not you! Probably the echidna. They have the neatest snouts, and weird spines all over their little bodies. They move around like they’re the center of the universe, not a care in the world.

GCH: How would you like to be remembered?
DL: As a brutally honest, generous person, an animal lover, and a woman with a very strong bullshit-meter.

GCH: What’s your favourite movie?
DL: “Everything is Illuminated” hands down. It’s sweet, honest, sad, funny, very moving.

GCH: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
DL: Quit my job and sold my house, cars, and belongings, and relocated my pets in order to travel for a year – which turned into six.

GCH: Do you have any superstitions/quirks/unique qualities others would call odd?
DL: You know I do! I have an intense phobia of flying, which I never let stop me (but I have to thank Ativan for helping me get onto each flight). I don’t have kids by choice, which is “odd” for a 42 year old woman (especially if you live in a Latin country).

GCH: What would you consider your greatest achievement?
DL: Surviving depression and making a good life for my husband and I.

GCH: What is the worst thing anyone’s ever said to you?
DL: “You’re selfish!”. It took a long time for me to learn to ask others for help and to take good care of myself, so to then hear that I’m being selfish really stings!

GCH: What was the best kiss of your life?
DL: A giraffe kissed me with its huge green tongue when I was four. Fantastic.

GCH: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
DL: “That’s awesome!” and “That totally sucks” – they both date me! But I can’t help myself.

GCH: What was you most embarrassing moment?
DL: It’s so embarrassing I can’t even tell you the full story, but I will say it involved food poisoning, someone’s patio, and a fresh pair of shorts.

GCH: Which living person do you admire most and why?
DL: It would have to be Judge Judy. She somehow manages to be ladylike while telling someone what an idiot they are, and she only rips on people who really deserve it. She’s one of the few public figures to tell it like it is even if it’s not politically correct. I just love her.
GCH: Tell us a secret.
DL: It’s been over a year since we’ve settled down and we’re bored out of our gourds! Might be time to dust off those backpacks…

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Book-irthday for Weird Wild!

Yay, it’s my book-irthday for Weird Wild! To celebrate my publication anniversary for Weird Wild, I’m doing a quick throwback to when I was interviewed by Margret Helgadottir on her blog about the inspiration for Weird Wild, how I get writing and other musings. You can read the interview here. If you’d like to contact me about my writing, reviews or anything else, please comment below 😊

The Big Interview: Jasmine Gailer

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I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet some inspiring women during my travels. One such lady is Jasmine. We worked together in Australia before I ran away to join the circus and she took a gap year in the UK. It was whilst working in London that she suffered a knee injury and upon returning home was diagnosed with cancer. After successful treatment, and determined not to be defined by or ashamed of her scar, Jasmine set up ‘Scar Stories’ which aims to empower teens and young people with cancer by photographing them and their scars. The photos are stunning and I highly recommend you take some time to view them here. Not content with setting up photo shoots, she’s also developed Scar Stories to include documentaries, exhibitions, a festival and creative projects to help young cancer patients and survivors. She’s one busy lady!
I originally interviewed Jasmine back in 2012 and sadly her original interview was lost when I lost my old website but she’s kindly sent through an update which you can read below.  Scar stories page 2 Weekend Jan 14 2011.jpg
The last 5 years has been a whirlwind of portraits, TV appearances, marketing strategies and beautiful stories. Scar Stories continues to provide photoshoots to young adult cancer patients and survivors and an avenue to tell their stories, along with a few new projects – free creative workshops and our favourite side project, RockScars! Scar Stories released a book in 2014 which is the epitome of the Scar Stories mission – it is designed to help cancer survivors see their scars and experiences in a new light; one that is empowering and beautiful. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness about young adult cancer. The young adult age group has been in the media recently in Australia for a number of reasons – fertility preservation one of them. This is just one example of how this age group has unique needs and why it needs specialist attention.
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In personal news, I recently got engaged to the most fantastic man! Wedding planning has taken up most of my spare time (along with work and studying my Masters in Social Work as well!!), so I am now heavily relying on my dedicated team of volunteers to ensure Scar Stories keeps providing support to our participants.
The Scar Stories book is our main fundraising item and is on sale through our website for just $25″

The Big Interview: Carol Rifka Brunt

A re-run of my interview with Carol Rifka Brunt, author of ‘Tell the Wolves I’m Home’.

