Thursday, 18 February 2016

An Interview with Sarah Hill


Today I'm delighted to welcome Sarah Hill to my blog. Sarah is a children's author and a small animal Vet. She gained her Veterinary Medicine degree at Bristol University in 1999 and worked in practice for 10 years. At that point she had her second daughter and soon after, she decided to take a career break. She was writing her children's series, 'Whimsy Wood', at home in Wiltshire (with her husband, their baby son, two daughters, two dogs, two cats and "a partridge in a pear tree"!) for a good 2 years, before her work was taken on by Abela Publishing, based in Sandhurst, UK.

There are 35 books in the Whimsy Wood children's series for 5-8 yr olds. These are divided into 5 sets of 7 books. Each book is written specifically for a month in the calendar, so the flora and fauna within the wood, change as you read through the series. Finally, there is a proverb hidden within every story for the reader to find, giving it real meaning. Please note that 10% of book sales is donated to The Wildlife Trusts, UK.

Book 1, 'Posie Pixie And The Copper Kettle', was published in July 2013. Book 2, 'Posie Pixie And The Lost Matchbox', was published in November 2013. Book 3, 'Posie Pixie And The Torn Tunic', was published in February 2014. Book 4, 'Posie Pixie And The Fireworks Party', was published in May 2014. Book 5, 'Posie Pixie And The Christmas Tree', was published in October 2014. Book 6, 'Posie Pixie And The Snowstorm', was published in February 2015. Book 7, 'Posie Pixie And The Pancakes', was published in June 2015.

Why did you decide to write the Whimsy Wood Series?

Well in truth, I didn't! I went to Bristol University here in England to study Veterinary Medicine and I qualified as a Vet from there in 1999. I then worked in practice for 10 years and at that point our second daughter was born. My husband was travelling overseas quite a lot with work then and so I decided to take a career break to stay at home and raise our very young girls. Within 6 months of being at home, 'Posie Pixie', the main character in my first 7 'Whimsy Wood' books, appeared in my head and she wouldn't go away. She's terribly persistent! So I really had no other choice but to start writing about her adventures in 'Whimsy Wood'.

After 3 years of writing, editing, submitting to publishers, writing, re-editing and submitting some more, I finally received my author's contract with Abela Publishing in January 2013. 'Posie Pixie And The Copper Kettle', book 1 in my 'Whimsy Wood' series, was published in July 2013. Book 7, 'Posie Pixie And The Pancakes', was published in June 2015.

Do you consider your book character-driven or plot-driven?

I don't consider my books to be either, as each of my 'Whimsy Wood'  books is written for a specific month in the calendar, so the flora and fauna changes as you read through the series. If anything, they're driven by the time of year that I'm writing the book for.

Posie Pixie and the Copper Kettle. Image abela Publishing


What makes Whimsy Wood Series unique compared to other book series for kids?

My 'Whimsy Wood' books are unique because they bridge the literary gap between picture books and chapter books. They are read to and read by children of all ages and this is evident by the children's comments on the back of all the 'Whimsy Wood' books.

There is a proverb tucked away within every story for the reader to find and at the back of each book, is a 'Whimsy Wood' map for the child to complete using their imagination and what they've learnt from the story.

Do you plot ahead of time, or let the plot emerge as you write?

I tend to do a bit of both. I always use a mind map prior to writing the next book in my series. The title always goes in the middle - I may not have the actual title name until I've completed the book, but that's where it goes when I'm mind-mapping! I have the month that the book is written for coming off that central title. Then there's trees, plants, flowers, animals that would all be out and about during that month in a UK wood.

How did you develop the names for your characters?

I like alliteration, so the 'Whimsy Wood' characters' names tend to reflect this. Eg Posie Pixie, Raspberry Rabbit, Wibble Woodlouse. 

Posie was always called this and I had no doubt over hers or Raspberry's names. Wibble I was initially unsure of so I asked my oldest daughter Olivia. I gave her a choice of 'Wibble' or 'Willow' 
for Posie's Woodlouse best friend and Olivia immediately decided on 'Wibble'. So that was that!

Mr Bilberry the blackbird, Whimsy Wood’s postman. Image Sarah Hill


How did you decide on the setting for your books?

