What childhood influencers encouraged your interest in books, storytelling and ultimately writing?
As a child I was very poorly with chronic asthma so very often I just didn’t have the energy to do anything. My mum would read to me for hours (Enid Blyton and Fairy Tales were our favourites) and I would retell and relive these stories in my imagination. Of course, I was always the hero in my version! I’d sit for hours in the garden talking to imaginary fairies and giants, completely lost in my own world.
By the time I started school I was already able to read quite well (although it took my teacher several weeks to realise this) and I had started writing little book reviews and was trying to write my own stories. At the age of six I had letters published in the local newspaper and the Bunty comic. Hammy Hamster’s exploits were legendary in our family including a three day trip up the chimney and ghostly piano playing in the night!
I’d love to say that was the start of a lifelong passion for writing but I didn’t start to write stories again until a few years ago. As a teacher I always loved reading and writing with my class and it was here that the lovable characters of Digger and Biscuit came to life. Children loved learning with them and took them into their hearts as extra class mates.
What was the appeal of writing a longer picture book?
I always knew that Digger and Biscuit’s stories were a lot longer and more complex than a picture book. With the first book, The Mystery of the Magic Mirror, I plotted around twelve chapters with each one taking around fifteen minutes to read aloud, so ideal for bedtime or story time in a classroom. It’s also a good length for children reading independently.
The Mystery of the Missing Christmas was always intended to be longer at around twenty-five chapters. My idea was that if a reader wanted to, they could read a chapter a day through December leading up to Christmas Day.
I want to tell my stories for anyone who wants to read them – young children, older children or adults. I often see authors discussing the moral of their stories. I just hope my readers enjoy Digger and Biscuit’s adventures and that they make them smile. Of course there are friendships, team work, problem solving and some character who need to learn some manners (!) but really my moral is: stories are fun J
What was the inspiration behind Digger and Biscuit as you capture their gestures of puppyhood so well?
Oh, I’ve always been a dog lover, but we couldn’t have a dog when I was growing up for health reasons. I cried for a week after a farm holiday in Devon because I missed the farmers’ dog, Nipper, so much. My mum banned me from watching dog films because I’d get so upset. My husband understood this when he made the mistake of taking me to see Marley and Me!
So, it won’t come as a surprise to know that my husband and I share our lives with two utterly spoilt Golden Retrievers. They are very like Digger and Biscuit in their behaviour and personalities. Ellie (Biscuit) is particularly good at making up games including “four paw bounce”, “Drop, cheek, roll” (need a pool for that one) and the latest, hiding a ball in a hole in the garden then laying across it. Layla (Digger) tries to tunnel underneath her to retrieve the ball. Hours of fun!
How involved have you been in creating the lovely illustrations?
I was so lucky to spot a post on social media from Bex Sutton at Primal Studios. It’s such fun working with her. I have a clear picture in my head to the whole book but I can’t draw so I literally scribble a scene and add labels. Bex then turns it into an amazing illustration and she’ll suggest things that I haven’t even thought of. She’s really good (and patient) with my “It’s not quite what I had in my head” moments, but they are very rare. We work really well together.
The Mystery of the Missing Christmas will be available in paperback with black and white or colour illustrations so the reader can choose.
As a teacher you have experience of the target market and its shortfalls. Where do you see Digger and Biscuit fitting into it?
There are so many beautiful picture books on the market and there are some fantastic series and longer novels for older readers. I always struggled to find chapter books that cover that period when children can follow and enjoy a more complex story, but they don’t yet have the fluency and resilience to read hundreds of pages independently. At this stage they want to experience serialised plots and can hold the characters and events from day to day, whilst still enjoying being read to.
I have had some lovely feedback on The Mystery of the Magic Mirror from adults who loved reading it aloud, younger children who enjoyed being read to and ten / eleven year olds who enjoyed reading it independently and that’s fantastic. Now they want to know when book two will be out!
I wanted to write stories that were fun for adults to read aloud, which children would then want to reread independently. I always think it’s sad that we take illustrations out of children’s books because they can bring to life a more complex image or concept. When I’m reading (and writing) I have very clear pictures in my mind, but not everyone can visualise a scene.
What books have been inspirational to you and your children?
Storytime was always my favourite time as a teacher. It was a chance to slip away into another world and it’s so special to share those memories with a group. I’ve always been a fan of Julia Donaldson, Martin Waddell, Colin and Jacqui Hawkins and Michael Foreman. I love it when stories have cross over characters and the children were always so excited when a well-known character appeared in as different story.
As I said before, it can be quite a challenge to find suitable chapter books, but there’s nothing like a class bursting into spontaneous applause with cries of “read it again’ at the end of a book.
What are the advantages of being an Indie author?
I have the freedom to write what I want, when I want and I have control over the whole process. I’m very attached to Digger and Biscuit and I want to tell their stories to the best of my ability. Fortunately, I work with a great illustrator and editor which leaves me free to write. The technical side of formatting and publishing brings me out in a cold sweat and I’m a great believer that you should play to your strengths. I also have an excellent developmental editor who can reign me in and refocus me if my pen wanders into over long convoluted plots!
What advice would you give to a writer about to embark upon this path?
In all honesty, don’t expect to make a fortune overnight. It’s a hugely competitive market and writing a great book doesn’t necessarily mean it will sell in huge numbers. You have to be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort to market your book and build up a following.
If you love writing and have stories to tell, go for it, but make sure you invest in a good editor who is enthusiastic about your work who can criticise constructively.
Don’t be in a hurry to publish. The Mystery of the Magic Mirror was two years in the writing and evolved so much over that time. The Mystery of the Missing Christmas was less in terms of months, but a lot more hours! I was more focused and disciplined with the second book.
What is next for Heather Watts?
I was planning to try my hand at a different genre and even completed a Sci–Fi course, but I woke up at four one morning with an idea racing around my head. Experience has taught me that I won’t remember it when I wake up properly, so I quickly scribbled an outline on my large whiteboard. It was a revelation when I saw it later that morning! So there will be a third adventure for Digger and Biscuit.
What is next for Digger and Biscuit?
Are they going to save the Easter Bunny? 🙂
Funny you should mention the Easter Bunny…No, I don’t think Digger could resist all those chocolate snacks and that would be very bad for him. The third adventure sees Digger and Biscuit on a quest to solve a mystery that has been hinted at in the previous books. Will they see any old friends – or enemies? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see J
I wish you every success with Digger and Biscuit and hope you and your family have a lovely, safe Christmas! x
You can keep up to date with Digger and Biscuit here:
Facebook: Heather Watts (Digger and Biscuit posts are public)
LinkedIn: Heather Watts