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GCH: I heard this novel started as a short story but then the voices (sorry characters) kept talking to you. How did you develop a short story into a full novel?

CRB: I started out with just a tiny snippet of an idea. I had the image of a dying uncle painting a final portrait of his niece as a way of leaving a last connection behind in the world. That turned into a 700-word short story, which was very similar to the first chapter as it stands now. In fact, the first paragraph remains virtually the same to this day, which is quite unusual.

The characters continued to interest me, so I followed them. As I wrote I discovered that the disease the uncle was dying from was AIDS. That led me to create Toby, his partner, and it led me to the setting of New York in the late 80s. And on and on. It was a very organic process. It was only after writing about 100 pages that I really started asking myself questions about the bigger story and focusing the book to tell that story. Having only written short stories up to that point, I was very concerned with making sure the reader had a reason to turn 400 pages. I really had to up the narrative drive and keep in mind the sense of telling a larger story.

GCH: And what will be your next project?

CRB: The process that I just described–the organic, feeling my way along way of doing things–is how I tend to work. So, I’m working on several short stories at the moment, with one or two starting to grow into bigger things. A novel-length project really needs to hold my interest on a pretty deep level to warrant the years it will take to bring it to fruition. By working on a few shorter pieces I’m able to find the ones that strike that deeper chord.

GCH: What’s your favourite writing music?

CRB: I don’t like to listen to anything while I’m actually writing. I am so very easily distracted and I love music, so if I have music playing I find all I’m doing is listening or singing along and no writing is getting done at all. I do use music to get in the right mood and frame of mind to write. For this novel there was a lot of quite beautiful melancholy stuff. I just did a Book Notes piece for Largehearted Boy.

GCH: Tell me about your writing process. Do you plan out your novel or let the characters loose?

CRB: I talked about the organic side of the process above and I think this is critical. There has to be a playful period when you just let your subconscious fall onto the page. For me, this usually isn’t a big spilling out of pages. My first drafts tend to be very spare. I’m feeling for the bones of the story. Who the players are and why they’re there. I’m feeling for morally complex situations. There’s a quote by somebody (I wish I knew who) that says ‘the first draft is the writer telling herself the story. The second draft is the writer telling the reader the story.’ This is so true for me. The editing process is where so much of the best stuff comes out. I’ve started to really understand the story I want to tell, both thematically and plot-wise, which means I write scenes and work with the material to make the whole piece sing the same song.

GCH: You’re originally from the US. What do you think about the food in the UK and do the Brits talk about the weather as much as they are portrayed?

CRB: I think the food here has gotten so good. There’s still a bit more individuality in restaurants in the US, but I have no complaints over quality and availability of the very best ingredients here.

GCH: If you could be a character in any movie or TV show, who would it be and why?

CRB: I just wrote a piece for Electric Sheep magazine on this very topic:
http://www.electricsheepmagazine.co.uk/features/2012/06/19/carol-rifka-brunt-is-haroldand-maude/

GCH: Favourite food?

CRB: Depends on the day. Very dense moist chocolate cake would always be up there, though.

GCH: Who’s the most important person in your life and why?

CRB: My family

GCH: I’ve heard writers are a funny bunch. Do you have any superstitions or rituals to help you write?

CRB: Not really. I do find it easiest to write at home. The less distractions, the better. And deadlines. They always help!

GCH: If you could edit your past, what would you change?

CRB: I suppose I might have chosen to become a doctor or a chef or something that would have given me a specific useful skill.

GCH: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

CRB: ‘just’ and ‘basically’

GCH: What is your guiltiest pleasure?

CRB: A box set of some fabulous slow-evolving HBO series

GCH: I’ve heard your a member of four different writers groups. What do you think makes a good writers group?

CRB: That makes me sound like a bit of a writing group whore! Let me explain. I’m only really in three at the moment and they’re each very different and fill a different role. One is a women’s salon type group, which is more discussion than actual writing. One is an intense online critique group with three American writers. We met via an online short story writing workshop and admired each others’ work and wanted to stay in touch., They are excellent readers and I always pass my work by them. The third is Resident Writers, which is great for getting words down on the page during the group session. Unfortunately, due to timing I can only attend occasionally.

I think writing can be such an isolating thing and getting together with other writers is one way to alleviate that a bit. Plus, who else but other writers will understand the joys of scribbled encouragement at the bottom of a rejection letter!

GCH: Tell us a secret.

CRB: No!

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