Friday, March 31, 2017

GUESTOPIA: Kidlit Author Anne Booth

Anne Booth

Today, I am delighted to welcome the super talented children’s author Anne Booth to Guestopia! It’s a double celebration for Anne right now; not only does she have a brand new picture book out, but this month she’s celebrating the three year anniversary of her middle grade novel Girl with a White Dog. And it’s this novel we’re going to find out more about. 

Anne lives in a village in Kent with her husband and four children. She has two dogs called Timmy and Ben. She is not afraid of spiders, so is a good person to ask if you need one removed from your room! Her lovely author agent is called Anne Clark!

Right, let’s get started with the interview so you can find out more about Anne and her books.

Was Girl with a White Dog (GWWD) your first published book?


Which genre is it?

It is middle grade, which is officially 9-12, but I have had letters from 14 year olds who loved it, and Jessie and Kate are in Year 9 of secondary school.

Is it a series or standalone?

It’s a standalone. My other MG book, Dog Ears, is also standalone.

How did the first idea for GWWD book sneak up on you?

I think it was a combination of things, including  a conversation overheard in my local post office, my worry about the headlines in the newspapers, my MA in Children’s Literature where we had studied Nazi Children’s books, my time caring for mum who had dementia, my love of fairytales, and a book called Amazing Dogs by Jan Bondeson, which set me off on a historical detective quest to find out more about dogs in Nazi Germany.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

That’s hard to say. I read lots and lots of books - as many children’s books about the second world war as I could - both ones I remembered from my childhood and present ones, before and during and after writing all the versions. I read lots and lots of history books about Germany in the 1930s, and I also read lots about dementia, and I kept changing my notes and trying out sample chapters and plan as I went along. Whilst still working on it I went to Munich for the weekend with my friend, and things we found out there changed the story, and I went to The Wiener Library to see an exhibition of Nazi German books, which was crucial. I would say the whole process before getting an agent took about two years in any spare time I had whilst caring for my mum and family.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?

The first version flowed a little too naturally, in that I set it in the third person, in 1930s Germany, with a very young protagonist and a fairy tale feeling from the beginning, but it didn’t work. I found this version very easy to write, and loved many elements, but it had a big problem, which was pointed out to me by a publisher very early on. The publisher loved the lyrical elements, but she said, because of the young main character and the style, that it read as if it was written for 5-8 year olds, and  she felt the subject matter was too scary and serious for that age group in the way that I was dealing with it.  So then I had to think again about how to approach it, and decided to set it in Britain today, and make the heroine the age of my youngest girls, who at that time were in year 9.

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?

My children were my first readers - or rather, listeners - right from the start. They were very patient and let me read out extracts to them and then commented whether my Year 9s were believable or not.  My husband, a secondary school teacher, gave me good advice too about the structure of a school day. I realise writing this, that reading my work out loud is very important at the beginning of a book, so it is first about getting people (my long- suffering family!) to listen to it.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have critique partners/beta readers before you started querying?

I didn’t employ an editor but I was very grateful for the detailed feedback from the publisher who rejected my first draft. I  sent various versions and bits of versions to friends, and I especially cried on the shoulder of another unpublished writer friend,  Virginia Moffatt, who was thinking about similar things whilst working on a novel for adults about different generations affected by war. (I am glad to say her novel is going to be published this year with Unbound and is called Echo Hall).

I also remember going for a respite break from caring, down to ‘Retreats for You’ in Devon and reading out a bit to Shelley Harris, the novelist, who was down there working on her own book. Shelley had been a secondary school teacher and kindly gave me feedback about whether a particular English teacher in a scene was believable.

I have been interested in online discussion recently about sensitivity readers. For Girl with a White Dog I asked my friend Helen, a primary school teacher who has a disability and has played sitting volleyball for  Great Britain and narrowly missed being in the paralympics for both swimming and sitting volleyball , to check out my depiction of the disabled character Kate. I was really grateful for her feedback as otherwise I would have been really worried that I might have inadvertently written something patronising or hurtful because of my own lack of experience being disabled.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

So many! I had nearly a complete book written as a fairy tale, then I tried out lots of different versions of different chapters and plot twists for the final version. Once I did decide I wrote the book quite straightforwardly.

