29 Aug 2016

Author Interview / Helen Slavin

The Way sisters, Anna, Charlie and Emz, were raised in two worlds. Their mother’s realm of reason, measurement and logic, and the world inhabited by their spectacularly unconventional grandmother, Hettie.

While their mother worked, the sisters ran wild at Hettie’s Cob Cottage, discovering forbidden Pike Lake, unknowable Havoc Wood, and what their grandmother referred to only as ‘The Strengths’.

But time passed, the sisters grew up, work and relationships and their mother’s world won them over, and The Strengths lay forgotten…

That is until Hettie passes away suddenly, leaving behind Cob Cottage and a whole lot of questions.

Anna is busy trying very hard not to cry as she caters yet another wedding, Charlie is spending more time at the job she loves than with the boyfriend she’s not quite sure about and Emz is dreaming up new ways to avoid school and the drama that comes with it, but can they deal with strange guests, unexpected danger and some long-forgotten memories?

Follow The Way sisters’ adventures in magic, witchcraft & suspense in this charming and entertaining book from Helen Slavin.

1.     If you could work with any other author, who would it be and why?
Question impossible! Cue the music.  Neil Gaiman. I love Neil Gaiman’s worlds and words. I like the way he focuses the view you have from the corner of your eye. I think I might call the project ‘The Book of Light and Darkness’ where light can also be blinding and darkness is disguise. Play around with the shadows of that. Hm. So. Not really thought about that one at all!  Also Kate Atkinson, I love the intricacy and humanity of her work and her characters are always real.

2.  What would be a typical working day for you? When and where do you write?
Most often I write at the kitchen table with a pen and paper. I type it up on the computer which resides on a fold up garden table. I sit in a broken swivelly chair. I also have notebooks in my bags and pockets so when the urge strikes I can just scribble. I have always treated it like a job, I sit down in the morning and I get up in the afternoon. It used to be bookended by the school run. I used to write for tv too which is very disciplined so it’s a habit . I was always a homework goody two shoes so it is something in me I think. I drink a lot of tea, literally gallons, and I also go for a walk if my brain starts to seize up.  I always try to finish at a point where I know what I want to write next so it’s easier to start again in the morning. Other days I just bang my head on the table until the words fall out.

3.  What is the hardest part of the writing for you?
Banging my head on the table.  Ha. No. Sorry. Hm. It’s the blank page I think and trying to bridge that gap between the idea in your head and capturing it properly on paper.  Yes. Sometimes that gap is firing like synapses and then other days you’re up a mental ladder, tinkering.

4.  When and why did you first start writing?
In Class 2 of primary school . I can pinpoint it. It was the moment that I was reading proper story books not just primers and started to put the words together. We had a lot of books at home and I loved fairy tales and used to retell them at great length. The more I read the more I wanted to join in. It still feels like that.

5.  How did you come up with the idea for your book?
It’s a jigsaw process I think. Crooked Daylight came about because I have always wanted to write a full on fairytale. My grandma died last year at 102 and I started thinking about the whole maiden, mother, crone idea and how women live our lives and about ideas of home and heart. The book came in pieces. I thought of the old woman in a cottage in a wood and I wanted to twist that so it wasn’t a sinister thing, it was actually their home. The characters were three sisters, not simply because that’s the standard set by folklore but because I’d been re-reading ‘Jane Eyre’ and I love the Brontes. Hence the characters names! I knew I wanted to write a fairytale where the women are not useless princesses. I like the idea of witchcraft as a female power, one that’s been stripped away over the last couple of millenia. My idea of witchcraft is about a connection to your inner self and the natural world. You don’t need a wand, you need a heart and a memory.  The stories then are not just how they deal with the visitors and trespassers to their wood but how they deal with themselves. That’s why I call their witchcraft their ‘Strengths’.  I wanted it to be something innate.

6.  Are you a big reader? If so, what are you reading now?
I am a huge reader. I just finished ‘The Little Red Chairs’ by Edna O’Brien and I’m in the middle of ‘The Vikings’ by Neil Oliver.

7.  Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?
Do it. It is that simple. Do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to do it this way or that, just do it, the thing of writing.  Pen. Paper. Screen. Keyboard. Quill. Parchment. Whatever  conduit you require. Just do it.  Read all you can.  Graham Greene suggested setting yourself a target of 1000 words a day. I always have that in my mind, it’s very useful. Sometimes you struggle, other days you exceed. Just do it
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