Meet children’s author, Heather Watts, as Digger and Biscuit begin their Christmas adventure!

What childhood influencers encouraged your interest in books, storytelling and ultimately writing?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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You can keep up to date with Digger and Biscuit here:

Facebook: Heather Watts (Digger and Biscuit posts are public)

Instagram: diggerandbiscuitadventures   

Twitter: @diggerandbiscuit

LinkedIn: Heather Watts

Catching up with Cindy A. Christiansen!

The world is a very different place since we last chatted, Cindy. How have you been keeping mentally and physically fit during the pandemic and lockdown?

Both my youngest son and I have compromised immune systems, so we have had to be very careful. Both of my sons have autism, and just when I needed help the most, their services were taken away because of COVID-19. And to top off all that upset and commotion, we had several earthquakes here in Utah. I think that was the hardest for us.

Because of my health, lockdown seems fairly normal to me, and I have managed to get more writing done. I have also taken an intense class on advertising, and I’m currently trying to play catch up on all the new market trends.

I am so glad that you have all come through this so well. I cannot believe how quickly time has passed since you were my guest back in 2014!

Wow! I can’t believe it either. Obviously, my two sons and the additional help they require keeps me hopping. And now, I have three rescue dogs who require my attention. As you might remember, writing and a rescue dog helped me through some pretty big health challenges, so I feature dogs on my covers and donate to help abandoned and abused dogs from my proceeds.

What have you been publishing since we last chatted?

Well I’m pretty sure that around 2013-2014, my publisher closed their doors, and I decided to take on publication for myself. My company name is Dragonfly Spirit Books, and I have learned a lot as an Indie publisher of my own books. Editing and formatting is just crazy! I have a total of twenty published books but nine of those are novellas. That’s pretty much the length I enjoy and write these days.

What writing projects have you planned for the rest of 2020 and beyond?

I just released a novella called, Last Will and Lethal and have another one at my beta readers. I’m excited to say, I have a three-book contemporary cowboy series planned next! I love westerns, and I’m very excited about this project. I only have one other series and just had my book cover designer update all the covers for them. I am very excited to re-release them.

After that, who knows what idea will hit me, and I will be off on another adventure through my characters!

I wish you every success with this and your many adventures to come!

Here is Cindy’ s bio:

Bestselling author, Cindy A Christiansen, has combined her love of dogs with her joy of writing to create an award-winning combination. Her novels always include canine characters both in the pages and on the cover, an extension of the credit she gives to her extraordinary rescue dogs for their part in helping her overcome numerous challenges. In a reciprocal gesture for their love and devotion, a portion of the proceeds from her books are donated to assist abandoned and abused dogs.

She lives in Utah with her loving husband, two creative children with autism, and a pack of rambunctious dogs.

Here’s what her books give you:

  • A clean read with no bedroom scenes or offensive language.
  • A tantalizing, fast-paced plot.
  • A story without a lot of boring description.
  • Down-to-earth heroes and heroines with everyday jobs.
  • A rollercoaster ride of emotions you face right along with the characters.
  • A special dog to steal your heart.
  • A few added facts, a good message, and that important happily-ever-after ending.

You can read more about Cindy at: http://www.dragonflyromance.com

Catching up with Nicola Cornick!

 

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Welcome back, Nicola!

Thank you very much! It’s a pleasure to be here.
What have you been doing since you stepped down from being chair of the RNA?

It was only after I stepped down at RNA Chair that I truly realised what an intense two years it had been so the first thing I did was to go on a long holiday, which was a wonderful break and also a way of marking the end of what had been a very important and significant part of my writing life. Then I came back and got stuck into my latest manuscript which is a dual time novel set in the 15th century with the mystery of the Princes in the Tower at its heart.

The role of RNA Chair was one I enjoyed enormously and I did all I could to further the cause of romantic fiction during my time on the committee, but I was very happy to hand it on to the next generation of romantic fiction writers. They are doing a truly stellar job during the most difficult and unpredictable situation that could have hit us all and I admire them so much for it, and all the member of the RNA who are making this 60th anniversary year very special despite the challenges.
What was it about the protagonist’s story that attracted you to the lady behind The Forgotten Sister?

My dual time fiction centres on women whom I think of as being in the footnotes of history, those characters whose stories have been told usually from a male perspective or not at all. In this instance I was drawn to Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley who was, of course the favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Both Elizabeth and Dudley are big characters whose love story tends to dominate the narrative and Amy is usually portrayed, if she’s mentioned at all, as a helpless victim who dies in mysterious circumstances. I wanted to give Amy some agency and tell the story of her life and death from her own perspective, and also to look at how the legend and myths about her grew after her death.

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How did you learn about the history of Lady Diana Spencer of The Woman in the Golden Dress?

