A warm welcome to YA author Mel Darbon. Mel talks to us about writing kids' books and her debut novel Rosie Loves Jack
Mel lives in Bath with her husband and their dog, Alfie.
I was five years old. At school we were given sheets of plain paper to fold into booklets, which we could decorate on the front.
These were for writing stories down whenever we had a quiet moment in class. I was hooked!
I made them at home and would spend hours writing my own stories. I’m sure these were the start of my writing journey.
A five-year-old Mel with her older brother, Russell
Mel's dog, Alfie
I always start the day with a period of thinking over the ideas for my current WIP, or on a new project. I get all the cleaning and tidying done while I do this, which is very handy!
When I sit down to write I always have to read through and edit anything I have written the day before, as I can’t move forwards without doing this.
I try and write all day and can become completely immersed in what I’m working on. I need peace and quiet to do this - I’m not a writer who uses music to help me get into the right mood.
On days when the writing isn’t flowing, I try and avoid the kettle and the fridge and take my dog for a long walk to clear my head and re-ground myself.
From many different things. I collect stories from the news that catch my attention and keep them in an ideas folder; in conversations I pick up on the bus, or a café, for example. I’m a big people watcher, which is invaluable for a writer, although my husband says I’m just nosy.
Other writer’s books inspire me, people I’ve worked with and my family. My character Rosie, in my book Rosie Loves Jack, was based on a teenage girl with Down’s syndrome who I worked with at Henley College a few years ago. She was such an inspirational person that I carried her with me in my thoughts for many years until she tapped me on the shoulder and told me it was time to give her a voice.
Doing the MA at Bath Spa was, for me, invaluable, as it helped in so many ways with my writing career. More than anything it helped me hone the craft of writing and taught me that the most important thing was to finish the book!
It showed me that writing one sentence to express something was much better than three. It taught me that we all have to write the book that we need to write, no matter what the trends might be in the publishing industry; and it gave me permission to write and showed me that I didn’t have to have a published book to call myself a writer.
It was also a very practical course and taught me all the ins and outs of the publishing industry, so I was very well prepared when I got my publishing deal.
Without a doubt, Rosie, my character with Down’s syndrome. As much as I know about Down’s syndrome and other learning disabilities, it was enlightening to actually put on my character’s shoes and view the world through her eyes. I learned so much about her and about myself.
People with Down’s syndrome are very empathetic, and it was enriching to take this on board, though it was upsetting to actually feel the hurt and confusion someone like Rosie must feel at all the prejudice levelled against them.
Also, Rosie’s unique way of looking at the world brought it more into focus for me and made me realise that we mustn’t take anything for granted.
Mel at Paddington Station with the statue of the unknown soldier who her character Rosie relates to.
The actual writing of the story once all the characters are in place having taken them back to when they were born and found out what has influenced them and made them the people they are. Then the world of my book becomes real to me.
I love inhabiting this new world and seeing where my characters take me, because I only ever really know the beginning and end of a story, as it’s up to them to lead me where they want me to go, which can often surprise me!
Brighton Pier where Mel's character Rosie goes to.
My best moment was seeing Rosie Loves Jack on a shelf in the library. I think that was the occasion that I realised that I really did have a published book.
Libraries were so important to me as a child because books were a haven and a respite from what was, at times, a very difficult childhood. Stories took me to strange places where I could go to magical lands through the back of a wardrobe or feel a bit less lonely when I recognised myself on the pages.
I always felt that if my stories could do that too, then I’d be very happy indeed.
Mel reading from a copy of Rosie Loves Jack at her book launch.
That’s a difficult question because there are so many fantastic writers out there who have inspired me – and brought the green monster into the room!
But the YA book that I wish I’d written is The Middle of Nowhere by Geraldine McCaughrean. I was in awe of her writing from the very first line, “The piano arrived too late to stop the sky falling in”.
It’s a wonderfully atmospheric book with such memorable characters, who stay with you long after you’ve finished reading the book. It's also a book that touches on many issues without it becoming an “issues” book, which I think is very clever writing.
For me the most important bit of advice is to write from the heart – write stories you are passionate about and never give up trying - after all, my first book was published when I was in my fifties.
This came from my father who is a playwright and he told me that as soon as you’ve finished one piece of work, send it off then immediately start on the next project.
Getting a book published can be a lengthy and angst-ridden business, so this keeps your feet on the ground and gives you a sense of perspective.
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