Thursday, 18 July 2013

Holly & Kelly Willloughby & their School for Stars!

With the summer holidays almost upon us what better time to think about ur ideal schools?  Perhaps you are looking back at the best year you have ever had or thinking about how exiting the year to come will be?

School is a wonderful place full of amazing opportunities to shine in many things and School for Stars: First Term at L'Etolie (Orion Children's Books) by Holly and kelly Willoughby is no exception   The children here may all have a super talent and be yearning to join the stars but they all still experience lessons, teachers they love and those they like a little less, friendship ups and downs and a variety of other challenges.  The love and closeness of sisters is a theme in the book, reflecting the closeness of its authors, but there are many other moments to make you laugh and sharply intake breath at the audacity of the children.  This book is fun, it is bright, cheerful and loving.  Holly and Kelly seem to have had great fun wiring it and it is the first in a promising series.  Here they explain a little more about how and why they wrote it and reveal a few things about themselves too ...

When did you know you first wanted to write a children’s book together?
Holly: We’ve always wanted to write a story together ever since we were kids.  When we were little we were always making up plays and every Saturday or Sunday, and if we had family or friends over, we would all get together and make something up to perform to them.

Kelly: I can remember having chats together about maybe one day writing these plays down on paper and then I actually started writing a book after I left university - I just woke up one night as I couldn’t sleep and started writing a story and it was one of the ideas Holly and I used to talk about.  I remember phoning Holly and she was so excited and we promised each other one day would we see if we could actually get something published.

How did you find writing together?
Holly: It was great fun, but sometimes we had quite contrasting ideas and we’d have to fight about which way a story would turn. 

Who would win?
Kelly: It was never one of us who always got our way - we would end up compromising - it wouldn’t be a straight win – we are sisters!

Where did you write:
Holly: Usually over dinner with a glass of wine to get away from the kids!  Or in the back of a car.

Kelly: Often while Holly is cooking dinner in the kitchen and we just sat and talked about all the ideas and quickly got them all down. Or my favourite time for writing is when I’ve just got up in the morning, sitting in bed, in my pyjamas on my laptop with a cup of tea.

Why do you think reading is so important?
Kelly: I read loads when I was growing up - all the Enid Blytons – Secret Seven, Famous Five, Mallory towers and Nancy Drew books, but I think it’s different now – kids watch a lot of TV or they’re on iPads, computers, the internet. But it is so important to read as your imagination is used best when you’re sat there with a book inventing the pictures in your mind, rather than looking at them.

Was your school like the school in your book, School For Stars?
Holly: No, sadly not! Obviously there will be elements of similarity because you can’t help but draw on your own experience when writing, but we certainly weren’t singing and dancing every day!

Kelly: It was particular places we remembered the most - so writing about the school hall or the dining room we pictured where we both went to school and used that.

Holly: Do you remember how terrified we were of the head dinner lady?

Kelly: Yes!  And we used that for a story in the book!

The main characters in the book are twins, did you ever wish to be twins?
Holly: We’re quite close in age so it’s always felt like we are practically twins.  Our Dad always called me ‘Rose-White’ and Kelly ‘Rose-Red’ because we’re sort of the same.

Kelly: But I’m brunette and white skinned whilst Holly is blonde and tan-skinned.

If you could have one super-power, what would it be?
Holly: I would be invisible for the day and have a snoop around Buckingham palace and see what goes on there. I want to go through the Queen’s wardrobe!

Kelly: To fly.

What’s in your handbag?
Holly: I have two Thomas the tank engines because they are there to keep Harry and Belle entertained in emergencies. I have my purse, my phone loads of make-up and loads of unidentifiable objects floating around at the bottom which have been there probably for about 4 years.

Kelly: Toys! I had a baby just before Christmas so there’s always something to chew on – and baby bottles.

What’s your best make-up tip?
Holly: Always curl your eyelashes before putting mascara on. Heat your eyelash curlers up with a hairdryer (but always be careful you don’t burn your eyes) as that makes it last longer.

Kelly: I’m never without a black liner on my eyes. My husband says put your liner on and you’ll feel normal!

What’s your guilty TV indulgence?

Holly: Made in Chelsea, I’m obsessed with it. I didn’t watch it right from the beginning but I’ve watched all 4 series on catch up in about 3 months and I love it!

Kelly: Colombo on a Sunday afternoon. Sad but true. Again, a real treat since having a baby because you don’t get the chance to watch anything anymore.