Did you receive many, if any, rejections before you were snapped up by your agent?

I remember that initial feedback after the rejection of the first version by the publisher. Then I can’t remember - I think perhaps four or five but it may well have been more. I sent to some agents but also to publishers who were taking direct submissions from writers. I remember being very disappointed when there was one publisher whose editors really wanted to take it but then it was turned down at the end by marketing. That ended up being a blessing, as I was so depressed I sat down and wrote the picture book ‘The Fairest Fairy’ to cheer me up, sent it off and it was accepted by Nosy Crow! Then I had the good luck to read  a tweet from ‘the Bookseller’ on Twitter that Anne Clark was setting up an agency.  I was so lucky to have Anne, as she had been an editor, and she  saw the potential in my manuscript and helped me prune it before we sent it off.

Which publisher signed this book?

Catnip Books.

How many drafts until it was published?

That’s hard to say. Anne had done a great job editing the version we sent in, then Non Pratt and Liz Bankes, the editors  at Catnip at the time, suggested extra scenes and some further culling of sub plots, all of which really improved it.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?


Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?

I don’t think any writer will ever be 100% satisfied by any book - but I think I had so much excellent editing from Anne and Non and Liz that I think that, as a work, it is as good as I could make it and wouldn’t benefit from any further tinkering. Sadly, I feel  everything in Girl with a White Dog is still relevant for today, and I feel passionate about telling that story and going into schools to talk about how and why I wrote it.

How involved were you/have you been in its publishing process?

I felt very involved even though I don’t think I changed anything - Catnip sent me, for example, the designs for the cover, designed by Pip Johnson and illustrated by  Serena Rocca and Non even told me about the font they were going to use. I thought it was all amazing. I think my actual contribution to process was to say the cover was absolutely lovely and suggest the dog was a little smaller, and the rest was just me feeling overwhelmed by admiration and excitement!

Do you have another job?

At the time of writing I was a registered carer for my mum, and also supporting my elderly dad. Now, since my mum’s death, I still support my dad but I am not an official carer. Instead, supported by my husband, who is a teacher, I am working full time as a writer.

What part of being a writer do you find the easiest?

Discovering stories and having ideas - I love the way that so many things can inspire a book - a news article, a conversation with a friend or overheard on a bus, a book, a film, a tweet,  my own or friends’ experiences. I love the reading and research and I love opening a notebook and jotting down ideas and extracts. I also love working across the age range and with illustrators - my next picture book ‘I want a Friend’ is coming out this month - it is illustrated by Amy Proud and I love seeing what she has done with the characters I imagined.

What part do you find hardest?

I think controlling all my ideas is hardest - I can try to place too many plot lines into a story and I am very grateful for my agent and wise editors - it is lovely to see an overgrown story expertly trimmed, even if it can be a bit painful during the process.  I think I am learning from the advice and  getting better at not overloading a story - I hope so anyway. I have even recently been asked to add things, which, thinking of that unwieldy manuscript  Anne received, made me smile.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

Both really. I am very lucky to have two dogs, and walking them can help. Sometimes I go away and read a children’s book or some fiction from another genre from that I am working on, or read history or other non-fiction, or watch a film or a comforting detective programme on TV. I can get  inspired and also a bit distracted by twitter and Facebook too. But  ultimately you always have to come back, sit down and write and re write and have a cup of tea and re-write again. It is both fantastic fun and hard slog.

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?

It is best for me to get my head down and work on one project at a time per day or week, but sometimes you can be working on one book and get sent urgent edits for another, or have a great idea for a picture book when working on a middle grade, or another book from the same genre. Ideas for new books are always occurring to me, and I jot them down in notebooks to come back to later.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?