There’s a room at Lydiard House in Swindon, where I am a trustee that is devoted to Lady Diana Spencer and her artistic work. The very first time I stepped into the “blue closet” as it’s known, I was enchanted by her drawings and the designs she did for Wedgwood. I went away to read more about her and her life. It was intriguing to discover that not only was she an ancestor of the late Princess of Wales as well as her namesake, but that their personal lives had some uncanny parallels.

 

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What are the specific challenges of writing an absorbing dual time novel?

For me the challenges are huge, firstly because I’m not by nature a planner but a dual time novel really does need careful plotting in order to weave the two timelines together successfully. Then there’s the challenge of fitting what is essentially two stories into one book and giving them both sufficient depth. Also, there is the issue of making sure that the present and the historical strands are both equally compelling. Most authors have a preference for writing one over the other but it’s our job to make sure the readers enjoy them both equally.
What do you do to stay fit – physically and mentally in this lock down situation?

I find that my physical and mental health are connected even more closely than usual at the moment. We’re all under enormous stress and living through an unprecedented situation and we all have to find the means to cope. I make sure that I take a walk each day – I’m fortunate to have a dog so I always have a walking companion and we’ve been exploring all the walks in our local area. I also do a Pilates class each week via zoom and an additional workout each week. That’s about the best I can do as I have an auto-immune condition that varies considerably from day to day in its effects; if I’m not feeling great, I will still go out and sit in the garden so I get fresh air and sunshine.
Mentally I find that having a schedule each day helps me to concentrate and I also limit the number of times I watch or read the news. Keeping in touch with friends and family remotely and having the dog to cuddle are the other two essentials for me!
How has the current situation affected the voluntary work you do with the Guide Dogs?

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We’ve had to put our work with Guide Dogs on hold at present as it isn’t possible to train puppies in all of the things that they need to do with shops, libraries and other venues closed and travel at a minimum. Fortunately, it’s still possible to do plenty of training in things like obedience, and to keep dogs entertained and interested with other games and activities! There’s going to be a lot of work to do when we’re all allowed to go out again!

I wish you, your new novel and hope that you and guide dog, Lucy, stay safe and have lots of hugs! 

 

Catching up with Rosemary Kind!

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I just had to ask you back when I realised that it was Alfie’s birthday, Rosemary!

It is now five years since I started the short story download arm of Alfie Dog Fiction. Over that time I’ve had the privilege to work with many hundreds of talented authors and read quite literally thousands of stories. For some well-established authors we are the publisher they turn to for republication of their stories, but we have also been responsible for launching the careers of many new writers and I don’t say that lightly. It has been a privilege to work on stories for talented authors who have gone on to be very successful, either with their stories or novels. Many have told us that we have helped them on the way, giving them direction in some cases and in others simply the confidence that their work is good.

We realised with the resources we had available that it was not possible to grow the site exponentially and, in reality, that wasn’t what our readers wanted. What readers wanted to see was new stories regularly, but in place of, rather than as well as, all the old ones. We’ve worked with authors to achieve this and in the recent submission window selected around 60 new stories which are going live on the site over the coming weeks. It will give us a current total of around 325 authors and 1600 short stories to choose between.

Another more recent development has been a number of our book titles being made into audio books. So far this has included four novels and one short story collection, but we’re looking at further titles being added to the selection shortly.

Over the five years, we’ve brought out quite a significant number of book titles and there are currently 34 out in paperback or ebook.

What will the next five years hold? It’s always hard to say. One of the beauties of being a small organisation is that we can change easily and take opportunities that are presented. We have more books due out in the coming months and more short stories. At the outset we created the site because we believed in the medium of the short story. That remains as true now as it did five years ago.

If you would like to help us celebrate then this is what will be happening:

May 16th – June 20th A special feature of some of the best stories from our original authors http://alfiedog.com/fiction/featured/

May 16th onwards – five stories half price for five weeks – with stories changing weekly http://alfiedog.com/fiction/sale/

June 11th: You are very welcome to join our fifth birthday then you will be very welcome to join our ‘On-line birthday party’. We will be having party games and there will be prizes. You may need to bring your own cake as that’s harder to send out over the internet! The party is on Sunday June 11th from 7pm to 9pm UK time and you can find it HERE

Jun 13th onwards – five books free for download for five days each. For details of these offers see our Facebook page, Twitter @AlfieDogLimited , or Newsletter

Best wishes
Ros Kind

Co-author of  – From Story Idea to Reader – an accessible guide to writing fiction

Sign up for my newsletter HERE

Thank you for the update and for accepting seven of my stories!

I wish you every continued success.

An Interview with Cindy A. Christiansen

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My first guest of 2014 is Cindy A Christiansen. To work as an author takes dedication and determination. Cindy appreciates this more than most as she has had to overcome life-changing illness to achieve her ambitions. She has kindly taken time out of her busy schedule to share her experiences with us.

How dramatic was the illness that caused you to change from your original profession to becoming an author?