Holly and Kelly in school uniform
What celeb would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
Holly: Rupert Penry-Jones for obvious reasons.

Kelly: Michael Buble for all the wrong reasons.

One piece of advice to your childhood self
Holly: Practice makes perfect.

Kelly: Be confident.

Holly & Kelly’s favourite things:
Favourite children’s book:
Kelly: Matilda by Roald Dahl

Holly: At the moment it’s the Gruffalo because both my children absolutely love it.  My favourite adult book is Pamela des Barres Im with the Band, it’s a really good story set in the 60s about the original groupie.

Favourite song:
Holly: Paul Weller’s English Rose – first song at my wedding

Favourite musical:
Holly and Kelly: Blood Brothers. The only musical our dad is obsessed with, and won’t whinge all the way through.

Holly: It’s just a really good story and it makes me cry every time I see it even though I know what’s going to happen.

Favourite meal:
Holly: Roast chicken, roast potatoes and tons of gravy - but it has to be my gravy, because I’m the best at making gravy!

Kelly: I’d say fillet steak or chateaubriand with mashed potato.

Favourite holiday:
Holly: My honeymoon to the Maldives. It’s the most beautiful place on earth. It’s the only place on earth that looks like it does in the postcards.

Kelly: Sunshine anywhere - I’d love to go to the Maldives as I haven’t done it yet.

Either / Or
Home cooked meal or takeaway
Holly: Home cooked meal every time

Kelly: Home cooked meal

Film or theatre
Holly: Can’t choose

Kelly: Film

Corrie or Eastenders?
Holly: Corrie

Kelly: Corrie, probably

Night owl or morning bird?
Holly: Morning bird - otherwise I’d be in trouble with my job

Kelly: Morning

Cosmopolitan or Coffee
Holly: Cosmopolitan

Kelly: Cosmo

Personal trainer or yoga
Holly: I’ve been to yoga once but I’m beginning to quite like it

Kelly: Yoga

Thursday, 11 July 2013

French Fantasy for English Readers

Its been a hectic few weeks for Armadillo and the school library which is why the blog has been so quiet ... however these hectic few weeks have been productive ... a number of interviews have taken place, events have been attended and more, so there is plenty to fill the Blog over the coming Summer months and what better way to start than with an interview from two amazing French authors whose book, Oksa Pollock, is now published here in the UK and is an epic fantasy/reality not to be missed.

Read on to find out more about the authors and their creation...

My first question is: how did you meet and what made you decide to collaborate on writing a book?
Cendrine : We met 19 years ago through mutual friends. Since then, we’ve been the world’s best friends, like sisters, always available for one another through good and bad times.
Anne : We always wanted to write, we just (!) needed an idea to actually get started. We were such friends, it was unthinkable to write alone: Oksa would not exist if Cendrine or I weren’t part of it. Also, being two makes us faster, gets us further, and makes us braver…

How does the partnership of two authors work in practice, and does it involve arguments about the story and the characters?
Cendrine : Our partnership is based on one common principle: it doesn’t matter who does what, what matters is the end result!
For a more specific answer: we’ve worked on the plot, the outline and the characters profiles together. For each scene, we discuss the approach and the sequence of events. We each contribute our ideas depending on our preferences, our feelings and our imagination. Then Anne transcribes the discussion and tells the story. Then I bring my bit – Anne writes in black, I write in red, and we trade versions, we each review, add to and improve until we agree on everything. When the text is entirely black, we continue.
Anne : The point of working as a duo is that, at times, one of us has to discuss and defend her point of view to convince the other to add her ideas to the text, which forces us to think things through, question things in a way we wouldn’t if we each worked alone. And the huge upside of all this is the merger between what we each do best (but mum’s the word, it’s a secret recipe).

Where did Oksa’s name originate?  It is lovely and suits her character really well, being very unusual.
Anne : The name comes from my Ukrainian great aunt, whose name was Oksana. I’ve never met her, I only have a very small photograph of her, where she looks very determined and her head is braided around her head. So we named our young heroine Oksa, shortening it to fit her somewhat [explosive] character. ‘Oksa’ it strikes like lightening! And we gave Dragomira Oksana’s hairdo; inspiration comes from all sorts of unexpected sources…

When the book opens, the reader has the impression that Oksa is going to be an unusual but also fairly typical teenager – spoilt and grumpy, perhaps a little indulged, too.  Are first impressions very important to you when drawing characters?
Cendrine : What we really like to do is to introduce characters in a certain light, then let the reader discover who they really are and change their first impression. It’s so easy to pass final judgement on someone at first glance, and it’s unfortunate, first impressions can be so misleading.
Anne : What we like, when building our characters, is to bring the reader beyond appearances, both good and bad first impressions. No one is ever completely who they seem and it is this unknown part in everyone, with their contradictions and their secrets, which makes each one of us so interesting. Also we show our true personality through our actions, more than anything.