I think people are natural story- tellers, but I think you can always learn how to tell stories better, and not everyone will want to turn their stories into books. To be a writer in particular you need to love writing (I know that sounds obvious but I think some people love the idea of being an author but not so much the idea of being alone, putting words on paper or on a screen), and first of all I think a writer must be an enthusiastic  reader of the type of books they want to write. I think writers must be open to learning from reading the work of other writers, and to be a published writer I think you also need to be open to editing and also aware of what else is currently being written and published in the genre and on the subject you are writing about. I read a lot of wonderful children’s books about the second world war before I was satisfied that my book was adding anything new to the body of work and so would have a chance of being published.

How many future novels do you have planned?

SO many! I have to keep calm and deal with one idea at a time, but I have so many ideas. Luckily my agent is very good at keeping me on track and focused on projects, or I could go off on too many paths.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

I  have written non fiction articles about being a carer and other things, and I have had a short story for adults long listed for the Bridport Prize and later published online, and won 3rd prize in a flash fiction competition. My Creative Writing MA is in adult fiction, and I have an adult novel I wrote which I am looking at again when I have the time!

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

I have loved so much about it. It’s been wonderful being short listed for awards and getting lovely reviews and very exciting, for example, being asked to the Edinburgh Festival. I also absolutely love seeing my words illustrated, and it has been amazing seeing the work of the illustrators  Rosalind Beardshaw and Sam Usher and Sophy Williams (and Amy Proud and Ruth Hearson in books to come).

I think the highlight though, has to be hearing from, or meeting, real live children who have read a book I have written and tell me they have loved it. That makes everything worthwhile! I love getting letters and I love meeting children in schools. I  enjoy planning the presentations and getting props and costumes together - I have a very cute little blackbird which whistles, for example. I really enjoy chatting to children and hearing their very interesting questions, and because I write across the age groups I can have so many fascinating and fun experiences. On World Book Day, for example, I started the day dressed as a fairy, talking about fairies and making friends and helping reception children paint rainbows and sing songs, then I went on to Years 3 and 4 and talked about rescuing animals and writing stories, and ended the day presenting a show about ‘Girl with a White Dog’ and ‘Dog Ears’ with years 5 and 6.  I couldn’t do that every week and I felt exhausted after it, but it was so great working with each age group and felt that I was the luckiest person in the world to work across the age range. I have been to some amazing schools and met such wonderful inspiring children and staff since being published, and I still find it amazing seeing children with books with my name on!

I have just remembered a different highlight - seeing my story Refuge become the beautiful Nosy Crow book illustrated so sensitively  by Sam Usher. I am proud it is raising money and awareness for refugees , and so happy that because of it, I got to do a BBC radio interview and meet the lovely Syrian picture book writer and illustrator, Nadine Kaadan. Being published has given me so many interesting experiences.

Give me one writing tip that works for you.

Write things down in longhand in a notebook you like the feel of - draw diagrams, cross out, experiment, have fun.

And one that doesn’t.

I can’t plot everything in great detail before hand - I have to have a basic framework but I have to allow the characters and story to change as we go along. I also don’t like to show too many people what I am doing as my confidence can be easily rocked or the story ruined at an early stage.

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?

Hmmm … for middle grade I think it is about the power of story again…the one I am working on has more action than my previous middle grade books but a similar idea of looking beyond the initial story you are given. For 5-8s - more magic and nature. And for picture books - some new characters I am really looking forward to introducing to children.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?

I can’t think of any - except perhaps ‘can we turn your book into a film or animation?’ My answer would be ‘OOH Yes - but let me ask Anne my agent first!’

Another question could be ‘ Would you look after these rescue donkeys if we give you and your family  a cottage in  a beautiful part of Ireland, near enough to somewhere with bookshops and lots of music, and with you having enough time, and money to live on, so that you can keep writing lots and lots of books?’ But nobody has asked me that either yet. The answer is  ‘yes’!

