The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Melanie Welsh
|The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Melanie Welsh|
|Summary: Bookbag thought Mistress of the Storm was full of seafaring adventure, mystery and intrigue. Naturally, we jumped at the chance to shiver some timbers and buckle some swash with her. This is what we talked about!|
|Date: July 2010|
|Interviewer: Ruth Ng|
Bookbag thought Mistress of the Storm was full of seafaring adventure, mystery and intrigue. Naturally, we jumped at the chance to shiver some timbers and buckle some swash with her. This is what we talked about!
- Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?
Melanie Welsh: When I started Verity I was really hoping I could write a book that I would have liked to read when I was younger (and that I'd also like now). I think I always rather naively believed that my readers would come from many different walks of life.
The variety of people who've already read and enjoyed the book has been a really pleasant surprise. Even in these incredibly early days I've already met men in their thirties and forties who've bought the book and enjoyed it. At the schools I've been to so far, the number of boys buying the book and talking about it online has been about equal – which feels like something of an achievement given that according to publishing industry lore boys famously "don't read books about girls".
For marketing purposes Mistress of the Storm is categorized as a crossover book targeted at 9 to 12 year old children, or in normal language a book for children that adults will hopefully also enjoy. And I think originally there was a thought that it might be more of a girls book than a boys one. I'm not dismissive of target audiences (that would be incredibly hypocritical given my former career in marketing) but I do think it’s more important to focus on writing the best book you’re capable of, rather than worrying about whether some people will find some of the language too challenging, or the themes too complex. Fortunately I'm signed to David Fickling Books, so there was never any pressure to do anything other than that.
- BB: I loved Verity Gallant, the main character in Mistress of the Storm. Was she an easy character to write?
MW: I'm so glad you like Verity! I was very keen that she shouldn't be too perfect. I wanted her to have flaws. Verity and Henry have always been very clear in my head as people. As, in fact, are many of the characters (I have a particular soft spot for both Jasper and Miranda). Verity just sort of appears on the page in front of me, so she's incredibly easy to write. As are the conversations between her and Henry, which always feel as if I can hear them talking to each other.
- BB: Hopefully the scary parts of your story, like Verity's Grandmother, are purely fictional, but is the town of Wellow based on a real place?
MW: No comment on Grandmother! But she is terrifying isn't she? Wellow is a fictional combination of Ventnor on the Isle of Wight (where I grew up) and Southwold, a town in Suffolk near where I now live. In my funny little head it’'s all kind of smerged together, but it makes sense to me. I have scribbled maps of where everything is, what direction the prevailing winds are, and that sort of thing. I think having a clear picture of Wellow in my mind did help: it becomes one less thing to worry about if you know exactly where everything is.
- BB: Can you sail, like Verity?
MW: I can dinghy sail. I learned on a Wayfarer which is a real tank of a dinghy and incredibly difficult to right once it’s capsized. My preference was a Topper. These are small one-man dinghies that capsize a lot but are very exciting to sail (and much easier to right).
Yacht racing is incredibly popular in Cowes, the town I grew up in on the Island but it always seemed very stressful to me: there’s a lot of shouting and bad temper involved because people get very competitive! I much prefer a bit of pootling about: traveling from one place to another. Thankfully my husband agrees: his Dad was a very keen racer but he preferred sailing his Mirror to a place called "the Rocks" near Woodbridge in Suffolk and just messing around.
Shamefully I haven't kept up so now that our elder son is approaching sailing age I'm going to have to put myself on a refresher course before we get a family dinghy.
- BB: I loved that Verity's refuge is the local library since I'm a librarian myself! Were you a frequent visitor at the library as a child?
MW: Yes, I spent a huge amount of time in the local library. So much so that by the time I was about Verity's age I'd read pretty much everything in the (very small) children’s section. This turned out to be an incredibly good thing though because it was boredom and want of something to read that pushed me to start borrowing other books like the collections of European fairy tales. This was where I started to read about Baba Yaga, who was definitely a strong source of inspiration for the Mistress and her sisters.
- BB: What is your favourite children's book?
MW: That's an incredibly difficult question to answer because it still changes constantly. Today I think probably The Silver Chair by C.S.Lewis. I admire the atmosphere of dark, brooding fear that he creates. And I really love Puddleglum, the unwittingly very funny Marsh-wiggle.
- BB: For us, it's always been Hobson's choice between Puddleglum and Reepicheep! What's the best thing about being a writer?
MW: I've always been criticized for the fact that I spend most of my time daydreaming, or with my head stuck in a book. So definitely the best thing about being a writer is that you get to do both those things – and pretend it's work.
- BB: What are you reading at the moment?
MW: I'm re-reading The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett. I found it in a second hand bookshop the other day and couldn't resist buying it for £2. It's a real blast from the past: it won the Carnegie Medal in 1937 but I used to love it when I was younger and I think it's stood the test of time. Next up is Charmed Life by Diana Wynn Jones, which I’m looking forward to.
- BB: What's next for Melanie Welsh?
MW: Thrillingly the German language rights to the Verity Gallant series (there are four planned in total) have been bought by Oetinger for the Erika Klopp imprint. So I've decided to take two years out of work to be a full-time author. At the minute I’m intending to return once that finishes. Although I'll miss my day job and friends at work terribly, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a lot more of my boys (and write) and I’m going to take it!
- BB: Wowee and huzzah! Thanks so much for talking to us, Melanie, and we truly hope the next two years bring writerly renown!