Q&A with Zillah Bethell on ‘The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare’

The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare_COVER ART Copyright Sian Trenberth Photography

I’m pleased to welcome Zillah Bethell to the blog today to talk about her latest children’s book, The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare. You can find out more about Zillah and her books on her website.

Auden Dare has an unusual perspective on life: he cannot see in colour. He’s always had this rare condition – and life is beginning to get harder for Auden. The war for water that is raging across the world is getting a little closer all the time. It hardly rains any more, anywhere. Everyone is thirsty all the time, and grubby, and exhausted. Auden has to learn to live without his father, who is away fighting, and has had to move to a new town with his mother, and start a new school, where everyone thinks he’s a weirdo. But when he meets Vivi Rookmini, a smiling girl bright with cleverness, his hopes begin to lift.
It soon becomes clear to Auden, though, that there are some strange things afoot in his new hometown. He and his mother have moved into the old cottage of his recently-dead uncle Jonah Bloom – a scientist and professor at the university. The place is in disarray – and although Auden’s mother tells him it’s because Jonah was a messy old thing, Auden knows differently. Someone else did this – someone who was looking for something of Jonah’s. Auden had heard too that Jonah was working on something that could cure Auden’s condition – could this be it?
Then Auden and Vivi make an extraordinary discovery. Hidden away under the shed at the bottom of Jonah’s garden is an engimatic and ingenious robot, who calls himself Paragon. A talking, walking, human-like robot. Apparently built by Jonah – but why? The answer to this will take Auden and Vivi on a thrilling journey of discovery as they seek to find out just what exactly Paragon is – and what link he has to Auden – and find that the truth is bigger and more wonderful than either of them could have imagined.

1. Why did you choose to set Auden Dare in a world experiencing crippling water shortages?

Parts of the world are already experiencing water shortages. That is our reality. Water poverty kills 1.5 million children every year; and according to the World Economic Forum, water scarcity is now the number one global risk factor. I thought it would be interesting to bring that reality to the UK. To the Englishman with his umbrella and his rose garden.

2. Auden Dare, the central character in your book, suffers from a condition that means he can only see in black and white. Tell us more about this and how this condition is relevant to the story?

My starting point was the phrase ‘to see everything in black and white’. I guess I wanted to discuss grey areas both literally and metaphorically. I was also influenced by Oliver Sacks’ wonderful studies in achromatopsia. We take colour for granted in much the same way as we take water for granted.

3. In your book, Auden and his friend Vivi discover a robot called Paragon who appears to have human-like emotions. Do you think we will ever see robots that are like people?

It’s hard to imagine a machine with a conscience and a sense of humour. Or a soul. But then again, transplants were once the stuff of Frankenstein; flying, the realm of Icarus. So it is entirely possible that one day we will have truly sentient machines. We already have driverless cars!

4. There have been stories in the media recently about the development of robot soldiers. Given your book looks at the role of robots in future society are you worried about the potential dangers posed by AI?

Only last year in Geneva, the UN discussed the legal and ethical issues surrounding LAWS (Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems). I don’t think we’re in the land of Terminator yet – these weapons systems would be far too costly. But robots may indeed pose a threat to our economy, taking over jobs previously done by humans.

5. In the book, the UK is controlled by the Water Authority Board, a really sinister authoritarian government. What was your inspiration for this?

Having had such a free early childhood I found any kind of authority challenging. On a literary level I’ve been influenced by George Orwell’s 1984; and there have been plenty of real life totalitarian states and leaders from Ceausescu to Kim Jong-Un to be terrified by.

6. You say that having such a free childhood meant you found authority challenging. Did your childhood inspire this book in any other way?

Yes I think it did. I didn’t have any technology in PNG and am both fascinated and appalled by it. Instinctively I don’t like it – I don’t even own a microwave – but rationally I see its enormous potential. I think I wrestle with this in my work – sometimes outlining the dangers of it, sometimes showing the wonders of it.

7. Both of your children’s books feature protagonists who rebel against totalitarian authorities or leaders. Standing up for what’s right is a common theme in children’s literature- do you think children’s books should include any sense of morality or should they be objects of pure escapism and enjoyment?

