I'm super excited to welcome the multi-talented Teresa Flavin to the blog today. Teresa is one of the many amazing authors taking part in the first ever UKMGX (United Kingdom Middle Grade Extravaganza) in Nottingham next month and I'm lucky enough to interview her today. First off, though, here is a little about her.
Teresa Flavin is an author and illustrator of books for children and young people. She has illustrated for many publishing houses in the UK and abroad. Her children’s art historical fantasy trilogy, The Blackhope Enigma series (Templar Publishing UK and Candlewick press USA), won critical acclaim here and in the USA. Her recent novel for teens, Jet Black Heart (Barrington Stoke), is a supernatural time travel story set on the North Yorkshire moors and Fossil Coast. It features Teresa’s original illustrations throughout.
Teresa lectures in Illustration at Leeds College of Art and speaks widely in schools, libraries and at literary festivals. She is actively involved with several online networks of writers and illustrators and tweets regularly about books, illustration and curiosities at @TeresaFlavin.
When she is not writing and illustrating, Teresa creates lyrical mixed-media artworks and handmade books that reflect her love of magic and wonders, folk and fairy tales, colour and texture. You can discover more about Teresa on her website or connect with her on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. Now to the interview!
You’re an extremely successful illustrator, what prompted you to branch out into writing as well?
Thank you! I began writing short texts for picture books with the idea that I would also illustrate them, but something strange happened along the way. I started imagining longer stories and wondered whether I had it in me to write a novel for older readers. This question wouldn’t go away and my vague story idea didn’t either. One winter’s day the stars aligned (or something) and I wrote 12,000 words over a few days. They didn’t turn out to be 12,000 usable words, but there was enough there for my agent to encourage me. I worked on it for a couple of years until it emerged as The Blackhope Enigma. That was the start of my writing bug.
Could you tell the readers a little about your latest book, Jet Black Heart?
I love atmospheric Victorian mysteries and supernatural landscapes, especially moors. I was crazy about Wuthering Heights and The Hound of the Baskervilles as a girl (I still
am) so I decided to write a dark little story with time travel, a handsome lost boy and a stunning setting on the Jurassic coast of the North Yorkshire Moors, not far from where I live. Jet Black Heart has creeped out a couple of adult reviewers but the lovely librarians at the 2016 Coventry
Inspiration Book Awards have shortlisted it for the age 11-16 ‘Rapid Reads’ category.
What inspired you to write your debut novel, The
Blackhope Enigma and did you always intend it to be the first in a trilogy?
I was inspired by my love of Renaissance paintings, magic and labyrinths – and I put them all together in a mystery-adventure featuring a couple of art-crazy teenagers. I never imagined there would be a sequel or a third book. They evolved organically after discussions with my editors and I was only too happy to develop the stories. It was an amazing time!
How do you balance your writing commitments with your illustrating?
I primarily work on my own creative projects now. If an interesting illustration commission comes along, I’m delighted to work on it but I have so many ideas of my own, I concentrate on those. I also teach Illustration part-time at Leeds College of Art, so my personal work time is precious.
Could you give us some idea of your writing process?
I tend to be a planner but I am experimenting with loosening up. For my current project I have a rough framework but I’m enjoying the way the story is unfolding without being a slave to an outline. I try to write a certain word count every day though I know that some days are better than others. I’ve learned that I have to get my posterior into the chair and write, even if my Muse is ignoring me. A few words every day build up over time and they keep me connected to the work
What, if any, are the challenges and/or benefits of writing for Barrington Stoke?
It was a very rewarding experience and I’m pleased to have written a book that is so accessible to all young people, including dyslexic and reluctant readers. I believe that my writing became more concise and direct during the editorial process. It helped me to stand back from my work and assess how I could make the story clearer.
That's so interesting. Moving on, as a writer, what was your path to publication?
A lot of hard work rewriting, revising and polishing! I am lucky to have a patient agent who guided me through the process and brought out my best, as well as a wonderful publisher that launched and supported me. I am incredibly grateful to my editors, designers, publicists and marketing teams worldwide.
What the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
My favourite quote is from E. L. Doctorow: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I’m not sure it’s really advice, but it’s an observation I’ve always found comforting. I love imagining writers feeling their way through fog, just as I do.
And the worst?
I don’t think I’ve had much bad advice and if I have, I’ve deleted it from my memory banks.
A tricky question, I know, but if you could only do one of these for the rest of your life what would it be, writing or illustrating? Why?
That is incredibly difficult to answer. I can’t imagine doing one without being able to do the other. However, if pushed, I’ll admit that art is my first love and I hope that I will always be able to draw, even if it’s only using a stick in the dirt.
What piece of work are you most proud of and why?
I’m resistant to choosing but purely because I never imagined being able to write a novel, much less one that has been so well received, I’ll say The Blackhope Enigma. It just goes to show that old dogs can learn new tricks.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a dark fairy tale with a significant illustrated strand. I’d love this novel to have a lot more pictures than my previous books.
And now it's silly question time:
The UK or the US?
Impossible to choose! I love both.
Starter or dessert?
Dessert, by a whisker.
Bath or shower?
Shower. I get my best ideas there.
Penguins or polar bears?
Polar bears (but nothing against penguins whatsoever).
Reading or writing?
Can’t do without either!
Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings?
LOTR. I associate it with being thirteen, when I first read it.
Ski break or all-inclusive beach holiday?
Hot air balloon or submarine?
Thank you for stopping by Teresa, it's been fun having you here. I hope you have a wonderful time at the UKMGX and wish you continued success with your books and artwork.
If you would like to read about the other authors taking part in the UKMGX, here's the schedule for the entire blog tour: