Frances Darwin Investigates

 

Photo by Shelley Corcoran

Brew a cup of tea, invite neighborhood children to a cozy story hour, and immerse yourself in Eileen Moynihan’s latest release, Frances Darwin Investigates. When the intrepid young heroine, Frances, discovers a bit of torn paper on the ground, it instantly ignites her desire to be a detective and reunite a stray dog with its owner. But that’s just the beginning for Frances and her new friends; dog-nappers are on an aggressive prowl in her neighborhood, and it’s up to the amateur sleuth to find out who’s behind it. In a delightful interview from across the pond, Eileen attests that being young at heart has a lot to do with successfully penning stories which will resonate with the next generation of readers.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and who/what inspired you along the way.

A: I have been writing from an early age. I loved to make up stories about magic and fairies when I was about 7. Then I moved onto adventure stories around the age of 9. As I grew older I was more into characters and what made them tick. I was definitely inspired by my mother reading books to me, regular visits to the library and encouragement from teachers at school. But as I got bogged down in rearing children and working, my writing got put on the back burner. Then in later years I heard about S.C.B.W.I (Society of Children’s Book writers and Illustrators) and became a member. They were very helpful in directing me in my writing. I also joined local writers groups where I could network and receive feedback.

Q: When you were the same age as your young target readership, were you a voracious reader?

A: Yes I was always reading. I would read when and wherever I could. I would even read the cereal packets. I was often caught with a torch under the sheets reading a book.

Q: What sorts of books might we have found on your bookshelves and nightstand when you were growing up?

A: Books by Enid Blyton, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, @Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Little Women by Louisa M Alcott, poetry by Robert Louis Stevenson and A. A. Milne.

Q: What influence did your upbringing in the U.K. have on your storytelling style and your general outlook on life?

A: I suppose I was influenced by writers from the U.K. in my use of language and style of storytelling. I liked the idea of the rural idyll of small quaint villages and countryside. But my father who was Irish also persuaded me to read books by Patricia Lynch such as The Turf-Cutter’s Donkey which sparked an interest in the Irish way of life.

Q: What attracted you to the children’s market as your genre of choice?

A: I used to teach and loved to share my love of books with children. I also wanted to revisit the books I had enjoyed as a child, and discover new ones. It was just a natural step to write for children.

Q: What inspires your creativity as a wordsmith?

A: It could be something I overhear or read – a phrase that may catch my fancy. It could be something I see or feel. Sometimes it is just a random thought that ‘grows legs.’

Q: All of your titles are delightfully imaginative! How did you come up with them?

A: Rory Gumboots just jumped into my head.

The Reckolahesperus came from the phrase I heard as a child – ‘You look like the Wreck of the Hesperis.’ The Wreck of the Hesperis was a poem about a shipwreck.

Hattie and Jacques Love London came from the name of Hattie Jacques who was a star of the Carry On films.

The Dreamsmith was just pure imagination.

Q: What was the inspiration for Frances Darwin Investigates?

A: I had seen reports of dognapping in the paper and that started me thinking. I enjoyed adventure books written by Enid Blyton as a child so that definitely influenced me, too.

Q: How much of young Frances is actually Eileen?

A: There is definitely a lot of me in Frances, her curiosity, her independence and imagination.

Q: Over the course of the story, Frances makes friends with people young and old. Do you think children can identify with this?

A: I think so because children are surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbours and friends. Sometimes age doesn’t matter if there is a connection of hearts and minds.

Q: Why do you think children would enjoy this book?

A: I think children would enjoy this book because it has dogs, adventure, humour, interesting character relationships and it has a happy ending.

Q: Children today have far more distractions (many of them technological) than those of earlier generations. As a former educator, what would your advice be to parents who want their children to be more actively engaged in the joy of reading?

A: Read them books at bedtime from an early age. Encourage them to use libraries. Let them read comics. Let them read stories online or on Kindle and listen to audio-books. Buy them books as presents. Present reading in all its forms.

Q: Like many of today’s authors, you chose to don multiple hats and go the route of self-publishing. What governed this choice for you?

A: I sent Rory Gumboots to publishers and agents. I was told it was a sweet story but that they didn’t do books with anthromorphic animals etc.… so then I looked into self-publishing. I first did an eBook with KDP and then decided to get print books with Amazon’s Createspace. I am not getting any younger so I just wanted to get on with it.

Q: What have you learned (both pros and cons) about the DIY route that you didn’t know when you started?

A: The pros of self-publishing is that you are in charge of what you do and you can do it at your own pace and convenience. You learn a lot in the process and it is good to network with others who are self-publishing. The main thing is that you can produce the main product which is … your book.