Dragomira, another wonderful name suggesting mystical fantasy, sounds like a wonderful grandmother.  Is she modelled on anyone or is she indeed the type of grandmother one of you would have liked to have?
Cendrine : Like Oksa, Dragomira is a name which really exists, even though the character herself is so wonderful, she is somewhat unreal.
Anne : My grandmothers, as Cendrine’s unfortunately, had very little in common with Oksa’s. I would have loved to have a gran like Dragomira of course. I am convinced that such eccentric and delightful women do exist in certain families, lucky families that they are!

In a story like Okas’s, which straddles reality and fantasy, is it important for you to create characters who are entirely believable?
Anne : We wanted a story where magic appears in reality, and not an adventure in a totally imaginary world. In the book, the characters and the situations are realistic; this is very important for us. It allows readers to project themselves more easily into the book. The characters are credible, they are in fact like the readers, and magic is secondary. In any case, it isn’t the solution to every problem by far. People can’t do everything they want – our characters live in reality, and we use it as a constraint, it’s much more interesting!
Cendrine : Once we’ve agreed this rule, you can then accept that magic is possible, and that in everyday life you can be encounter similar situations to those faced by Oksa and her family.

I think we are meant to love Pavel, Marie and Gus and strongly dislike Dr McGraw alongside.  Is it important to clearly distinguish between characters who are ultimately good and bad?
Cendrine : Let’s say this way of presenting characters is part of the plot itself, and our idea that you should not judge everything at first sight. “Good” characters also have their bad sides, and “evil” ones may have a moving side.
Anne : The oath sworn by the Gracious says: “In everyone, there is good and evil.” Readers will discover that the characters are more complex than they seem. External events in life turns us into who we are, along with the choices we made, our conscience and our own rules.

The story is complex, with numerous threads, exciting and fast-paced.  This is great for the reader, but did it pose a challenge to you as writers to keep track of everything?
Anne : Indeed! Having so many characters, and most of them so complex, requires some serious preparation! We’ve written the bio of each character (they each have their little file) and a very detailed family tree.
Cendrine : It’s the same for the creatures and magic (Granoks and powers): we have lists for everything, so we’re organised and set up to remember everything.

Did you have the story mapped out and planned before you sat down to write?
Cendrine : Yes, that was our very first task: build the outline, set out the key steps of the adventure, build the threads of the plot in parallel to allow them to meet at the right time, pick the ideal moment to unveil key bits of information…
Anne : We need to know where we are going before we set off. When writing we manage the reader’s perception and choose where to create suspense, and where to reveal.

Did you know how the characters would develop, and what their reactions would be to the changes that they undergo? 
Anne : Even if the outline is precisely defined from the start, we have to adapt to unexpected developments, especially with characters. It’s easy to plan a story, much less so to plan the psychological evolution of the people living it. This is a much more intimate aspect, which we need to build and decide on as we go along.
Cendrine : As an example, Oksa is evolving and we have to adapt to the person she’s growing into. You don’t do the same things at 13 you do when you’re older… she remains who she is deep down, of course, and her personality doesn’t change but she’s learning from her mistakes, from her ordeals and from her developing emotions. She’s growing up, like any teenager!

Has anyone compared the story to anything else they have read? To me it is a unique combination of the classic themes of heroine, evil and saving a world, but I am not sure what the literature for young adults is like in France?
Cendrine : Oksa has been compared to Harry Potter – that was unavoidable, even if there are major differences between these two heroes. We accept the connection, there are elements which are common to all fantasy books: magical powers, unusual creatures, a struggle between good and evil, a quest, an imaginary land…
Anne : We like to think of it as cooking: everyone has the same ingredients and the same recipe, and yet everyone will get to a different result. As far as books go, the same applies. Same basics but the authors personality, sensitivity, imagination and writing style make each plot a different story.
Cendrine : In France, since Harry Potter, there has been a real vogue for fantasy books in children’s and young adult literature, including a lot of stories about vampires, impossible love and the supernatural.

