Posted by kirstyes
I’m delighted to host a guest post from debut author Finbar Hawkins about his publishing journey for Witch. This is a powerful tale of revenge, grief and sisterhood and is perfect for Halloween week. Later in the week I’ll share my full review but for now I’ll hand over to Finbar.
My Publishing Journey
I’ve always written, but even with seeing ‘Witch’ out on the shelves, I still have difficulty describing myself as a writer. It’s not so much self-doubt, I think it more springs from each new thing you write feels like starting again, finding out how to write again. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over the feeling, and to be honest I feel it’s a good spur, a jab of the heels to keep me coming back to the blank page.
My route to publishing started with the Arvon Foundation. I had never experienced a writing workshop before, working on exercises to approach character, setting and emotion. The writing samples I brought with me were little short film ideas, so I wasn’t even writing prose at that time. But it was through a number of exercises in class, under our tutor Lucy Christopher’s guidance, that the beginnings of a story emerged, and I kept going through that amazing week and into the months beyond. Lucy is a lecturer at Bath Spa (now the Course Director!) and she had encouraged me (along with a number of my Arvon compadres) to apply. Through early morning starts before children were awake and work, the story that I started had now grown into approximately 30k. But I craved feedback, more of what I had experienced at Arvon – critical feedback from other writers.
I was delighted to get a place on Bath Spa, because over those two years part-time I started to write properly around critical workshops. And the thing is about workshops is that you have to raise your game – you’re delivering to a little audience, and you’re going to be hearing other people’s work, giving your own thoughts on it. I also learnt that giving a critique is just as important for writing, because you’re looking at the craft all the time, your training that writing muscle.
I decided to park the ms I had been working on since Arvon because in that first term, Witch came bowling along and demanded to be told. The workshop was integral again, because I had a very good set of notes from a group of other writers – who wanted to know what happened next. I was immensely interested also in the challenge of writing from a young woman’s perspective.
The core of the MA is about working on and delivering your ms, and from there we all then work on putting together an Anthology to showcase our work for a launch event in London. Agents and editors are invited along to this terrifying and exhilarating evening. There I met Catherine Pellegrino of Marjacq Scripts who had read and liked my anthology extract.
I knew Catherine was the agent for me, because she pushed me to make the ms as good as it possibly could be. So we set to work, and over several drafts pushed and pulled Witch into submission shape. I would stress that there is no real time frame for this, and you shouldn’t feel rushed. Let the ms ‘bake’ in between drafts, write other bits and pieces and then go through it taking notes. It will all be much the better for it.
Finally we both felt that Witch was ready to fly. And at the end of an excruciating week waiting to hear back from editors, it was Fiona Kennedy at Zephyr who from the outset pretty much demanded my book should be published by her. There were other others in the frame, but because of Fiona’s incredible passion for Witch, I knew I had found the right home.
My publishing journey has all been about some fundamental things – you need to take that first jump and put your writing in front of a critical audience (it’s hard, but you’ll get used to it); you need to trust your instincts when meeting agents and editors; you need to take your time; and you need to remember to enjoy it!
WITCH by Finbar Hawkins is out now in hardback (£12.99, Zephyr, an imprint of Head of Zeus)
Follow Finbar Hawkins @finbar_hawkins and find out more finbarhawkins.com
I’m not going to lie I’ve been eyeing up both the Arvon Foundation courses and the Bath Spa MA for years and like Evey’s jealously of sister Dill I must try and keep my green eyed monster in check. Maybe one day!
Huge Congratulations to Finbar on a wonderful debut. Come back on Wednesday for my full review and do check out the rest of the posts on the tour running this week.
Posted by kirstyes
I’m very pleased to introduce The White Hare, and Zephyr to you today. The White Hare by Michael Fishwick is the launch title for Head of Zeus new children’s imprint, Zephyr.
This beautiful hardback book is a lyrically mythical delight. Michael Fishwick, already the author of two novels, Smashing People and Sacrifices has kindly written a guest post on dealing with death in children’s books.
Robbie doesn’t want anything more to do with death, but life in a village full of whispers and secrets can’t make things the way they were.
