Rosanne: Hi Mike, thanks for joining me. You are a musician, a composer, and, occasionally, an actor. What made you want to write children’s books?
Me: I’ve been a writer for at least as long as I’ve been a musician, so writing is nothing new. It’s just taken me a long time to get to the point of publishing books.
In the past all the books I’ve written (but not necessarily finished) have been for adults, with one exception. However, there have been some children’s short stories in the past, at least a couple of which have been published. The first children’s book I completed (Grimhilda!) was based on a musical a friend and I had written a couple of years earlier. I thought it had some ‘life’ beyond the theatrical version, and that’s proved to be the case.
How do you balance your writing with your other creative pursuits?
It can be a bit of a juggling act, but usually it’s a matter of which creative venture needs priority. A deadline helps, but at the moment I have deadlines in two different areas, one musical and one writing. It’s not unusual for two things to be running along together: they just have to give each other elbow room.
You have referred to The Mumbersons and the Blood Secret as a sequel of sorts to your first children’s book, Grimhilda!. Please explain what you meant by that.
In terms of the ‘sequel of sorts’ I mean that only two of the characters from the earlier book appear (though Grimhilda is mentioned several times). In other words, it’s a story about a new lot of characters who have some connections to what happened in the previous book.
You mentioned that Grimhilda! was adapted from a musical that you wrote. What motivated you to write The Mumbersons and the Blood Secret?
I’d had a sequel in mind for Grimhilda! when we produced the musical, partly because some of the cast talked about what happened next and were enthusiastic about me writing another musical. However, the idea I had in mind didn’t seem to work as a musical, or as something that could be done on stage. And I enjoyed the freedom a book version gave me to let things happen that would have been far too complicated to put in a script.
Do you foresee a third book in the Grimhilda series?
I’ve since written a draft of a third story which will probably be described as a prequel: it’ll take place some twenty years before the events in Grimhilda! and will again only have a couple of characters in common with the first book. But it will (probably) also explain how something that was rather curious in Grimhilda! actually came about.
You have 10 grandchildren and one foster grandchild. Have they read your books? If so, what did they think of them?
Strangely I don’t think any of my grandchildren have read the books! They are all readers (at least those who are of an age are) but it’s mostly been their parents who've read them. I think it’s probably not entirely unusual that family members are so close to you they can’t see you as someone separate: a person who writes books. However a number of the grandchildren did come to the musical, and enjoyed it, so I’ll have to do a bit of promotion amongst them in terms of the books… Thanks for the reminder!
What are the challenges unique to writing children’s books in your opinion?
I think everything has to keep moving; you can’t have too much reflection on what’s happening, or too much description of things that aren’t immediately related to the action. On the other hand, someone did comment that The Blood Secret didn’t seem to have any breathing places as the book headed towards its climax. It’s a tricky balance.
I’ve just been reading more of Diana Wynne Jones’ books. She wrote a large number of fantasy stories, with lots of magic and big events. She was a highly successful author of books for children, and yet the books vary enormously in pacing. The one I read most recently had a rather long patch towards the end when things went rather slowly and then suddenly, all of a rush, everything was sorted out and the book was over. Even one of J K Rowling’s books ˗ I think it was the last ˗ had a long stretch in it where very little seemed to be happening. They tightened this up considerably in the movie. I’m not sure that children worry too much about these things; maybe it’s adult readers who do. (I think adults should read children’s books regularly; I certainly do.)
I have noticed that your blog covers a wide variety of topics, some are about writing, some are religious in nature and some are observations. What motivates you to write your blog?
As I said earlier, I’ve written since I was young, and it seems part and parcel of my nature to record what I think about things. Before blogging came along I used to do it in exercise books or in diaries or journals on the computer. Blogging just became a way of making these things more public! I wrote a weeklycolumn for a local newspaper back in the 90s, for five years, and in it I was free to write on anything I fancied. I guess the blogging is an extension of that. For me, blogs that keep on hammering away at the same subject week in and week out get a bit uninteresting after a while, just the same as newspaper columns that are focused only on one thing. I like variety!
Do you find social media to be more useful in marketing or in helping you to learn more about the self publishing universe?
I don’t know that I’ve made a distinction like that between them. I tend to read anything and everything that’s going when I’m first learning about something. Social media’s certainly been helpful in discerning what’s useful in terms of marketing ˗ though you have to sift between what are often opposing viewpoints. Equally there’s a heap of information about self-publishing out there: some of it is excellent, some rubbish, some marginally informative and so on. It’s the nature of the Internet. But it often points you to books that are of value: I’ve discovered several books about self-publishing/marketing, and these have probably been more helpful because they’re more focused. Deb Vanasse’s book What Every Author Should Know is one I’ve read recently that I found very good all round.
If you could ask any question on social media about self publishing and get an honest answer, what would it be?
“How can I guarantee that my books will sell very well?” I’m sure I’d get plenty of honest answers, but I don’t think I’ll get one that will guarantee sales!
I would ask “How many books have you sold?” There are so many of us out there and I think it would help to have a better understanding of the goals (in terms of sales) that other authors set for themselves and the timeline they set for achieving them.
With e-books by relatively unknown authors, the secret seems to be perseverance: keep on reminding people about the books through social media. But don’t do it in a way that makes it sound like you’re insisting on a sale, or like you’re advertising. Make it part of the overall conversation. Encourage people to help your books to sell by word of mouth. An endorsement from someone who’s enjoyed your books to one or more of their friends is still one of the best ways of getting the books known, even better than good reviews.
I was pleased this morning to find a tweet from a friend saying: My daughter is again reading Grimhilda, by @mcrowl. She thinks it’s ‘awesome’. That sort of publicity is invaluable, because it’s sincere.
Well, judging by your reviews on Amazon, others find Grimhilda! awesome as well! I really enjoyed The Mumbersons and the Blood Secret and I look forward to reading Grimhilda! (I agree with you that adults should read children’s books, and I do!). Mike, thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I wish you success in all of your endeavours!