Sunday, May 19, 2013

Please Welcome Vickie Johnstone!

Today I'd like to welcome Vickie Johnstone to my blog! Even with this new post, don't forget about the contest I have going! Head here for more info. It ends tomorrow, so don't wait! To get to know Vickie, jump right in and check out this great interview! Keep on reading to find out about her work. Enjoy!

What is the ideal recipe for a good novel?

Gripping plot, interesting characters who have depth and believability, something quirky, some element that is unusual and original (or almost), that it feels real, layers in the story, and good writing that flows and even uses words or sentences in a new way. I’m currently reading The Book Thief and it has all of these things. A novel should offer something different.

You’ve been contacted by the Association of Libraries from the Alien Planet of Zaolia. They want to know the five most important novels in all of Earth’s history. Which five novels do you give them?

Ooh, that’s a tough one and I’d probably change my mind tomorrow. They won’t be the most important historically, but these are the ones I’d give him: Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen), The Collected Works of William Shakespeare, Fantastic Mr Fox (Roald Dahl), The Handmaiden’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) and The Songs of Innocence and Experience (William Blake).

What was the turning point in your life when you decided to start writing?

There were a few. Number one was when I was 16 or 17, my family moved to Cornwall. The English teacher was really inspiring and supportive, and she liked my poems. So she is responsible for me writing books and books of them!

Number two. In April 2002, I was made redundant and I was bored basically for three months, during which I started to imagine a world populated by cats in which my own kitty, Kiwi, would live and be some kind of cat detective, but magical too. I started writing Kiwi in Cat City and finished it in about four or six weeks. It was the first proper book I ever finished. I sent it to one publisher who rejected it and no one read it until 2011, which was the third and real turning point – when my boyfriend read about self-publishing on Amazon and Smashwords. Cue Kiwi in Cat City being published and read for the first time, along with a collection of my poetry from over the years.

2011 was THE turning point for me. I met a lot of writers on Facebook in the writing groups and I found they were more determined, less lazy and more obsessed with writing than me. It rubbed off. There were people who were typing away during the night when their kids were in bed after a long day’s work, yet I always made excuses that I didn’t have time. I so did have time! I realised that I was lazy and had an inability to finish things. Since 2011, I have written 10 books and it’s because I met these authors and discovered self-publishing. I also did NaNoWriMo in 2011, which taught me that you can sit down every day and write if you really have to!

What is or are the genres of your book or books?

They are mainly for middle-grade readers. There is the six-book Kiwi Series, starring a magic cat who takes her human friends to animal-inhabited worlds, and the two-book Smarts & Dewdrop Mystery Series. The latter are titled ‘Day of…’ something, in tribute to the Day of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, which inspired my silly comedy Day of the Living Pizza (book one in the S&D series). Apart from these I have written a comedy romance with a touch of fantasy as one character is a dog who swears a lot. That one is called 3 Heads & a Tail and I wrote it for NaNoWriMo 2011. I have also written two books of poetry and a book of haiku. At the moment I am working on a fantasy novel that I started in 2009. I’ve written about 25,000 words. Did I mention that I never used to finish things?!

What made you decide to write in your particular genre?

I never set out to write for children. It sort of happened. I’ve written stories since I was so high (pointing to my knee – I was always small), but I never really finished things. Then in 2002, I was made redundant and, finding myself bored at home, somehow, kaboom, I wrote and finished a book. It was short, about 28k, and it began with a poem about my cat called Kiwi. I didn’t know where the book would go when I started, but gradually all of these cats made appearances and said things. They needed to live somewhere, and a place emerged. Then other questions followed, which demanded answers. What would they eat? Where would they sleep? What did they look like? Would they wear clothes? How would they walk? Would they always stay on four legs? How did they think? What adventures would they have?

Kiwi in Cat City turned into one big adventure for me... into the world of children’s books. As a kid, I loved books. Give me one starring a talking animal and I was in Heaven. Make it a fluffy, cute animal with a sense of humour on a big adventure, and I wouldn’t have noticed if my bedroom ceiling caved in. I would be lost in a world that was unlike my own, dreaming, imagining, and almost being who I was reading about. So sometimes I was a rabbit. All the while, I would have this big sense of wide-eyed wonder.

Then I grew up. I stopped reading children’s stories, except for my favourite book of all time, Fantastic Mr Fox. Now and then I’d dip back into that one, but that was it. So, how come at the age of 30-ish (not giving that away), I wrote a book about magical cats for an audience aged nine to twelve? I’ve no idea. A huge gap of years followed this until I finally self-published the book via kindle and wrote a second at the big old age of 40-(la la). The second one only came about because some readers liked the first one – to my utter shock. I think fear, self-doubt and self-criticism – those big slimy monsters that prevent us doing many things – had got in the way. But, hey, that’s a different story.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why? 

That would have to be Kiwi because she is the heroine of Kiwi in Cat City and the Kiwi Series. There are six books and she’s the star of them all. Kiwi is inspired by a real cat that I had for six years. She was cute, cuddly, cheeky and very curious. In the books Kiwi can do magic and talk to the two children. As a kid I talked to my pets all the time. I actually thought they understood me and that I could communicate with my dad’s budgies by winking!

Who is your favorite author, and how did they inspire you to write?

I have a couple: Hans Christian Anderson and Roald Dahl. I don’t know if they inspired me to write, but I loved both and still do. My favourites are The Little Mermaid and Fantastic Mr Fox. I always loved books starring animals and fantasy, along with characters who had layers and seemed real. I also loved Enid Blyton, especially The Folk of the Faraway Tree. I always had my nose in a book as a kid and I started writing stories really young, so it’s children’s authors who inspired me. I remember in junior school the teacher reading us The Adventures of Miss Pepperpot. I can’t remember anything about the book now, but our homework was to write our own version. I included many of my classmates in my story, which was read aloud, and I remember going bright red because my friends enjoyed it and the teacher liked it. I was pretty shy and writing was my outlet, along with drawing. So, thank you Miss Pepperpot and co.