I understand that this is the first book in the series. Did you plan the whole series before you began, do you have a vision, or do you wait to see where the writing of each book takes you?
Cendrine : When we built the Oksa outline, we planned the whole of the 6 books.
 Anne : We do know the plot of the story till the end but we have to adapt to the unepxected, and options which we hadn’t thought of at the beginning. The end hasn’t changed, but how we get to it has! For example, the Tugdual character was supposed to remain a secondary character, but he has such a personality, such romantic potential that it was impossible to leave him in the dark – to such an extent that when Oksa’s adventures are finished, we’re planning a trilogy about him…

Are you both full-time writers, have you always written or do you have/have you had other jobs too?
Anne : For the last two years, yes, writing has indeed become my… er… job! But I’ve had many others in the past and fairly diverse:  I did project work in China, was a nurse’s aide, a public letter writer, a librarian (my favourite).
Cendrine : We’re unbelievably lucky and are now able to live from our writing. But, like Anne, I did many other jobs before being able to dedicate all my time to books: I was a sports teacher, did social work in deprived neighbourhoods, was a librarian…

Is there a strong market for children’s fiction in France and would you like to continue writing about strong heroines after Oksa?
Anne : Yes, fantasy is enormously popular in France. Maybe people need to get out, imagine a different world in today’s society, which is so tough and so demanding?
Cendrine : We’ve started a new series called Susan Hopper¸ still fantasy but no magic, the story of an orphan who is dealing with her origins. A very different environment from Oksa’s, much more gothic and intimate. Volume 1 came out in France in March this year and we’re planning the Tugdual Chronicles for 2014, after the publication of Oksa vol 6 in France next November. 

Do you think Oksa or Gus make good role models for young teens?
Anne : With the story of Oksa and the Runaways, we were trying to show that everyone has a role to play in life. For example, Gus has no power, but he lives with very powerful people, he feels like a loser, useless. But he’s key to the story, and sometimes he shows human qualities which are much more important than any magical power. As for Oksa, we wanted to show that her mistakes, her weaknesses, her doubts were unavoidable, even when you’re a  great magician like her. What’s important is to take responsibility for the consequences of one’s decisions and build something positive out of them…
Cendrine : Then, yes, both can be role models: you have to accept who you are, keep going and try to improve, and realise that needing other people doesn’t mean you’re weak – on the contrary!

There is a lot of history in the story, as well as fast-paced action. Will a historical novel be coming next, or is it just a useful device for this story?
Cendrine : We’re having great fun adding stories within the story, and some of these are based on actual facts, which defy the imagination! It allows us to understand the characters better and helps us to empathise with them. We love to tell life-stories, and take detours in the storyline to shed some light on the characters’ personalities.
Anne : A person’s past is often very helpful for us to understand them, in literature and in real life. Some people’s lives are so eventful, so unbelievable! As for the people around Oksa, I like the idea that each of them could have their own book. None of them are really secondary…

Do you have any literary role models?
Anne : Dozens, and in very different genres (except in fantasy lit, I read very little of this genre!). I am going to be terribly unfair and only list a few (may all the others forgive me): I especially like John Irving, Barbara Pym, Robert Goolrick, Iain Levison, Tom Sharpe, Jane Austen, Alan Bennett, Kate Atkinson, Dany Laferrière… and Chuck Palahniuk (the scariest!), among so many others. All authors who managed to take me elsewhere have mattered to me.
Cendrine : I’m not as compulsive a reader as Anne, but I have huge admiration for John Fante, Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman.

Do you have favourite books or authors who have been your inspiration, and how would you advise those who would like to follow in your footsteps?
Anne : We’ve always been very open about the fact that J.K. Rowling’s venture, with its difficult start, has been a source of encouragement for us. We thought: if she can get Harry Potter to exist, maybe we can get Oksa to exist, too? Her determination was an example to us.
Cendrine : Her determination, persistence, rigour, hard work, effort. Writing a book needs this, first and foremost. As for the rest, there is always a part of luck, or of magic, in all aspects of life – meeting the right people, seizing the moment…

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions and give the readers of Armadillo some insight into Oksa Pollock and your work.

Thank you very much, Louise, for these very interesting questions! Some of them were a little unexpected, but we love that kind of surprise.
See you soon, we hope, here or elsewhere
Anne & Cendrine