The cons are that you have to do everything yourself, promotion, social media, uploading file, formatting and having to buy books before you can sell them yourself.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: That I enjoy dancing and used to do stage-dancing as a child on the Isle of Wight.

Q: What is the oldest item you still have from your childhood and what is its nostalgic value to you?

A: The oldest items I have from childhood are some A.A. Milne books that belonged to my mother when she was young. I remember her reading these to me when I was at home sick from school.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I believe I am mostly a pantser with a bit of plotter thrown in. For Frances Darwin Investigates I had a rough outline in my head but sometimes my characters would lead me down a different way.

Q: What is a typical writing day like for you?

A: I have no typical writing day. I often work better when I have a deadline for myself. I am a slow writer and give myself little rewards after doing so many sentences. I start with a small number of sentences and keep building up.

Q: Does anyone get to read your works-in-progress or do you make everyone wait until you’re finished?

A: I often read my works-in-progress to other people in my local writers group. I also used to be in an online S.C.B.W.I. group.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am working on a poetry book for children about wild flowers with accompanying photographs from my friend, Margaret O’Driscoll, who is also a poet. The illustrations of accompanying flower fairies are by my sister, Angela Gawn. The cover is done by my friend Dan Flynn who is an artist and fellow writer.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I don’t claim to be a great writer but it is something I enjoy. I am loving the journey and learning new things every day.

 

 

 

 

 

The Duffy Chronicles

Barbara Hammond photo

For as much time as Lucy, my Chief Canine Officer, spends sitting in my lap while I’m writing, I’m pretty sure she not only knows all of my passwords but also has her own email account and orders merchandise off of Amazon. And when she finds out that this week’s feature interviewee, Barbara Hammond, helped her own rescue dog write a children’s book, Lucy will certainly start lobbying to become a published pooch as well.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: What an amazingly creative journey you’re enjoying! Inquiring minds want to know which came first for you: being an artist or being a writer?

A: Definitely being an artist. I was fortunate to have an English teacher in high school who told me I was a very good writer and I tucked that away for a long time. Drawing and painting came naturally and were nurtured by my high school art teacher. I married right after high school and started a family. I think writing intimidated me because I didn’t have a college education. I was into my 50’s before I started taking writing at all seriously.

Q: How do these two passions peacefully co-exist with one another – and how do you manage it when they simultaneously exact demands on your time?

A: It’s tricky, sometimes. I started blogging as I approached SIXTY, because I was having trouble wrapping my head around that number. A few months in, I discovered people I’d never met were reading my blog. I was so surprised! But, over time, it became important to publish regularly and continue to grow. Art has taken a back seat over the past few years, but I’m working on finding a better balance because it’s something I spiritually need to do.

Q: Who were/are some of the artists and authors that you’d say had the strongest influence in defining your own styles of expression?

A: I was blessed to meet Jim Penland in 2000. He’s a legend in NJ’s art world. He took me under his wing as soon as I told him, “I paint a little.” He looked at my work and would announce to everyone he introduced me to, “This is Barbara Hammond, a great artist.”  He recruited me to help establish the Ocean City Fine Arts League. It was an honor. He used to hang out on our porch and work with me. It was an amazing friendship. He taught me to look at the simplest things, like water meters along the curb, and see the beauty in them and how they were made. I had no formal training and this time with Jim was like a master class every time we worked together.

I don’t know if I can point to any one author and say they’ve influenced my writing. I was very moved by The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield. It led me to Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach, and Louise Hay and others. I was soul searching.

I tend to read more non-fiction and that’s primarily what I write. But, I have written a few fiction posts in series form that have gotten encouraging comments on my blog. I’m currently working on a book based on my grandmother’s life. It’s memoir and historical fiction.

Q: If you could sit down for lunch with one of these people, who would it be?

A: I think Sarah Ban Breathnach would be interesting to talk to. I know she fell on hard times after she wrote Simple Abundance and had her 15 minutes of fame with Oprah, etc. It shows we’re all vulnerable and we can bounce back. It’s always about the ‘getting back up’!

Q: Would you define yourself as a voracious reader? If so, what are some of the titles, authors and favorite genres we’d be likely to find at your house?

A: It seems like I read from the time I wake in the morning until I go to sleep at night, sometimes. Mostly I read newspapers and blogs. I love to read books, but if I get into a novel, I will stay up until it’s finished and that can be a problem sometimes. I’m grumpy when I don’t have enough sleep.

That said, you will find a lot of Ken Follett in my house, along with Lisa Scottoline, and Historical fiction.

