Monday, May 2, 2011

Interview with author Carol Hughes

Picture Courtesy of Diane Browning
by Susan Berger
Carol Hughes was born in Yorkshire, England, and grew up in a seaside town in Lancashire.
She now lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter.  Carol has written seven children’s books.

 Her most recent book is The Princess and The Unicorn
The unicorn is the embodiment of magic. When Princess Eleanor of England catches sight of him in Swinley Forest, she can’t resist taking him back with her to Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately, once the unicorn leaves the forest, both he and the forest begin to sicken. As the only witness to the unicorn’s departure, Joyce, an intrepid and curious young fairy, sets out for London on a grand adventure to rescue the unicorn—and maybe help the princess while she’s at it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book you drew me into your world completely. Both heroines are self-sufficient girls with problems they need to solve. (And I love they way they solve them.)  The book has a quiet start; then it drew me in and kept me reading.

I am quoting from your author page here:  I have been a writer my whole life, but oddly enough I didn’t realize it until I was grown up. Looking back I can see that I was always writing and making up stories. I always loved writing essays at school and, when I went to art college, I filled my sketchbooks with stories instead of drawings.
In my late twenties, I met my husband. He turned my world upside down by pointing out to me that, as I was forever writing, perhaps I ought to try my hand at writing a book.”

What made to decide to write Children’s books (as opposed to adult books)?
It was never a conscious decision. It was just how the stories came out when I started to write.

How did you learn your craft?
The painful way. Writing is a horrible business. I don’t like it at all. Most of the time I feel I’m too stupid to string a sentence together and the other half I’m completely confused by what I’m supposed to be doing. So why on earth do I do it? Because very, very occasionally it’s unbelievably fun and surprising, but that doesn’t happen unless I keep at it. After twenty years of writing, I know two things about it. 1/ if I don’t do it every day I become a completely horrible person to live with. 2/ If you want to be any good at it, you have to read a lot, write a lot and let go of the idea of ever being any good at it.
Do you have a critique group?
No. I know a lot of people swear by theirs, but talking to other people about writing, mine or anyone else’s, has never appealed. I’d rather be reading or writing.

Your first published book was Toots and The Upside Down House

Let’s talk about your journey to publication with your debut book.  How did you find your agent?
Pure nepotism, I’m afraid. A solicitor friend of the family was kind enough to pass the Toots manuscript to one of his clients who was an agent. Luckily the agent thought the book, even in its raw state, had potential, but this was twenty years ago and the market is far, far tougher now.  The most important thing is to make sure your manuscript is as good as it can be before you send it out.
How long was it from from finishing the book to sale?
Five years and twenty seven rejections. I took comfort from the ten that weren’t just rejection slips.
What is the average length of time for you from the time you sell a book to publication?
About a year – except in the case of Dirty Magic which took longer. 
Toots and The Upside Down House lists two authors on Amazon, but the other three Toots books don’t.  What’s up with that? 
It’s a misprint. John Steven Gurney is the illustrator who did the lovely picture on the cover. Gareth Sheldrew did the illustrations inside.
Your next book was Jack Black & the Ship of Thieves. 
I love your opening pages.  Do you have a favorite first line or Paragraph from you books?
Thanks. I don’t have a favorite of mine, but I probably rework the first page, in fact the whole opening chapter, at least twenty times before I’m happy with it. I am a highly judgmental reader of first pages when I choose books, so I know what makes me want to read more.
Me too!  That’s why I blog opening lines/paragraphs so often.

When was your daughter born and how well are motherhood and authorship combining?
 Horrible! I have two daughters now and one’s in middle school already. I used to think it was difficult writing when they were little, but looking back I can’t believe I was such a wimp. These days my head is so crammed with the stuff they have to do, where they need to be driven, what’s happening at their schools etc etc it’s a wonder that I ever get anything written at all.
I  try and have a set routine but, of course, having kids often throws that all out of the window. But it’s good to learn how to write when you can. Seize the five minutes when you’re in the car pool line and check in with your book. It’s not easy to write when you have children, but it can be done – or so I’m told.
When we met, you said you needed to write something fairy tale-like after living with Dirty Magic for so long.  
What inspired you to write Dirty Magic?
Initially, my husband. He’s a geek and, as a kid, was obsessed with his possessions – film magazines, comics etc. I wanted to write something about that, though at the beginning I had no idea this would take me to a war-torn, rain soaked land full of automated war machines. Fun! 

Since you also have a background in art, have you ever thought about writing picture books? 
I’ve tried, but they always end up being about fifty thousand words too long. I have nothing but admiration for a well-written picture book. The best are pure poetry.
Do you have any advice for a first time author going to do a school or library visit?
Don’t do it. No, sorry. That’s terrible advice. I used to do a lot of visits and they were fun, but unless you are a very organized, go get ‘em sort of person, which I am not, the visits take too much time and energy away from writing.

Many authors are using social media.  I don’t get the feeling you are one of them.  It’s a crazy web out there.  Do you have any thoughts on making use of it?

I wish I had a web presence – no, that’s not strictly true - I wish I had a web presence without my having to work at it.  Honestly, when I’m not ferrying children hither and thither, I don’t want to spend time on something that isn’t writing - even though it could potentially help my career/sales enormously. As with organizing school visits and self-promotion, creating and cultivating an online presence takes a lot of dedication and organization. Perhaps I’m lazy, or just clueless, but I truly don’t like doing those sorts of things.  I want to do what I can to make my book better. I want to write.

What are you working on now?
A page one rewrite of a book I’ve been working on forever. This is the fifth page one rewrite. I feel as though I am learning to write again. I may never get it finished.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Write the best book you can. Have an amazing web presence. Be fantastically organized. Take acting classes and enjoy school visits. Write every day. Don’t worry about sales figures. Write what you want to read. For practical help, read ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield and ‘On Writing’ by Steven King – even if you don’t like Steven King.
(Dear Reader of Pen and Ink,  I linked Carol’s books so that you can go to Amazon and read the first pages.  Believe me, they are well worth reading.  The only one that doesn’t link to an ability to read the first pages is Toots and the Upside Down House.)
Review from an 11 year old on Amazon of Jack Black & the Ship of Thieves
 A very exciting, fast moving book with an interesting twist at the end. It is well written and you can't put it down. I read it for about five hours without stopping. I am eleven years old and I love this book!
Thank you so much Carol, for the interview
You might also like these other Pen and Ink author interviews:


  1. What a fabulous interview!

  2. Great, honest interview. What a breath of fresh air!!!!!!

  3. I have a web presence and no published books.
    Hmmm...what am I missing?

  4. Wow. You've been quite prolific. Goodluck.
    J. Aday Kennedy
    The Differently-Abled Writer & Speaker
    Children's Author of Stella the Fire Farting Dragon (April 2010)

  5. I love that you're so honest! LOL! I'm still laughing at your answer to the library/school visits question. I think my daughter (and I) would love your books. Thanks for the interview!


  6. Thank you Kai, Amy, Jess and Amy for your comments. Amy, do try The Princess and The Unicorn, you can read the first pages at Amazon.

  7. Great interview. I took a lot of tips on what not to do- Do not do schools, no writing groups, read, write and yes, I had read the books she recommended. Love her book Dirty Magic. Love her descriptive writing. Did I say love too many times?


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