When the white hare appears, magical and fleet in the silvery moonlight, she leads them all into a legend, a chase, a hunt.
But who is the hunter and who the hunted?
Strangely, both my first two novels began with a death, and I’m not entirely sure why. I remember showing the opening pages to my wife, because I was worried her father, who seemed old then, to me, might die as I wrote the book and I didn’t want to jinx it, or him. As it turns out, he’s still very much alive at ninety-six, though sadly my own parents died as I wrote The White Hare, something that took me years to address and some of the effects of which worked their way into Robbie’s own experiences.
When I write I don’t have a target reader in mind. I want you, the reader, to be drawn in and entranced, held captive by the fiction, and I want to create a reliable and absorbing texture. What interests me, above all else, is how we experience our lives as human beings. For me, both in my day job as a publisher and as a fiction author, writing is part of a journey to understand and as importantly feel what those experiences are all about.
In Robbie’s case, I wanted to develop a vibrant and suffering voice, one that is experiencing adversity and facing up to it. I wish that when I was being bullied at school I could have responded with the tough, leathery bravado that Robbie does. Once, I was in the local library and I was just leaving the children’s bit to find my dad on the other side of the building in the adult bit (this was in Dulwich, south London) when some boy who seemed twice my height took my books and put them on top of a van where I couldn’t reach them. He then asked what I was going to do about it. I stood there, my eyes on a level with his stomach, and I knew what I should do, I should drive my fist into his stomach as hard as I could; but I quailed, and ran. My little brother had seen what was going on and scooted ahead, so I found my dad belting out of the library towards me. I’ve never seen anyone box anyone’s ears before or since, but that’s what he did to the bully.
So when thinking about Robbie and his mother’s death I really wanted to get the essence of the relationships and the emotions. A lot was based on my own childhood in south London; my parents then went abroad and I was sent to boarding school, and at the age of fourteen was hauled into my housemaster’s study to be told my beloved aunt had died of cancer. I was fourteen. I had no idea how to respond; I had enough on my plate with the bullying. She was witty and kind and read PG Wodehouse and made me sandwiches with very thin bread when she took me out of school and we sat under the lamplights on Clapham Common in her dark green mini before she took me back. With Robbie, his response was to go wild and burn things; it’s all about anger, an emotion that fascinates me. At that age I think death is incomprehensible. I remember realizing that I would die, again at boarding school with no one to turn to, when I was about twelve. So I just didn’t think about it for a long time. But when writing about Robbie I wanted to get down the essence of the experience on paper. With Fran, who chooses it, it seemed a natural part of the white hare legend, and here I wanted to write about the ruthless brutality of love in one of its aspects (in another it is kind and forgiving, of course). When someone chooses to kill themselves, some react with horror and a lack of forgiveness, but I think of the depth of sorrow and madness and churning feelings that make you not want to exist anymore.
What I am really trying to do in The White Hare is through imagination and empathy find a way of confronting and defying the reality of death, and that whole process begins for all of us in childhood.
I really enjoyed this story and oddly it reminded me of Watership Down and the film Lady in White in its tonal quality. The image below, a sentence about tears, shows a flavour of the beautiful writing in this book. I would describe the genre as magical realism because it is through the supernatural and mythical elements that Robbie, his friend Mags, his father, and the reader learn more about, and begin to deal with the nature of death. I think I might need to re-read to fully appreciate all the nuances. I liked how Robbie is just friends with two girls and it was refreshing for romance not to be a main element. I also felt the rural and seasonal setting added an certain innocence to which the violent episodes in the book was in stark contrast. It’s interesting to see the author write about his personal experience of bullying and then how that is played out in the book (I’m not sure I entirely agree with the method Robbie uses on occasion). I could really see this as a Sunday afternoon BBC family series, in the vein of Moondial. Gosh this book is bringing back memories. If you like your stories lilting and poetic do give this one a read.
Huge thanks goes to Blake at Head of Zeus for the copy and to Michael for sharing this story. My opinions are, as ever, my own. Please do check out the tour banner below and head along to the other stops to learn more about The White Hare. I look forward to seeing what other books Zephyr has to offer.