Fantastic! It's been so wonderful to offer you the chance to get to know more about this wonderful author. To follow Anne and discover more about her incredible books, these links might help!


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How to Use Facebook to Research a Setting When You Can't Travel

The best way to research a real setting for your novel is to travel there, experience the place for yourself, and dig in deep with the locals.

But what if you can't travel?

If you're on a tight budget like I am, the plane tickets alone are out of the question. Maybe you have a different reason you can't travel. Whatever your case may be, there are other ways to research a place for your setting. Here's how I'm using Facebook to research San Diego, which happens to be my setting and oh so different from my Michigan home.

Join Groups

I went to the search bar at the top of Facebook, searched "San Diego," and then narrowed my search to look through groups. Here, I looked through a long list of groups and requested to join as many as I could that had anything to do with my book or could give me insight into San Diego life. I joined a few groups about food because food tells us a lot about culture. I joined vague everything-San Diego type of groups, where I can watch the various topics and ask locals questions. I also joined  San Diego artist and photography groups to match character interests. Since some groups will deny you if they see you're not a local, join as many as you can to increase your chance of acceptance. (DISCLAIMER: Always be safe and use your best judgement when joining anything online.)

Follow Local News

Next, I liked/followed a couple local San Diego news pages so I can keep up on everything happening there from weather to crime to events. I read not only the news posts, but also the comments so I can gauge the people's reactions and views. 

I've been using Facebook as a research tool for a week now, and I've already added a few elements to my story I wouldn't have thought to incorporate otherwise. 

Now I'd love to hear from you! How do you research a place without actually visiting? What setting are you researching right now? If you try the Facebook method, let me know how it goes!

Jessie Mullins is wife to her middle/high school sweetheart. Together, they have a son who just so happens to be the sweetest boy in the world. Jessie blogs on YAtopia and her personal mommy blog, Her Arms Are Strong. She writes and adores YA. Visit her Facebook page for more bookish things.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

GUESTOPIA: Author and Publisher Keith Mansfield


Keith Mansfield is (currently) a failed astronaut. Rejected by ESA in 2009 and ineligible for NASA because his parents returned to England from the US in the 1970s, a key theme of his writing is the longing for humans to journey into space. Author of the Johnny Mackintosh series of children’s science fiction novels, he has also helped create exhibitions for London’s Science Museum and a six-part UK popular science TV series. A mathematical physicist by education and publisher by profession, he has worked for institutions such as the British Film Institute and Oxford University Press. In that latter role he hopes to have saved humanity from enslavement by our future robot overloads by publishing the highly influential New York Times bestseller Superintelligence, by Nick Bostrom. He is currently working on a novel about the nature of reality and the perplexing apparent absence of aliens in the universe. He is also writing a nonfiction book about SpaceX’s plan to colonize Mars. Like his idol Elon Musk, he hopes to die on the red planet, just not during landing.

How impressive is that bio! So, let's find out even more about Keith (and be sure to read because this truly is an honest and insightful interview!)...

Is this your first published book?

I’m currently working on my fourth book (and a fifth!). Because of where I stand with them, I think this interview will only make sense if I switch continuously (confusingly?) between that intended fourth novel and my first. Besides, I have a terrible habit of always jumping around with my answers in life generally. I claim it’s to do with creativity, though others might describe it as having a disorganized mind.

What’s it called?

The new book’s called Entanglement, because it’s a love story between two characters whose lives are entwined across multiple realities and they start to realize this through the scientific phenomenon of quantum entanglement (I’m proud of my title!).

Which genre?

This is a science fiction romantic thriller, I’d say paying homage to The Time Traveler’s Wife and linking that with Carl Sagan’s Contact. If you liked those you should enjoy the new book.

Which age group?

Good question. Publishers always want authors to specify their audience as narrowly as possible. Authors want
everyone to read their books. My first books (the Johnny Mackintosh series) were originally classed as “children’s” but I’d say “for ages 10–100”. Plus, the target age probably went up as you went through the series so they moved from “middle grade” firmly into “YA”. The new book will probably be classed as “fiction” rather than “YA fiction” but it’s the sort of thing I’d have loved to have read as a 15 or 16 year old.

