Hello and welcome to my guest, author Sharon Marie Jones, who has been kind enough to share with us her magical experiences as a debut author!
Hi Sharon. Tell us about your book Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners
It all begins when a black cat ambles into Number 32, Ty Mynydd Close, the home of the Bevin family. The cat’s appearance coincides with the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninth year of Grace-Ella’s life. He has come to inform Grace-Ella that she is in fact a witch. The story follows Grace-Ella as she begins to learn to be a witch, casting spells and mixing up potions. Throughout the story, Grace-Ella has to deal with the school bully, Amelia, and despite ‘The Book of Rules’ forbidding magic to be used as means of revenge on a foe, Grace-Ella does finally succeed in standing up to Amelia once and for all.
What kind of character is Grace-Ella?
Grace-Ella has always felt that she doesn’t quite fit in. She struggles with her school work and is constantly having to put up with Amelia, the school bully. Once she discovers that she’s a witch and begins practising her spells and potions, Grace-Ella soon realises that being a witch is something that she’s good at. If I had to sum up Grace-Ella in 3 words, they would be kind, quirky and loyal. I think that they are pretty good traits to have!
Tell us about Mr Whiskins!
Mr Whiskins, Grace-Ella’s black cat, is a little bit haughty, a little bit mischievous and very adorable. He loves winding up Grace-Ella’s mum, Ioan Bevin, who is very easily annoyed. He helps Grace-Ella with her spells and potions and is always there to boost her confidence when her self-doubt creeps in, by telling her that she is a ‘magnifulous-splendifulous’ witch. We get to see a lot more of Mr Whiskins in Book 2.
So, what was the seed of thought that inspired the story?
The name Grace-Ella whooshed into my mind as I was driving to work one morning. All I knew for certain was that she was an ordinary 9-year-old girl, with an extraordinary gift. I knew that she would become a witch and the story would be full of magic. Before writing Grace-Ella, I knew I wanted to write a children’s book and I was just waiting for that one idea to come along and send me zooming to my laptop.
How important was it to you to have stories full of humour and magic?
The book is aimed at 7-9 year olds and I think that these two elements fit perfectly here. When I began writing, I didn’t set out to write a ‘funny book’, I just wrote the story that began to bubble and brew inside me, and the humour just plopped in naturally. I think if you try too hard to write something funny, children see through it straight away – they’re not easily fooled!
As to magic, I suppose its roots are in the stories that I loved as a child. I loved Enid Blyton’s ‘Enchanted Wood’. As a child, I had a real fairy door on the crab apple tree at the bottom of our garden, so I guess magic was always going to come into my stories.
Do you think that growing up in Wales has had an impact on your story telling?
When I came across Firefly Press and saw that they were publishing stories set in Wales, I knew that they were the publishers that I wanted to work with. I still can’t believe that my first children’s book was snapped up by them. I grew up listening in wide-eyed wonderment to folktales about giants and dragons, witches and fairies. These traditional folktales certainly come to my mind as I write. I may be biased, but Wales is a country that’s rich in culture and traditions and to me, is a magical place to live.
What was it like when you saw the illustrations for the first time?
I sat down with my editor and looked at samples of illustrations and we were both immediately enchanted by Adriana’s illustrations. I knew that she would be able to capture my characters perfectly with her pen. It was such a strange feeling when I first saw Grace-Ella and Mr Whiskins alive on the page. I loved them! Adriana has definitely enriched my story with her gorgeous illustrations.
For those of us hanging out in the slushpile, do you have any advice?
I was a slushpile writer (what a horrid name!) I was un-agented and very unsure, but I sent my manuscript to Firefly Press with no expectations and set to work writing another story that had begun to bubble and brew. When the email came requesting the full manuscript, I did allow a little glimmer of hope to flicker, but continued writing my new story. The email then came, the one that every writer dreams of, to say that they would like to publish my story. So I guess I’m living proof that it can happen.
I still can’t quite believe it – my first children’s story is now a real book, standing on the shelves of real bookshops and being read by real children! Every writer hears the ‘don’t give-up’ advice and I can imagine it would be so easy to do so, if you met rejection after rejection. Writing is hard work. I think you know deep down if you truly want to write. I would get up at 4.30am and write for two hours before starting my ‘real-life’.
I love writing. Once that idea comes and I feel the excitement for it fluttering, my fingers get twitchy and I want to get going. Write what you want to write, not what you think you should write. Find your ‘voice’ and go with it. Write the story that you fall in love with, that you believe in, that makes you want to get up at 4.30am to fall back into your fictional world. And always believe that authors do get plucked out of the slushpile. If I can do it, so can you.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently writing the second ‘Grace-Ella’ book. I have loved getting back into her world of magic. It’s really strange writing this one with the knowledge that my publishers want it. I try not to think about that and am once more just writing a story that I love, a story that has me eager to get to my laptop.
I also have an older MG story written that I want to get back to once Book 2 is written. It’s a story that has come to mean a lot to me, since losing my young son last year. It’s about a young boy having to come to terms with the loss of his father, whilst at the same time moving home and trying to settle into a new life. It’s set in Wales and is influenced by those traditional folktales I listened to as a child.
Thankyou so much, Sharon, for taking the time to tell us about your book and your characters, and all about your writing process, and good luck with your latest story! We’ll look forward to it.
You can find Sharon on twitter @sharonmariej
PS If you’re a teacher, you can find helpful resources devised by Sharon here.
Happy reading and writing, everyone 🙂
7th April 2017