I think a book should be anything it likes. Escapist literature has its own moral if you like – the desire to be distracted from everyday existence. As TS Eliot said, human beings cannot bear very much reality! I don’t think children appreciate having a ‘worthy’ book foisted upon them though. I was recently given Magic by Danielle Steel (about secret dinners in Paris where everyone has to wear white) and Reunion by Fred Uhlman (about an intense friendship during the rise of Nazism in Germany). I was equally enthralled by both books.

8. You’ve also written three novels for adults. What made you want to write for children and do you find that the writing processes for adult books and children’s books differ?

My editor asked me to write a children’s book so I did! The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare was written to a deadline and I think there is an intensity to it because of that. My adult novels were taken up and left off depending on how busy I was so maybe they go off on a tangent a bit! Otherwise the writing process doesn’t differ much. I write chapters in my head then eventually speak into a very old Dictaphone. (Before I had kids my neighbour commented that I talked to the cats a lot!) Eventually I get to the computer. The good thing about writing in your head is that you can do it in bed!

Thanks so much, Zillah! 

The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare will be published by Piccadilly Press on the 7th of September 2017.

Check out my Twitter to enter my giveaway and win a copy!

Self-publishing Vs traditional publishing- author interview with Louise Walters

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I am honoured to be able to feature author Louise Walters who is currently making the transition from the traditional publishing route to self-publication. Louise has written ‘Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase‘, published by Hodder and is currently self-publishing her second novel ‘A Life Between Us’ with Matador. Today I’m discussing with Louise her decision to self-publish and the differences between both publication routes. Thank you, Louise!


Louise Walters_TypewriteredAlthough I have an idea of the answer to this thanks to your wonderful blog, could you share with readers why you chose to go down the self-publishing route with this novel?
The main reason is I didn’t get a traditional book deal with my second novel. After a lot of thought I decided to have a go at self-publishing. I am using Matador Books, so strictly speaking my book will be published via “assisted” publishing.

What is this novel about?
It’s about family and the secrets that families keep from each other… dark secrets that can tear people apart. There’s also a supernatural element to this novel… or is there? Even I’m not sure.

Can you tell us where you are at with the publication of your second novel? How far into the publication of ‘A Life Between Us’ are you?
I have just sent the novel back to Matador for typesetting. It’s had all the edits done, including a copy edit. Once it has been typeset there will be proof reading to do.

You are self-publishing with Matador. What services does this company provide and what do you have to do yourself?
Matador basically provide as much as you need them to. That was really useful to me as I haven’t a clue about self-publishing and I felt I needed a lot of hand-holding.

What challenges have you faced taking the self-publishing route? Were any of them unexpected?
I think my big challenge will be marketing and getting the book into bookshops, libraries and the hands of readers. I am looking forward to marketing and have a few ideas to help make my book stand out – hopefully!

What have you found to be the advantages of self-publishing? Are there are certain aspects you are glad to be able to do by yourself?
For me, the huge advantage is control over the whole project. I set my own time scale, and I was able to pick and choose which tasks to do myself and which to delegate to Matador (most of them, actually!)

You are currently in the midst of choosing a cover for your book. How does this process work when self-publishing and how does it differ from the traditional publication route?
With traditional publishing, the author has very little say about the design of their cover. There are often good reasons for that, of course. But it was a pleasure to look for an image I thought may work. It’s also daunting, because I don’t want to be responsible for a ghastly cover. Fortunately, Matador books will veto designs or images if they are too duff! I have found an image I think would work and I’m waiting to see what the Matador designers come up with.

You have talked on your blog about being prepared for reviews that will call this novel a “self-published vanity project”. In your opinion, why do some people still have this negative view that self-publishing is “cheating”?
It’s grounded in snobbery. There’s no question in my mind. And to be truthful, there are some dreadful self-published books out there. Not everybody can write well and there are those who want to “be a writer” while having no idea of what “being a writer” entails. But I think the snobs assume that ALL self-published books are brought out by wannabes, and it just isn’t so. All self-published writers tend to get tarred by the same brush, ie, they are rubbish – which is as ludicrous as saying all traditionally published authors are great. Clearly it isn’t so!

What do you think is the main reason people choose to self-publish?
“Failure” to get a traditional deal; wanting more control; the thrill of seeing their name on the spine of a book; to get a fairer share of the money from the sale of their books. All valid reasons!