Is it a series or standalone?

For the first time I’m writing a standalone novel.

Are you an agented author?

No, but I expect to change that and get an agent before the book’s published. Because I work in the book industry (see below) when I signed my original deal my editor suggested we cut out the middle man (or woman) and I kept the extra percentage. I did that but in hindsight I think it was a mistake (again, see below!).

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?

My first book, Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London, was published by Quercus in the very early days of them deciding to create a children’s book list. And my book (and series) was signed to be the initial lead title. So far, absolutely brilliant. But very quickly the editor who’d signed me up left. The knock-on effect was that, back then, Quercus decided to reign in their children’s programme. All the wonderful publicity plans evaporated, oddly the book was announced to the world as the first in a trilogy without consulting me (it was never intended as a trilogy) and the title was changed to something I didn’t even understand! It was a sad introduction and meant I immediately felt I’d lost ownership of my book and became disengaged. Near the end of the process, almost as the printing presses began to roll, the bookshops turned round to Quercus and said their title didn’t work and needed changing. I insisted (and eventually got) my original title back, but only because in the two or three days the question was open we didn’t have time to think of anything better. Sadly, because the editor had left, no one edited my first book at all. Though at the time I expect I would have been an annoying know-all author, resistant to changes. I’m much more mellow and able to listen to other people’s good suggestions nowadays.

If you’re lucky enough to succeed with a direct approach to an editor, you only need to find one person who really loves your work and you’re away. But if you are taken on by a literary agent and then an editor, you’ll have two people on your side. The experience taught me the value of having an agent to speak for you if you need someone to do that, so they can play bad cop with the publisher and leave you, the author, to enjoy being good cop. Working in the industry I know changes of personnel and company priorities can happen, but it’s also made me a better publisher, teaching me never to impose titles (or covers) on my authors. I must say all my Quercus covers have been beautiful, though I think it would make more sense if they were linked with a series style, as has been done with the eBooks (but not the print versions).

I must add that the next editor who took over the list worked tremendously hard on Johnny Mackintosh: Star Blaze, my second book, even though I suspect it wasn’t her thing. Because of her invaluable edits, the book now has a completely new (excellent) ending going beyond the one originally planned. Very sadly there was a glitch with the computer systems that meant for most of the first year after publication it was listed as unavailable (even though Quercus had stock), so bookshops or readers couldn’t order it. I’d report it, and for a day or so it became magically available, but then whatever was causing the problem would overwrite the database and it would become unorderable again. You can buy it nowadays, but even today hardly any have been sold compared with the several thousands of the first and third books, which is very frustrating when they were meant to be read in order! The third in the series, Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth, went more smoothly.

Which publisher snapped up your book?

No one knows about Entanglement so far. You’re getting an exclusive first public reveal.

Do you have another job?

I’ve worked in publishing almost all my life, mainly as a publisher/commissioning editor. Though recently I gave up my job as science publisher at Oxford University Press so I’m now freelance. I’ve always dabbled in TV and since then I helped make a series called 'It’s Not Rocket Science' and a few other bits and pieces. As well as the writing, I’m toying with setting up a publishing company with an initial focus on important areas of popular science.

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?

I don’t think it’s possible to be a writer without getting rejections. With Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London I was lucky that I had a lot of thoughtful and constructive rejections – very near misses really – that encouraged me to keep going. Probably around twenty agents rejected it. With getting close but no deal, I took a decision to stop sending the book out and I completely reframed and rewrote the opening third. It meant killing a lot of my babies that had become very real to me, but also made the book an awful lot better and more distinctive. Once it was ready I heard in the trade that Quercus were setting up a children’s list so I sent it to them directly and amazingly was immediately signed up. Before anyone else does similar, they no longer take unsolicited enquiries!

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?

For Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London it struck me one day that the books I really loved were what nowadays are called YA, yet I was trying to write the definitive modern novel. So, I went back to a story idea I had as a 15 or 16 year old that I’d liked enough to record onto an audio cassette and expanded that.

Entanglement is a coming together in a perfect storm of my OUP science and philosophy publishing, my love of cosmology and my dreams, to produce the definitive modern novel 😉. The first time that coalesced into the actual story was during a workshop on “how to pitch your movie”. I’d been working on a screenplay that, the longer the workshop went on, I realized was nearly impossible to actually pitch to anyone. Trying to think of a good pitch the story behind Entanglement came to me there and then.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?

I chewed the story for Entanglement over in my head for a while, before going to a fifteenth century Scottish castle on a writing fellowship. Hawthornden is a beautiful isolated world, with no phones/tv/internet. There, I spent the first three or four days plotting and replotting and replotting some more, much of it on a ridiculously complicated spreadsheet covering the same two-month period over eight interlinked realities, making sure it all made sense. I don’t think I could have done it except for being in a place with absolutely no distractions. Then I began writing in earnest.

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?

The beauty of writing a book should be that it’s like reading your favourite book – one written especially for you. I think as an author you have to try to please yourself and then hopefully your readers will also enjoy what you’ve written. Naturally, you should want to devour it, so once I start it tends to flow reasonably well. Where it grinds to a halt, it means there’s a flaw in the story or the characters.

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?

For Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London I made a schoolboy error I’m really embarrassed to admit to. When I first queried agents, I wanted to be sure it was worth investing time in the book so I only wrote the first three chapters before sending it out (explaining I was doing that in my query letter). I wouldn’t recommend this. My first query went to star literary agent Carole Blake of Blake Friedmann (very sadly now deceased) who immediately asked for a full read, but I had nothing to send. So I busied myself rushing a terrible first draft and no sooner had I typed “The end” I printed it out and popped it in the post to her. Naturally she wasn’t impressed.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before you started querying?

As an editor who started out in the industry proofreading and copyediting I’m reasonably confident of creating a high-quality work that’s at a level agents will take seriously. I’m lucky nowadays that more and more people have asked to go on a list of critique partners/beta readers, so they’ll get the advance version of my new book. Just not quite yet.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?

For my later books I certainly don’t show anyone the first draft. If I’m happy with the third, fourth or fifth, I might let me friends see it. My test for whether a book’s really ready, is when I start to find myself changing words and sentences back in an edit to what I’d changed from previously. It’s as if the draft’s reached some sort of state of thermal equilibrium in which I understand further edits on my part have become pointless.

How many drafts until it was published?

I hate to say for anyone who thinks this is easy, the first Johnny Mackintosh book took around 40 drafts (or course some of them pretty minor edits). Happily, I’m a great re-reader (I must have read all the Harry Potter books about twenty times) so I’m happy to re-read my favourite book (my own!) over again. Philip Pullman has said the idea of daemons only occurred to him in the around the 25th draft of The Golden Compass/Norther Lights, so I’m in good company.

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?

Happily, yes. There were too many characters doing the same job, and Johnny started out living with relatives
when in the final book he’s in a children’s home.

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?

There are still too many characters. Though I shall always remember my first review, eagerly awaited, read “too many ideas”. At least it’s better than too few. Also, I didn’t think about structure at all whereas after I’d written it I ended up thinking about structure a lot and now it’s become key to my writing.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?

Unquestionably I enjoy writing dialogue. I have to resist the temptation not to do everything with speech. I think I possibly read too many screenplays.

What part do you find hardest?

The middle section of any book. The more I write the more I tend to structure things within three acts. You’re always buzzing to start something, and again when the finishing line is in sight, but keeping everything on track, interesting and page-turning in the middle can be a challenge.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?

