Interview – Where Bluebirds Fly author, Wendy Storer
Self-Publisher’s Showcase: Today we are joined by Wendy Storer, author of the Young Adult novels: Bring me Sunshine and Where Bluebirds Fly. Welcome to the Showcase Lounge, Wendy.
Wendy Storer: Thank you for having me – it’s very kind of you.
SPS: For any of our readers that haven’t come across any of your work previously, can you take a moment to tell us all a little about yourself?
WS: I’ve been writing novels for a little over ten years. I am an ex-hypnotherapist and teacher (and lots of other things!) but I now teach creative writing to adults and run Magic Beans, a literary consultancy for children’s writers, in the Lake District. When I’m not writing or teaching, I’m dog walking, spending time with my amazing family, and thinking about writing…
SPS: When did you first realise you had a love for writing?
WS: I have always loved writing, not necessarily stories, but I’ve always recorded my thoughts or worked out my problems on paper, or played with words. I started writing stories probably after I became a mum, going to writing groups, evening classes, that kind of thing. And it just sort of developed into novel writing.
SPS: Can you talk us through your perfect writing conditions? Is it complete silence or anytime, anywhere?
WS: Perfect conditions are early morning, before the world is awake. I like silence, and a mind uncluttered by the business of living.
SPS: Both of your releases are contemporary fiction aimed at teenage girls. What made you decide to write for this particular audience?
WS: When I wrote my first novel (Where Bluebirds Fly) I was working at a school for children with emotional and behavioural problems, so I wrote about what I knew. I didn’t especially plan to be a children’s writer, or to write a children’s story, but when people read it, they said that was my niche. When it was finished one of the big publishing houses showed some interest in it and said they would market me as an author who wrote for teenage girls. Bring Me Sunshine was then undergoing a rewrite and at the time it had a boy protagonist, but I changed it to fit this brief. So the teenage girl thing was almost as accident.
SPS: In your debut novel, Where Bluebirds Fly, the story is centred on a young girl, Ruby. Tell us about the girl we meet.
WS: Ruby is really screwed up emotionally. Her Dad is an lying alcoholic, her parents have split up and she lives with her mum and baby sister. Ruby is kept sane by her beloved Nanna. But when Nanna dies, Ruby feels she has no one to turn to. She collects stones, is obsessed with the Wizard of Oz, and dreams of being an actor.
SPS: She is struggling through problems at home. Did you find writing about her situation emotionally difficult?
WS: Ruby had me in tears on more than one occasion! Writing always brings your own emotional world to the fore, and I really felt for Ruby, especially when her Nanna died. Other things which happened in her life were no more or less than the things I saw happening to the children I worked with on a daily basis, and of course it’s emotionally upsetting. The best thing about fictionalising events is that you can give people a happy outcome; not so easy in real life.
SPS: Upon Ruby being sent to a residential school for help with her issues, we meet Pearl. How does she differ in character to Ruby?
WS: Pearl is similar to Ruby in a lot of ways, but she’s been at High Fell Hall a lot longer and is more used to the way things are done and the power struggles which go on. They are both extremely strong, hot-headed characters, not willing to talk about their pasts, and yet not knowing how they can move on.
SPS: Do the two girls immediately take to each other, or is it a more gradual process of acceptance?
WS: They take an immediate dislike to each other, partly because they are so similar, and it takes quite a while before either of them is prepared to let the barriers down. But gradually they begin to see their similarities and that’s when things start to change for them.
SPS: What would you consider to be the main message of the book?
WS: Letting go. At the school where I worked there were many children like Ruby and Pearl – big personalities with heaps of potential – but their lives had been pretty awful and they didn’t believe it would ever be any different and so their destructive patterns of behaviour persisted. I used to think if they could find a way to let go of all the bad stuff, their amazing personalities would have a chance to fly, to work for the good. Ruby’s obsession with stones was part of the metaphor – of heavy emotions weighing you down – and when she finally lets them go, she finds something better.
SPS: In Bring me Sunshine we are introduced to Daisy; with mounting issues she seems to be really struggling.
WS: Yes, poor Daisy. She wants so badly to cope and for all the bad things to just go away, but of course they won’t.
SPS: The issues sound almost humorous. Was it hard to balance the humour with the feelings of despair Daisy is feeling?