It was devastating and confusing. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I got sick all the time and was missing way too much work. I kept falling asleep at my desk. I was a programmer/analyst and I soon found that I couldn’t follow the logic of a simple piece of code. I was sick for my bridal shower and during my honeymoon. I finally ended up in the ER with an enlarged liver and spleen, Mononucleosis and Epstein-Barr virus. The doctor said I had to make a life-changing decision about my future. He said I needed total bed rest.

However after a month of following his instructions, I was even worse. Despite seeking the help of thirteen different doctors, no one could tell me what was wrong with me. I finally had to quit my job. The illness continued to progress. Six or seven years later, I was finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and Chronic Epstein-Barr virus. Since that time, I’ve been diagnosed with over thirty other health-related illnesses that affect me physically and cognitively.

 

What inspired you to turn around the situation into a positive step by entering the world of fiction?

Having been raised on a farm with a strong work ethic, staying in bed was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My self-esteem and self-worth plummeted and depression set in. My husband was working and pursuing hobbies. I felt alone, isolated and down-right bored to death. I needed something else with which to think of in my life.

I got a yellow writing tablet and started writing. Articles and stories soon turned into a book. Sometimes I could barely move my hand across the paper, but I felt such a rush of accomplishment. Then I rescued and adopted a Wire-haired Fox Terrier puppy and my life began to change in the most positive ways.

 

Did your childhood fuel your imagination and love for animals – especially dogs?

Absolutely! After twelve books, I still haven’t run out of life experiences to use in my books. Growing up on a farm but within a city, I’ve experienced the best of both worlds. Living in Utah, I have enjoyed the most beautiful diverse landscape that has made the setting for every book unique without leaving the state.

I haven’t begun to share all the wonderful experiences I have had living on our farm and loving and working with dogs. Just to give you an idea of my imagination as a kid, I’ll share that our old hay wagon made a very nice stagecoach and our two-horse trailer made an excellent jail for all those desperate outlaws of the west. Our mixed-breed dog, Poncho, quickly became Lassie or Rin-Tin-Tin on a whim.

When did you first break into publication?

Publication didn’t come quickly. I began taking classes, joining writing groups, and doing tons of rewrites on the same book. Although doctors said I would never have children, I found myself in a high-risk pregnancy. Motherhood took everything I had, and when my son was eighteen months he was diagnosed with learning disabilities and special needs. Another child followed three years later, and he was also special needs. My writing was on hold until one day when I read Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand and found out she had one of the illnesses I had. It totally inspired me to seek publication, and I began writing again and submitting to publishers.

I published three books with a publisher but later pulled my rights and published with Sweet Cravings Publishing. I have seven full-length books published with them, not including the two additional books in A Merchant Street Mystery series that will follow. I also have independently published three novellas, one novelette, and a non-fiction book on writing.

When starting a new novel do you begin with the title, plot outline or character profiles? Or just a blank page and the first word?

I start with a plot idea and have a whole batch of worksheets I fill out before actually beginning to write.

Could you describe what experience a reader can expect from one of your books?

I want readers to know exactly what they are going to get from one of my books, especially since I write outside the box. As part of my marketing plan, I developed a list and post it in as many places as I can. Here it is:

  • A clean read with no bedroom scenes or offensive language.
  • A tantalizing, fast-paced plot.
  • A story without a lot of boring description.
  • Down-to-earth heroes and heroines with everyday jobs.
  • A rollercoaster ride of emotions you face right along with the characters.
  • A special dog to steal your heart.
  • A few added facts, a good message, and that important happily-ever-after ending.

German shorthaired pointer posing in the field

What is next for Cindy?

I am right in the middle of my first series. Time Will Tell: A Merchant Street Mystery Book 1 came out in September 2013 and Hunting for Happenstance, the second book in the series, will be released January 6, 2014. It’s been exciting but also a challenging task with my health issues, my two autistic children, and an ill dog.

Hunting for Happenstance is about high-spirited Daniela Estrada. She is tired of waiting for life and love to come to her in her poppa’s butcher shop. She wants to open her own doggie grooming business on Merchant Street and get practical Duston “Buck” Cooper, who owns the Bird Dog Gun Shop, to step out of his shell and ask her out.

Instead, while her Uncle Benito is deer hunting, he ends up missing and the area is swarming with aggressive black bears which holds up the search party. Duston and his dog, Ruger, have helped the police on other cases, and he is training a Karelian Bear dog. Will he help Daniela find her uncle?

Duston adores Daniela but secrets about his brother prevent him from getting close to anyone. He believes that if something is meant to be, it will just happen. Is Daniela’s missing uncle just the shot in the dark the two need to find love and happiness?

I already have plot ideas for other books and plan to continue writing and helping abused and abandoned dogs.

More by Cindy:

Sweet Cravings Publishing – Amazon – Barnes and Noble