I wonder what people mean by a writing barrier? For me, if I hit some sort of wall with my writing it’s a sign that the story isn’t working so I have to change it. And it’s always important to bear in mind that, just because you’ve written something in the story, doesn’t have to mean you keep it. Everything is malleable until your book goes into production. I find you can’t force a story to work when it doesn’t, so I stop and backtrack and try and resolve the issue. It’s very important to me that my stories make sense, both logically and also from the characters’ perspectives.

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?

At the moment I’m slightly actively working on three which is more than enough: the novel, the nonfiction book and the screenplay that I can’t pitch. But the focus is very much one at a time. I’m aware I’m easily distracted, so it’s important to try to stay as focused as possible.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?

Interesting question and a topic of debate among writers. I think plenty of people are able to write reasonably well, and that can be learned. But what singles some out is the instinctive ability to understand story and narrative. I probably bore a lot of people by telling stories instead of holding a conversation. It’s a curse as well as a talent. When I start reading a book or watching a film I can very quickly see how it’s going to end. Only the best stories surprise me.

How many future novels do you have planned?

When I started writing properly (as opposed to simply telling people I was a writer but hardly ever doing it) I knew I could write pretty well, but where I struggled was coming up with ideas. I’d start books that I thought should work, but they always petered out because the ideas didn’t excite or interest me enough to keep going to the end. And if I wasn’t that fussed, why should any readers be? Happily I was saved by Johnny Mackintosh. But the more you write, the better you get and the more the ideas flow. Whenever I have an idea I work up a plan in a computer file and also make sure I email it to myself so it won’t be lost, but now there are more ideas than it’s possible to write in a lifetime, so every book should, in theory, improve in quality.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?

I have a website that I update far too sporadically. Writing time is so precious that I’d rather spend it on books rather than other things. Also, though, these things are cyclical. In the run-up to publication you will find yourself writing a load of pieces for publicity, whether it’s for blog ours or op-eds. I do write TV scripts sometimes, for entertainment shows. And I’d like to write movies so I have tried my hand with screenplays.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?

It’s always wonderful seeing your books in store and amazing when readers make contact. It would have to be one of those things. As a UK author the highlight may be when I came to Australia for the far north Queensland total solar eclipse in 2012. I hadn’t had room in my luggage to bring copies of my newest book to give to (long suffering) friends. In Sydney I walked into a small bookshop and there was Johnny Mackintosh: Battle for Earth, piled high in front of me! Seeing my books unexpectedly on the other side of the world is probably the best.

Give me one writing tip that work for you.

Writing time’s precious so before you start writing, make sure you know your ending and make sure it’s really really good as that will be the most crucial part of your book. Also, it’s so much easier to plan once you know what everything is working towards.

And one that doesn't.

Tough one. I think most standard writing tips are actually well worth following, but there’s no way I could “write every day”. I need time to chew over a story if the writing’s going to be sufficiently rich. It’s like filling a reservoir as high as you can until you’re ready to breach the dam and have the words splurge out onto the page.

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?

You’re saying it was meant to be secret? Oops! Seems I’ve let the cat out of the bag above. I would add I’ve been very lucky to mix with many of the world’s greatest thinkers for my day job, asking them to write books based on their wonderful but sometimes whacky ideas. But at the same time, if their ideas are really out there, I do think “I could use that in a book”. Entanglement is part distillation of some of my exceptional authors’ brilliant ideas, weaved into a love story.

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?

Ooh, lovely question. There are loads, but it’s especially a shame (probably because of the “trilogy thing”) that no one’s ever asked how many Johnny Mackintosh books I have planned and do I know how it ends?

There are meant to be five books and I’m so proud of the ending which is brilliant, epic, perfect, explains everything and achingly sad, but kind of happy at the same time. I hope one day I get to write it.

Wow! What a pleasure it's been to interview Keith and find out more about him. We hope you've all enjoyed today's Guestopia as much as we have. And we wish Keith, and Johnny, all the luck for the future! If you want to find out even more about Keith and follow him, here are some links that might help!

Stay tuned, as later this month we're welcoming another amazing author to the YAtopia stage!