In terms of income, and keeping in mind the fees involved in self-publication, which publication route is the most advantageous? Does self-publishing mean you may earn a bigger percent of the royalties? I’m intrigued as to how this works.
A traditional deal is probably still the “holy grail” of publishing. At least, that’s how I felt before getting mine. But all that glistens is not gold, as I have discovered! My opinion is that publishers and authors are too pitched against each other… the publisher wanting to pay their authors as little as they can get away with, of course. Hence, a traditionally published author will only receive a 25% royalty rate on their e-book sales. The print royalty rates are usually much lower and it’s impossible to make a decent living unless you sell lots and lots of books.

On the other hand, a traditionally published book can attract foreign deals, and that’s what happened to mine, so I ended up making quite a decent sum on my first novel. But without those deals I would not yet have made up my UK advance money and therefore wouldn’t yet be receiving any royalties. I am looking upon my expenditure on A Life Between Us as my “advance” – if I sell enough books to earn that out and start getting royalties, I will count myself very fortunate. And of course I will receive a much higher royalty rate per copy sold than I would via a traditional publisher. So it’s swings and roundabouts, with financial advantages to both routes.

What advice would you give to writers who are considering self-publishing?
Take your time, look at all the options, be realistic about what you can and can’t do yourself. Don’t skimp on the editing. And be professional, do everything as professionally as you can. If you are asking somebody, anybody to spend hours of their life reading your work, then you owe it to them to make your work as good as it can be.

You can read all about Louise’s fascinating writing life and follow her publication journey on her fantastic blog.


Image credits:
1. Unknown via bookandnegative.com
2. © Oliver Smith

Thoughts on ‘Go Set a Watchman’ by Harper Lee

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This post contains spoilers.

I was thrilled when the news came out that Harper Lee had written a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird and that it was going to be published. I was even more thrilled and intrigued when I learned that this sequel was actually written before To Kill a Mockingbird but had been abandoned on advice from the publisher in a favour of a new manuscript starring younger versions of Lee’s characters. So Jean Louise the adult had existed before Jean Louise the child. Interesting.

I was relieved to read that Jean Louise the adult was just as plucky and fierce as her younger self. Obviously, it is difficult to read the sequel of such a famous piece of literature without having expectations. I loved the book and couldn’t put it down, although it wasn’t a thrilling page-turner like the first. The plot seems to waver in the second half and is replaced by Jean Louise’s train of thought, her inner turmoils and long interior monologues. It became a little less about action and more a debate, Jean Louise’s witty and sacrcastic reactions to the subject of racism, and to the fact that as she becomes an adult she is realising that the people she loves are a lot less accepting than she previously believed.

After  closing the book, I realised it’s not about who is racist and who is not. It’s about Jean Louise becoming her own person, and Atticus, who she puts at the same moral level as God, becoming human, with fault, fears, regrets and weaknesses. It turns out that the famous Atticus supports white supremacy. Atticus, who has always taught his children to be kind and fair, who always stood for justice, is joining white supremist groups and expressing his opposition to having black people in government. In To Kill a Mockingbird, he defended a black man against his white accusers, and although Atticus is a kind man, we realise that Scout’s childhood adoration of him depicted him as liberal, egalitarian non-racist man, when actually in defending this black man he was simply doing his job as a lawyer and making sure justice was served.

Although he is not a violent racist, Atticus is a man of his time. What he really is a white southern man raised during a time when black people were surpressed and whose father fought for the confederate side in the Civil War. Atticus is on the side of the law and will defend whoever is right, black or white, but ultimately sees black people as a threat to society. His ignorance creates the desire in him to “preserve” southern society because his view is and has always been that black people are not “ready” to take on the freedoms being offered to them. Another era of reconstruction was upon the South at this time and people feared how much their society was to change yet again faced with black empowerment, 100 years after slavery had been abolished.

Although I loved Atticus less for it, I am glad Harper Lee have him a daughter who inherited the better parts of him. Scout is not a racist, because her father never taught her to differentiate between black or white. Jean Louise is effectively “colour blind.” This suggests that Jean Louise’s children’s generation should have all trace of racism squashed out of them, if their parents had been raised the same ways as Atticus raised his daughter. We know, of course, that in real life this was not the case.

This was a beautiful, albeit different novel which gave insight to life in the postbellum South. It was one that made me think, and I loved going back to long-loved characters. I will never be able to read To Kill a Mockingbird in the same way ever again, but I think the way Atticus’s whole character in that first novel is actually just his child’s perception of him is genius. Harper Lee strikes again.