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

An Interview with Richard Lee

I am delighted to welcome the chairman of The Historical Novel Society, Richard Lee, as this month’s guest. Richard founded the organisation in 1997 and it is now an international success.

RichardLeeSmallWhen you decided to found an organisation devoted to historical fiction, did you ever envisage it growing into such an amazing international body?

No! I did not know how it would be possible to be international, so I only envisaged a UK membership – though always celebrating international authors. We actually had US members sign up from the very beginning, which caused headaches about currency transactions and postage costs. This made us ‘ready’ for when internet links began to take off – and now we are much more international than British.

What have been the major developments/changes that you have seen in historical fiction since the HNS was founded?

In commercial historical fiction many things have changed. The ‘discovery’ of the significance of women’s lives has transformed the way that, for example, royalty and celebrity is written about. The success of ‘Sharpe’ and ‘Gladiator’ created a genre of military and epic historical fiction. We have also been blessed by literary authors pushing the boundaries in various ways – Michel Faber reconceiving the Victorian authorial viewpoint, many authors revisiting Colonial and World War narratives, Hilary Mantel turning accepted views of Tudor power and honour on their head.

How has historical fiction been influenced by the major changes within publishing in the last decade?

I am no expert here. Traditional publishing still knows how to publish the big books. The Miniaturist and Elizabeth is Missing we both debuts that had multiple agents interested, sold well into many territories, won prizes and became bestsellers. The main change I perceive is that there is much more opportunity for niche historicals to go it alone, often to the author’s benefit.

The HNS conferences have been hugely successful and enjoyable to attend. Could you share a few of your personal favourite highlights?

The things I remember from conferences are usually surprises from authors I admire – Louis de Bernieres, for example, saying that he wrote each chapter of Captain Corelli as a short story, and didn’t decide the running order till the end. Or Conn Iggulden emphasising just how powerful true coincidences are in history. Highlights are more likely downtime with fellow organisers or friends – meeting members off-stage and finding out more about them. It is great when it is all ‘done’!

What period of history do you have a particular interest in and why?

Early 20th C, Late Victorian, High Victorian, Regency, Georgian, Early Medieval, Saxon/Viking, Roman, Ancient Greek… But really anything!

Do you prefer reading or writing historical fiction?

Reading. I haven’t written consistently for a long while, though it remains an ambition.

How would you like to see the HNS develop in the future?

I always see the society as being about what members want – any enthusiasms that members have are for me to try to facilitate and nurture. This for a long time focussed on our magazines and reviews, which actively involve around 100 of us. Conferences are another big active area – this year over 400 will gather in Denver, and we had an inaugural conference in Sydney, Australia. The big ‘new’ areas of involvement are chapters based in different regions (mostly entirely independent) and connections through social media. Our awards are also popular (230 entries for the latest new novel prize), and we are looking into ways that the society can offer help and training to authors. Whether mainstream published or indie, all authors need help with marketing and promotion these days, we can all help each other.

What is next for Richard?

My first child was born a couple of years after I founded the society, two others followed, and the oldest is now 15. They are the real project and joy, but I still have a wish to write. I think I finally have a good idea!

More from the HNS