Today I'm thrilled to welcome Lindsay Littleson to the blog. Lindsay's debut novel, The Mixed-up Summer of Lily McLean, was published by Floris Books last year, and is highly recommended for middle-grade readers and above. When not writing Lindsay works as a primary school teacher. She lives in Renfrewshire, Scotland. Since taking up writing for children in early 2014 she has published a short story with Walker Books, in addition to winning the Kelpies Prize with The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean.
The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean can be purchased directly from Floris Books, or from Amazon and
bookshops such as Waterstones. To discover more about Lindsay and her writing check out her website, or connect with her on Twitter at @ljlittleson.
Welcome to the blog, Lindsay it’s a pleasure to have you stop by. Congratulations on the publication of your wonderful debut novel, The Mixed Up Summer of Lily McLean. Could you tell the readers what the book is about and what inspired the story?
The Mixed Up Summer is narrated by Lily, an eleven-year-old girl with a chaotic family life. Lily is being haunted by a disembodied voice and hopes to leave her 'ghost' behind when she goes on holiday with her gran to Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae. But she is followed across the water by the voice, which keeps warning her to stay away from the water. As the week passes, it dawns on Lily that there's something very familiar about her 'ghost'. The story is about growing up, resilience, friendship and family, but with a fantasy twist.
The inspiration to finally get around to writing a novel came from the Kelpies Award. I needed a closing date and the carrot of publication to kick me into action. The inspiration for the story itself came from my memories of being a very nervous eleven year old, terrified by the prospect of leaving my tiny rural school. I had a list of worries a mile long. As well as this I wanted to write a story about a child who has been through really unhappy times in her recent past and is using strength and humour and adult support to move forward. When our family were going through bad times I looked for a children's novel about a child with an alcoholic father. I found one. It was a lovely novel but it ends happily when the dad enters recovery. So often this isn't reality and I wanted my main character to find happiness no matter what the outcome for the alcoholic in her life.
You've certainly achieved your goal, Lindsay. The Mixed Up Summer of Lily McLean has real warmth, and the story and characters ring true to life. I wonder, though, who’s your favourite character? Why?
I like David very much. He’s a good friend to Lily; loyal, funny and calm in a crisis. I’m very impressed by people who are calm in a crisis. I run around like a headless chicken.
I love David! Let's turn now to the setting. Why did you choose to set the bulk of the story in Millport?
I had a tight deadline and so chose somewhere special and very familiar to me. Some of my dad’s family came from Millport (my Great Uncle Roderick was a founder member of the pier entertainers and did a ventriloquist act). My mum and dad met at a dance at a Millport hotel when they were both on holiday there in the 1950s. She told her sister that night she’d met the man she was going to marry. Every year they took me and my four younger siblings over to the island for a fortnight in the summer. I have so many happy memories of those holidays and have taken my own kids to Millport many times over the years.
Wow - that's so interesting! I'm tempted to probe a bit further and ask you whether you've inherited Great Uncle Roderick's ventriloquism skills, but instead I'd like to turn to the subject of editing. What are the benefits of working with an editor and how much did your editor at Floris help to shape the final story?
Lois Wilson at Floris Books is absolutely lovely and it was a pleasure to work with her. I really felt she loved the story and we were working together to make it the best it could be. She was so clear in her aims; that we polish and improve, without ever losing Lily’s voice.
Lily has a terrific voice; she also has an eye-catching cover. Who designed it and did you have any input into the design process?
The Floris Design team came up with the front cover design. It was amazing to see how they used their mood board and brief to create something so right for the story. I particularly loved their use of bold, summery colours. My input was to tell the team if I liked it. I’m not sure what would have happened next if I’d said no!
I agree, the colours are prefect. I'm keeping my fingers crossed as I pose my next question: will there be a sequel to your Lily McLean novel?
Yes! I’ve written a sequel. It’s called The Awkward Autumn of Lily McLean and Floris told me in November that they would like to publish it. I’m very excited about the prospect of working with Lois and the rest of the Floris team again.
That's great news! Now let's backtrack slightly: what was your path to publication?
I wrote through my teens and early twenties but after a near miss, when I was runner up in a Cosmopolitan magazine short story competition, I gave up writing completely for nearly thirty years. Then, after a very traumatic few years during which I lost my husband to alcoholism, I decided to give writing another go. I won a short story competition run by Walker Books and Mumsnet which gave me the confidence to enter The Mixed Up Summer of Lily McLean for the 2014 Kelpies Prize. I was thrilled when my novel was shortlisted and even more delighted when it won.