Q: As a fellow dog lover, I have to confess that you instantly won me over with the disclosure you were the pet parent of a 20 lb. rescue dog with a 2 ton personality. (Dogs truly rule, don’t they?) Tell us how and why Duffy first came into your life and the moment you knew he had a story that needed to be shared.

A: Duffy came into our life because our older dog, Benson, had a breakdown when we moved from Boston to Philly. Our vet and dog sitter suggested we get him a buddy. People tend to get cats in pairs but not dogs, and dogs need social companionship. So we found this feisty little cockapoo at the local shelter. He turned it all around. Their story is all in the book.

Q: So did Duffy do his own typing or just dictate?

A: Oh, he dictated. He probably wouldn’t like me to disclose this but he had a little drinking problem, as many famous authors do. He loved beer. Not just any beer…Rolling Rock. If 4 people were sitting around with 4 different beers he would go straight to the green bottle. The evening of my 50th birthday party he got a bit carried away. We had a keg and there were pitchers of Rolling Rock, which sometimes were placed on low tables, and we heard, “Get the dog out of the beer!” a lot that night. The next morning we found him lying on a pillow with a bit of cheese dip on his chin. It’s been our little secret, until now.

Q: What would Duffy say is the book’s takeaway message for children and adults?

A: We all need friends and good friends respect and support each other. He would also say, you shouldn’t buy or adopt a pet if you don’t know how to care for them.

Q: For The Duffy Chronicles, you also donned the hat of illustrator. What inspired that decision?

A: I paint pet portraits and his was perfect for the cover. After experimenting with different styles and ideas for inside the book I decided to go with line drawings. I think it works pretty well.

Q: Is this book going to be a series?

A: I’ve intended that all along. It’s been a busy few years and I’m just now getting onto the 2nd book. The Duffy Chronicles, Adventures with Cosmo. Cosmo is quite a character.

Q: Tell us about your path to get The Duffy Chronicles published.

A: When it went from a fun little family story to a book with a message, I sent out numerous query letters, which turned into a pile of rejection letters. I gave up. Then 3 days after he passed, suddenly of renal failure, I found a publisher on Craig’s List who was looking for children’s books. It’s an indie company in Milwaukee, Mirror Publishing (www.pagesofwonder.com). They were wonderful to work with and we remain friends.

Q: Were there any surprises along the way regarding the publishing process?

A: I can’t say I was surprised. I expected rejection, because every writer gets their share. I was more surprised to finally find a publisher who worked so quickly with me and walked me through the process. I think Duffy was orchestrating from another level.

Q: How do you use social media to promote your various projects? Thus far, which venue seems to generate the most buzz?

A: Facebook is my primary social media platform. I use twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, too. You can’t be everywhere all the time, there are only so many hours in the day. I’ve found a great group on Facebook, Women of Midlife, who are super supportive and helpful. They’ve helped me break into Huffington Post and other sites to promote my work. I recently established a Facebook page for The Duffy Chronicles (https://www.facebook.com/theduffychronicles?fref=ts) and it’s taken off much faster than my Zero to 60 page did.

Q: Like many authors today, you’ve embraced blogging as a way to connect with kindred spirits and share personal experiences. How has this pursuit affected your writing?

A: Blogging has been pivotal in my writing. It began with strangers encouraging me and those strangers becoming friends. I’ve always been pretty good at networking, I was in sales most of my working life, but this takes networking to the next stratosphere.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I honestly don’t know. I feel I’m pretty open. I’ve always been opinionated, and I don’t shy from that, so there aren’t any real secrets I can think of.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I really want to make time for art and it has to be a priority. There’s been a sudden influx of opportunities with writing, and I have the Women of Midlife group to thank for much of it, but I need to schedule projects better than I have been. I want to do it all.

Q: A few years ago you hit a milestone birthday, an event that generally prompts musings about how far one has come, how far one might go, and how advances in science and medicine have extended life spans far beyond what was traditionally considered “retirement.” What are your thoughts about that and where do you see yourself in the future?

A: I have a bigger milestone in July…65! Funny, it doesn’t bother me as much as 60 did, but I began blogging as a way to work through that issue and look how it’s turned out! A recent blog post about staying alive without really living took on a life of its own because we’re all hoping to exit with dignity. We are the sandwich generation and I know most don‘t want to saddle our kids with being our caregivers, so we have to figure out how to do that before we lose the mental capacity. It’s scary.

As for retirement, I don’t think you ever retire when you are doing what you love. It’s a great bonus in life.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: I want to thank you so much for this opportunity. And I can’t wait to find out some of the things we have in common!