“I’m M.J. Fahy (Jane) and I write middle grade fiction in a writing shed (called the Writing Shed!) in my garden, situated on the south coast of England. From childhood and into my teens I’d always wanted to go to Art College and eventually illustrate children’s books, but stupidly I left college to work with horses instead. On reaching middle-age, with no qualifications to speak of, I decided that I’d still quite like to illustrate children’s books – and write them too – so I set about doing just that, with total ignorance of the process (and a woeful two-finger typing style).
“With two books written and two more in the middling stages, I think I might have finally arrived at my destination. The great thing with writing is that you can do it standing, sitting, waltzing, or making dinner, and you can be nine or ninety-nine.”
I love how you describe your writing process, Jane – how true! This is one career which you can continue to do as long as it pleases you. Speaking for myself, when that writers’ bug has bitten, there ‘s no turning back! And I’m completely envious of your THE WRITING SHED!
First off, I’d like to thank you, Maretha, for giving me the opportunity to share my writing experience. I didn’t specifically choose to write for children, it’s just that my head is chockfull of tales waiting to come out, and they just happen to be children’s stories. As both a child and adult I’ve always loved reading children’s books – It’s all the fantasy and escapism that does it for me – so it felt most comfortable and natural to write what I like: middle grade fiction. Also, losing a close relative a few years ago was a bit of a wakeup call that, actually, no one lives for ever and I’d better stop thinking about writing, and just get on and do it.
Sometimes, children’s books convey a few of life’s lessons to children. Was this your goal?
No, not at all. I think children are way cleverer than that. My goal was always to get my stories into print, and ultimately to get them read. Obviously one would like to steer children into making morally correct choices in life, but that was never my intention at the outset. I like tales that are a little dark and ambiguous, as well as being funny and warm in places too. There probably are lessons in making the right decisions in my books, but hopefully they aren’t too obvious. So, I don’t set out to impart a structured moral code when I’m writing stories. If a child happens to find one when the book is finished then that’s great. I think that what some people would find in The Magpie King, and Hagcat, is a central theme of loyalty and of seeing out a task till the end, even if said task is not a very appetising one.
What was for you the most challenging part of writing for children?
To hopefully not have my stories come across as patronising. Children can spot that a mile off; they’re far sharper than most grown-ups give them credit for. I’m not a great story plotter; I like to have an overall tale in mind, then write and see where the wind takes me.
All authors are aware of the need for reviews, yet I imagine an author of books written for children would face an even more challenging time, simply because these are children. Have you found it challenging?
Oh dear, yes I have. Not that I know the foggiest about how to encourage readers to leave a review. I wish I did! Without reviews our books are nowhere, in a wilderness, bobbing about on a stagnant sea of countless other books, each vying for the attention of a very savvy clientele. Reviews boost a books exposure, so, every review counts, even the poor ones (because, sadly, not everyone is going to love our stories. And that’s as it should be).
Are you currently working on anything new?
Yes. I’m writing a story set during, and shortly after, WW1. It’s quite personal, this one, because elements of it are inspired by my Grandmother’s upbringing, and therefore true. I still marvel at how she emerged through it all as a sensible, reliable adult. I’m also working on a sequel to The Magpie King.
How do you feel about the use of illustrations? I know you did some of your own illustrations?
I did, though the first edition of The Magpie King is very simple, with no illustrations at all. I thought it lacked ‘kerb appeal’ – anyone flicking through it would be extremely underwhelmed – so, I bit the proverbial bullet and added simple silhouette illustrations, which, hopefully, improve the look of the book no end. I learned my lesson, so, when it came to writing Hagcat, my second book, I’d already decided that adding an illustration to each chapter was a given, just to grab a reader’s attention.
The Magpie King: http://bookgoodies.com/a/B00J0Z3E9U
Twitter profile: https://twitter.com/MJFahy2
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