What a long and turbulent road, Lindsay; thank you for being so frank with me. You are an inspiration. I'd like to ask you now about how your work as a teacher influences your writing.
I work with kids all day long, so dialogue is probably easier to write than it would be otherwise. It’s also important to me that my characters’ home lives reflect the variety of families which exist nowadays. The main issue with having a full time teaching job of course is that I am shattered in the evenings during term time and don’t always have the energy to stick to my 500 words a night.
Given the demands of your day job I think you do brilliantly - you superstar! Still on the subject of writing which type of writer are you: a plotter, a pantser or a ‘tweener?
I’d love to say I’m a plotter, because I can see that’s the sane way to approach writing a novel, but I have to confess that I tend to start with an idea and see where it takes me. When I’m a couple of thousand words in, and I feel there’s potential for a novel, then I start planning properly. Does that make me a ‘tweener?
I'd say it does. Moving on to my next question, I was delighted to learn that your second novel, Shell Hole, was shortlisted for the Dundee Children’s Great War Book Competition. Can we expect to see this book in print at some point?
The winning book, The Wreck of the Arygll by John Fulton, was published by Cargo (now Freight books). I’m not sure if Shell Hole will ever be published, but I’m hopeful it might be one day as I loved researching and writing the novel and have been told it’s a good read! I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of entering the competition and meeting the lovely ladies at Dundee Libraries, and John Fulton and Joe Lamb (also shortlisted with his novel The God of All Small Boys).
Fingers crossed that Shell Hole makes in into print! I'd like to ask you now about why you joined the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Also, what have you gained from being a member?
The night before the Kelpies Prize I was invited to a SCWBI event at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Everyone was so welcoming and I felt that this was a fantastic group of people who I wanted to get to know better, so I joined! As a debut author I felt I was floundering initially. I was particularly clueless about social media and marketing and having all that SCBWI experience and knowledge to draw on is invaluable. It’s also good to have support on the bad days!
That's very true! So what would you say to a writer who’s feeling discouraged and thinking of giving up?
I’d tell them that if it’s their dream then they need to keep pursuing it. Don’t be like me and give up at the first hurdle! Don’t take rejections personally, but do take on board any advice. I guess that bitter experience has taught me the difference between disappointment and tragedy. Rejection by agents and publishers is gutting but it doesn’t end your world. Wallow in self pity for an hour max and then move on.
Sound advice indeed, Lindsay. Now, to round off the interview, let’s have a bit of fun:
What’s better, a bowl of mussels or rippling muscles?
My partner Ian loves mussels in garlic. I’m not so keen, but if he was ordering them we might be in the Tailend in Saint Andrews and I might be having their very delicious haddock and chips. Therefore, I’ll choose the mussels over the muscles, unless of course the muscles belong to Matt Damon, in which case I’ll have to reconsider.
Blue sky thinking or blue sky holiday?
Blue sky holiday please. Much as I love the Isle of Cumbrae, I’m heading to Menorca this summer. I’m craving some sunshine after this diabolical Scottish winter.
Paint by numbers or leave it to the experts?
Never, ever paint by numbers. Create your own masterpieces.
Sceptic or believer? Why?
I’m a believer. An advertiser’s dream, unless they’re advertising yoghurt drinks and using words like ‘sluggish’ and ‘bloated’. Yuck.
City life or country life?
Living in a small village is great, but I’m glad I’m a short train ride from Glasgow as I love the buzz of a city. My dream is to live by the sea, but not too far from Marks and Spencers.
What animal are you most like? Why?
I’m like a bonobo ape. Bonobos look like small chimps, but they’re much less aggressive and competitive. They form sisterly bonds and like to live harmoniously. That’s me, unless I’m playing Monopoly. Then I turn into a chimp.
Loner or party girl?
My daughter, who inherited my genes, has a t-shirt which reads “I love to party, if by party you mean read books.” We’re a blast at social events.
Finally, to finish off the interview, complete the following: I couldn’t get by in life without…
My partner Ian’s culinary skills! He makes dinner every night and washes up afterwards. I wouldn’t have the time or the energy to write after a hard day’s teaching if it wasn’t for his sterling work in the kitchen.
Those final answers really made me chuckle! Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions, Lindsay. I wish you lots of success with The Mixed Up Summer of Lily McLean and with all your books in the future.