Mistress of the Storm by Melanie Welsh tells the story of Verity Gallant. Verity knows that she will never be quite as pretty or as popular as her sister Poppy. But, when she discovers a mysterious stranger who hands her an ancient book, everything changes. She becomes entangled in a web of dark magic and intrigue; while she also meets new friends, in the form of Henry and Martha. Young readers will undoubtedly identify with social outcast Verity. Her character evokes empathy, while her courage and strength of character are also evident. Overall, the book is well-written and young adults will enjoy this compelling story. Melanie also kindly agreed to give us an insight into writing for children and Mistress of the Storm.
1. Did you always want to be a children's writer?
Yes, always. Looking back I'm not sure why it took me so long to actually get on with it. The problem with wanting something really badly is that it often feels like an unattainable dream.
I think I chose to write a novel for children because those are still the kinds of stories I enjoy the most. The great thing about being an author is that you get to put in all the scenes and elements that you used to find most exciting or interesting.
2. What is your favourite children's book?
This is a tricky one because it tends to change all the time. The last time I was asked this question I said The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis but I've been writing about books that influenced me recently and I'm currently trying to find a copy of The Pigman by Paul Zindel. In between times we are also reading George's Marvellous Medicine by (of course) Roald Dahl to our four year old son Joe. One of the things I always loved about Dahl's stories as a child was how wonderfully honest he was. He made no bones about the fact that some grown-ups are just thoroughly repellent and totally irredeemable. That was definitely an idea that influenced the character of Grandmother in Mistress of the Storm.
3. Where did you get the idea for the book and for the character, Verity Gallant?
Verity just popped into my head one day when I was out walking on the marshes at Walberswick with my husband. I can't remember exactly when it was but I do recall going in to work on the Monday and buying myself a new shocking pink notebook which I used to scribble down details about Verity's life. She's very much her own person these days - her conversations with Henry in particular always make me feel as if I'm just listening to them talking.
The thing I was particularly interested in at the time was the idea of a girl whose Grandmother comes to stay. And of having a family past that had been kept a secret.
4. How long did it take you to write the book?
It took about three years in total from typing the first sentence to holding a printed book in my hand. Although the original idea for Verity came to me about six years ago, I really only started in earnest once my first son Joe was born. I made a new year's resolution (which I have never done before or since, because I'm not a great believer in them) that I would write the first three chapters and a synopsis and send them to an agent. I agreed with my husband that if I got an agent he would help me find the time to write the first book ...and that if I didn't I would call it a day, and not mention it any more. Luckily I did find an agent that year, and the year afterwards she helped me find a publishing deal with David Fickling Books, which was absolutely thrilling because they are an imprint I admire hugely.
5. What's next for Melanie Welsh?
I'm incredibly fortunate that 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 focus on being an author. I finished a fortnight ago, so I'm just getting used to it as the minute. I think I'm going to miss work and my colleagues a lot - but it's lovely being able to see my sons every night.
6. Do you have any tips for aspiring children's writers in particular?
Start now! That would be my first tip: because the process of getting a book published is an incredibly lengthy one. I think three other things that I've found helpful, and may therefore be useful to others are:
1. Practice writing as much as you can. Try to look on every opportunity as a positive one. Even having to write documents or letters at work will teach you something about deadlines and taking into account other people's view of your writing style.
2. Read as much as you can and keep your mind open to influences. Luckily my day job was as a Creative Planner for an advertising agency. It's a fascinating job because one of the things you have to do as part of it is listen to, watch, read and absorb a lot of different media and ideas. I like to think it's come in useful for character development because it gives you an insight into points of view other than your own.
3. Take some time to learn about the craft of writing. There are an awful lot of things about plot structure, story arcs etc. that I really wish I'd known about before I started. I chanced upon a copy of Beginnings, Middles and Ends by Nancy Kress, which had been left in our old