When you write do you take notes, organize your characters and plot, or you write freely as you go?

I’m a pantser and write as I go. I keep a notebook now because another writer said he did and I thought good idea! It’s great for scribbling down ideas on the move and my memory isn’t great! I get ideas for poems in the shower, for example, and then they’re gone with the wind or the soap. I don’t plan or organise characters or plot out each chapter of a book. I usually start with the title and an idea of the main character in my head. Then I think about it a lot until I can start to ‘see’ stuff happening in my imagination and get an idea of what the character will do and what the story will be about. Usually I don’t know where the book will go. I usually start writing the first chapter. Then I’ll write whatever comes next. Sometimes it’s the last chapter or the middle – it will be whatever comes to me first.

Kiwi in Cat City was written from start to finish in 2002. With 3 Heads & a Tail, I wrote the first chapter and then the last, and then headed back to chapter two. Towards the end I inserted new chapters towards the front. I make stuff up as I go along. My poems are like flash fiction and normally take five to ten minutes. With the fantasy I’m working on at the moment, I wrote the beginning in 2009. In 2011 (I think), I wrote some more that followed on from that point. This year I wrote the back of the book and the ending. Now I have to work on the middle. I keep getting stuck because I’m not sure what is going to happen, although I know how it will end.

Where does your inspiration come from?

All sorts. With poetry, it can be anything – a flower, a person in the street, a word, a phrase or a cloud. The Kiwi Series was inspired by my cat, Kiwi, as I’ve mentioned. I wrote Day of the Living Pizza for a charity book called The Gage Project, published by Inknbeans Press. It was for a boy called Gage who was about to have a scary operation. I asked his mother what his favourite things were and she said The Walking Dead, chicken, rock music and pizza. So I wrote a comedy horror, which is a send-up of scary zombie films and people turn into walking pizzas. I won’t tell you how chicken comes in – you’d have to read it. My other book, a comedy and starring a dog, 3 Heads & a Tail, was written for NaNoWriMo 2011, so that was my inspiration – writing 50k in the month of November. It was great for me as I’m naturally lazy and put things off. It kept my butt in front of my laptop for longer than it wanted.

Do you write about your personal life experiences in your stories?

Not really – the Kiwi books are inspired by a cat I used to have called Kiwi and I put in things that I know cats do, and how they move or act, but that’s about it. Walking pizza dudes… that’s never happened to me! My poetry is not really about me, although it was as a teenager, but more about people I think up, nature, abstracts, philosophy and ideas. With 3 Heads & a Tail, Josie is a bit like me. Her best friend is based on a couple of women I’ve met in my life. David is based on some dudes who wanted to be rock stars and I took some of my dating experiences into the book. I guess with Ben I kind of created an ideal boyfriend! And I haven’t met a dog like Glen – I made him up. I tried to imagine how a dog would think. I’m a cat person so it was a big stretch of the imagination! He’s an odd dog, eccentric but likeable. My first pet was a dog called Glen. He wasn’t a Labrador and I only remember him vaguely as I was little, but he loved to shake dirty water over everyone!

What is your favorite scene in your story?

My favourite scene in Kiwi in Cat City is when Amy and James follow their cat one night to see where she goes, and they’re going as quietly as can be, thinking that she has no idea. But she knows. She can hear them loud and clear, and then, bam, she turns around and asks them why they are following her! The children sit down in shock, gobsmacked, while the cat is as cool as a cucumber.

When I was a kid this would have been the most wonderful thing in the world. My second favourite scene is when Kiwi turns the children into kittens so that they can go with her to her world and discover what it’s like to be a cat. I always wanted to be able to turn into an animal as a kid and find out what it was like.

When I was little, we had a lot of pets. Our house was like a zoo, and my dad bred birds. It was great. I used to talk to the animals and birds – even my pet fish – thinking they understood and somehow were communicating by telepathy! Then I got a bit older and realised, hey, that’s not how it is! But wouldn’t it be cool? Talking animals... Doctor Doolittle, eat your heart out!

Are the characters in your story based on people you know?

The character of Kiwi (Kiwi Series) is based on a black cat I used to have. She was cute, cuddly, cheeky and very, very curious. She died in 2000, and I wrote Kiwi in Cat City in 2002. I made Kiwi the main character, and then the other animals and plot emerged from that. I love the fact that she’s alive in my books because I was gutted when I lost her. She was only six. The real Kiwi was cool, loved jumping for moths (oops) and chasing shadows, ate a lot, would swat the food off your plate if you weren’t looking, liked to play with anything that moved and was really, really fluffy. She also slept on my bed. She would follow me everywhere – down the street in the morning and even to work if she could have hopped on the train. I’d have to pick her up and carry her back home. As a kitten she was just a black ball of fluff with two yellow eyes peering out. The cat I have now is called Moggie and I made her Kiwi’s mum in the books, although they never met. She appears in book two, Kiwi and the Missing Magic.

Is there any part in writing you don’t like?

Not really. I love it. The only thing I hate is when I can’t think of anything and the characters aren’t talking – that blank head moment! Oh, and bad reviews. I haven’t got my head around those. I still sulk for a bit. I’d love to be able to just write and not have to do something else to pay the bills. That’s my dream. I also wish that bookstores would want to stock my books.

Thank you, Vickie, for being such a wonderful guest! Please share the links where readers can connect with you and find your books!

Want to stalk Vickie? Find her here: 

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