WS: Quite a lot of people have said to me that the book is funny (in places) but it wasn’t consciously humorous. The humour comes out of the situation, of Dad’s dementia. Anyone who knows or cares for people with dementia will know that some of the things which happen, or get said, are funny from the outside looking in. Daisy doesn’t find these things funny of course; she’s just telling the story how it is.
SPS: Daisy’s life takes a turn for the better when Dylan returns to town. Is there a budding romance involved?
WS: Yes, and Dylan is so sweet; he’s exactly what Daisy needs. When we first meet her she is at such a low, I needed to give her something positive to cling on to.
SPS: Are you someone who likes to tie things up nicely? Can we expect a happily ever after or will that give the game away?
WS: I do like to tie things up, but I am also a realist. In child and YA fiction you have to give your readers an uplifting ending, some sense of hope, even if it’s not everyone living happily ever after. So in Bring Me Sunshine, nice things do happen for Daisy, even though her dad’s condition won’t improve. Most importantly, she finds herself again, having been lost under the weight of her responsibilities. I don’t think that gives anything away…
SPS: Moving away from your novels for a moment, can you tell us how you got involved in teaching creative writing?
WS: This was a natural progression for me. I am a qualified teacher anyway, and one day I just thought it would be nice to teach writing, since that’s what I love. I’d been out of the classroom for several years, but I approached the local Arts Centre and they took me on. You learn so much from your students, and think about your writing from a different angle. I’ve loved every minute of it.
SPS: And, what exactly is the Creative Futures Cumbria Artslink programme?
WS: It’s an initiative in Cumbria to connect schools to artists, to give them direct access to quality practitioners. It’s a great idea and benefits children, teachers and artists alike.
SPS: What we can we expect next from the pen of Wendy Storer? More human drama and real life problems, or will you be trying your hand at something completely different?
WS: I am currently working on a women’s novel I rashly started many years ago, forgot about, then picked up last year. It’s the same sort of contemporary realism you’ll find in my YA novels, but writing for adults is different to writing for children and I’m finding it quite a challenge. I also have a third YA book waiting for me to do a final rewrite. I thought I’d finished with it, but after standing back a while, I realise there’s still some work to do. And I have two other projects (one a YA and the other a women’s novel) sort of on the go… It’s not like me to have so many balls in the air at once, and I’m not terribly good at juggling, but I’ll get there.
SPS: Was the Self-Published/Indie-Published route always your preferred route for your work?
WS: I spent about three years with an agent who got me right up to the finish line with one publisher, who then pulled out just before I crossed it. I would have liked to have gone all the way, for the validation if nothing else, but self publishing has been terrifically rewarding in so many ways. I love the control and the decision making, and I’ve learned so much about the industry that I just don’t think I would have known if I’d have let someone else publish me.
SPS: If you could give one piece of advice for someone looking to get into writing, what would it be?
WS: Write. Doesn’t matter what. Allow yourself to write total rubbish because everything needs rewriting anyway, and the more you write the better you’ll get.
SPS: Before we bring this interview to a close, it’s your chance to name-drop. Anyone who you feel is deserving of more recognition at present or someone whose writing you have recently enjoyed? Now is your chance to spread the word…
WS: Ooh thank you. I would love to put in a plug for two friends of mine whose writing deserves much more recognition. Katie Hayoz http://www.katiehayoz.com/p/blog-page_3.html was my fellow runner-up in the 2013 Mslexia Children’s writing competition and her YA book, Untethered, is simply wonderful. It’s a paranormal story (which I wouldn’t usually read), but this speaks directly to teenagers about the very real life issues of jealousy and obsession. I totally recommend it. My other friend is Kate Hanney http://www.katehanney.com/ who writes similar real life fiction to mine, except for slightly older readers. Her stories are very gritty, yet beautifully written and Kate always manages to get you on the side of kids you wouldn’t normally feel sympathy for.
SPS: Thank you for joining us today Wendy, and good luck in the future.
WS: Thank you very much for having me. It’s been a pleasure 🙂
SPS: For more information on Wendy Storer and her work, please do visit her Author page here. And, while you’re there, you can pick up your copies of Where Bluebirds Fly and Bring Me Sunshine, both currently available at only 99c!