Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Author Tales - Vickie Johnstone - My Writing Story

Hi, thanks to David for asking me to introduce myself. My name is Vickie and I like to write books, which sounds like an introduction at a Writers Anonymous Help meeting (WAH for short!). My favourite things include the colour blue, Milky Bar, Baileys, dancing like an eejit, rain (it smells green), The Walking Dead, Buffy, Pride & Prejudice, Fantastic Mr Fox, Hans Christian Anderson, the sea, rock music, birdsong and animals. I love writing, but my biggest flaw is laziness. I never used to finish anything. Discovering self-publishing in 2011 and online writers’ groups changed all that. Since then I’ve written 11 books. They are 13 in all, and I’m now writing a zombie one. Munch.

Animals have inspired my writing. They are my big love. We always had pets in our house when I was young, to the point that I think we could have charged an entry fee as a petting zoo.From The Ugly Duckling to Fantastic Mr Fox, human characters didn’t get a look in when I was choosing a book as a kid. To me, they weren’t as interesting as animals, especially ones that could speak. When I was a little girl I thought I could communicate to birds by winking! And, nope, they never answered back, or at least I could never decipher their chirps. I even wanted to marry Bugs Bunny at one point, not realising him being an animal and a cartoon would be a setback.

As a kid, I wrote a lot, but I seemed to lose this as I got older. The earliest story I can remember was about Miss Pepperpot. My teacher asked us to write our own versions and I put my classmates in mine. It was read out and I remember going bright red. I even managed to finish a detective story and a romance around the age of 14, although I don’t have them anymore. From the age of 16, I was writing poetry, inspired by a female English teacher, who liked them, astonishingly. My main problem was laziness, along with a big lack of confidence. From university, my social life and work took over. I’d start stories and not finish them, but I wrote a lot of poetry because they took about five or ten minutes – great for my limited attention span.

From 1994-2000, I had a cheeky little black cat called Kiwi. She became the star of the Kiwi Series that I’ve written for middle-grade readers, although adults may like it too. Kiwi is magical and surprises her two young owners, Amy and James, by talking one day. The cat got bored of never communicating, you see, and just decided to go for it. Shock over, they all go on adventures to animal-inhabited worlds. Amazingly, Kiwi and the Serpent of the Isle was a finalist in the Indie Excellence Book Awards 2013. That knocked me for six. It’s the first thing I’ve ever won for my writing and just shows that it’s worth entering competitions, because you never know...

The first book I ever finished was Kiwi in Cat City in 2002 (in my 30s!). I didn’t show the book to anyone except one publisher, who rejected it without comment, and I forgot about it. I never submitted it again, thinking it was rubbish. Around Christmas 2011, my boyfriend read about kindle self-publishing. I dug out Kiwi, typed it up, edited it, found a cover and published it. I think this is one of the most fulfilling things I ever did. I thought to myself, even if no one reads this, I’ve fulfilled my dream, which was to publish a book. The first reviewer liked it and I was overwhelmed. I then met a lot of authors who were just as crazy about books as me, and I’ve written 11 since, inspired by them. To me this is a miracle.

My first dog was called Glen. I immortalised him in 3 Heads & A Tail, which I wrote for NaNoWriMo. I think every writer should try this at least once – it’s very freeing. My attempt was a seat-of-the-pants job and I wasn’t sure if the story would make sense to anyone, never mind make them laugh, for it’s a comedy romance and the hero is a dog called Glen. He is the central character, around whom everyone else revolves. He’s emotional, intelligent, a bit eccentric and in love with the cutest dog in the park, Mimi. He also swears a lot. Sigh.

I’ve published three books of poetry, which I love writing, even though I know my readers are few.

The Sea Inside is my newest book, which I published in May 2013. It is a fantasy adventure that revolves around a sixteen-year-old girl called Jayne, who wakes from a coma to find herself in hospital with life-changing injuries. Visited by a mysterious woman, she receives a gift that opens a portal to a mystical realm. I started writing this book in 2009, and kept getting stuck. I always write without an outline and I couldn’t think of where to take the plot, so the story got abandoned for a while. I added bits over the years, eventually finishing it this year. Horrah! For the first time I had three beta readers, because I was not sure about this book and their comments gave me the confidence to publish it.

I wrote the comedy horror Day of the Living Pizza for The Gage Project book, published by Inknbeans Press, which is raising money for children’s charities. The book came about because a friend’s son, Gage Bailey, was due to go into hospital for a scary operation. Jo of Inknbeans organised the book for him, which is an anthology of stories, poems and jokes. I made the ebook version free on Amazon US in a bid to promote the bigger charity book, which also contains some other work of mine. When writing the story, I asked Gage’s mother what his favourite things were. She said The Walking Dead, chicken, pizza and rock music. All of these things worked their way into the book and pizza zombies were born. Detective Smarts and Officer Dewdrop are a bit bungling, in Carry on Screaming style, and everything about Crazy Name Town is just silly.

What I love about writing for youngsters is the escapism and freedom of creating fantasy worlds, and throwing in some magic because we all love to believe it’s possible. I try to make the language simple to understand, without dumbing it down. Kids are intelligent after all, and learning new words is good. I think they see things that we don’t see. In my books, the animals have the same rights as humans and wish to be treated with respect. I think that learning is important. We all learn things as we grow up, and often through making mistakes. We learn what is good and what is bad, and we learn how to trust in ourselves. Good deeds are rewarded and bad ones are not.

I treasure reviews, but especially from children. It’s wonderful to hear what they think. It almost feels like they’ve read the book with me or stepped into it, running with Kiwi and turning into a kitten to go on an adventure. Then I’m reminded of being nine again and escaping into a novel, tucked up in bed. Kids are savvy and open to new things. They are the new generation of discoverers, eager to embark on their own journeys. And some will grow up to write stories that remind them of their childhood dreams.

My advice to anyone writing a book is...

...write away and don’t give up. Some people write what they know while others just dream away. Find your own style and just enjoy yourself. Writing is such great fun. It’s total freedom. I think everyone has a good story in them and now is the best time to be a writer because things have opened up. It is very easy to publish a book, and there are many writers’ groups on Facebook. You’ll find a great community of indie authors online, all passionate about writing.

About the author

Vickie lives in London, UK, and works as a freelance layout sub editor. Her first book, Kiwi in Cat City, was written in 2002, and she has scribbled stories and poetry all her life. Since the beginning of 2011, Vickie has written eleven books and is currently working on some new ideas. Her loves include cats, reading, films, travelling, rock music, Castle, The Walking Dead, tea, the sea, sleeping and Milky Bar.

Vickie has self-published the following books:

Kaleidoscope (poetry); Travelling Light (poetry); Life’s Rhythms (haiku); 3 Heads and a Tail (comedy romance); Kiwi in Cat City (magical cat series for middle grade readers); Kiwi and the Missing Magic; Kiwi and the Living Nightmare; Kiwi and the Serpent of the Isle; Kiwi in the Realm of Ra; Kiwi’s Christmas Tail; Day of the Living Pizza (comedy detective series for middle grade readers), Day of the Pesky Shadow and The Sea Inside. The Kiwi Series has illustrations by Nikki McBroom.

Contact / book links

Kiwi Series website
FB author page:
FB Kiwi Series page:
FB poetry page:
FB editing service page:
Amazon US page:
Amazon UK page:
Smashwords page
B&N page:

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