Again, I didn't purposeful choose my books to be set in a woodland, or indeed 'Whimsy Wood'. My imagination had decided, right from the start, that this was going to be where 'Posie Pixie' (the main character for my 1st 7 books) would come to live. She didn't initially live here, as you will learn in book 1, 'Posie Pixie And The Copper Kettle'! I'm guessing though that my imagination and subconscious have been heavily influenced by my own childhood books. These being the 'Faraway Tree' books by Enid Blyton and 'Jill Barklem's 'Brambly Hedge' series. We are also keen dog-walkers as a family and are often outside, exploring woodlands and the beautiful Wiltshire countryside where we live. I'm sure these have all been factors in my imagination creating the enchanting 'Whimsy Wood'.

Do you have a writing mentor? If so, tell about them.

I have a writing coach called Suzanne Lieurance who sends me (and many other writers) positive, supportive and constructive daily emails called 'The Morning Nudge'. Writing can be quite a solitary existence, so I find these daily emails really helpful. I am also a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). This is a fabulous group of like-minded literary folk and their annual UK conference in Winchester is always brilliant.

Front cover Fearne Fairy and the Dandelion Clocks. Image Sarah Hill

What’s your writing schedule? Do you have a favorite place to write?

I have 3 young children aged 7 and a half, 6 and 2 and a half years old, so I tend to write when the girls are in school and Monty our son is in nursery (2 days a week currently). I also write when the children are all in bed asleep 3 nights of the week, as my husband is also out working during these evenings.
I have to be very strict with myself during the times that I set aside to write. Like all creative activities, you can't force writing. Sometimes it flows and sometimes it just doesn't. On the days that it's not flowing, I'll still sit down and try to write something. It doesn't matter if initially it's not brilliant. At least I've got something down on paper and I can them go back over it, edit and rewrite it and the time that I've had to write hasn't been wasted.

As for a favourite place to write, well I seem to write best in our office above the garage at home. But I'll often get ideas and thoughts when I'm not sat down writing, so I always have a notepad with me to write these down in.

What’s next?

Book 8, 'Fearne Fairy And The Dandelion Clocks' is next and is due out this March! This book is the beginning of the second set of 7 books in my 'Whimsy Wood' series and sees the introduction of a new main character, 'Fearne Fairy'. Now she's not your typical pink and sparkly fairy. Goodness no! She has flaws just like the rest of us and as for what she's really like? Well, you'll just have to find out!

Whimsy Wood Books. Image abela publishing

Anything else you'd like to add?

My first 5 'Whimsy Wood' children's books have all been awarded the '5-Star Seal' from 'Readers' Favourite' over in America. 'Posie Pixie And The Snowstorm' and 'Posie Pixie And The Pancakes' (books 6 and 7 respectively) have both been awarded the 'Story Monster Approved Award' and were recently tied winners in 'The Royal Dragonfly Book Awards' again in America.

Thanks very much Sarah.

Connect with Sarah at Whimsy Wood or Twitter

Have you read any of the Whimsy Wood books or would you like to?

19 comments:

  1. A DREAM of a career break....what a courageous woman, to take a risk a quitting her steady paycheck while having children, and making her dream come true. And what charming stories! BRAVO FOR HER!!!!! And also, what a classic setting to live in from which she can draw inspiration. Oh Barbara, I wish her the best of success! Happy day dear friend, and thank you so much again for visiting my blog and Instagram!

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    1. Hello Anita, courageous indeed! I’m sure Sarah will be cheered by your good wishes.
      Happy day to you too and thank you for all the lovely blog posts and Instagram photos.

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  2. These are what I could have done with so many years ago. The completely abrupt break from pictures/pictures and words to simply words confused me. I'm sure many children welcomed these books.

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    1. I think you are absolutely right Roger. I missed those pictures too!

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  3. Fun interview. These look like cute stories (love the expression on Mr. Bilberry!) and it was interesting to learn about books from this unique publisher. Sarah sounds amazing to be able to fit so much into her busy life--best of luck to her!

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    1. Hello Marcia, I agree Mr. Bilberry is just great I laughed out loud when I saw that picture. What child wouldn’t love these very special stories?

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  4. Yes, I'd love to read Sarah's Whimsy Wood series! I'm a fan of the Faraway Tree series and have read (and enjoyed tremendously) the Brambly Hedge books. They are classy and so much fun. Sometimes a story just wouldn't let us be and it has to be written out. Now imagine writing 35 of them. Congratulations to Sarah for having done that (and still keeping on)!

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    1. Hello Claudine, I thought of you when Sarah offered to write this post they seemed like the kind of stories you would enjoy.

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  5. I was intrigued as soon as I saw the name Sarah Hill, as I had a friend at school called Sarah Hill. But it's not the same one. Big congratulations to THIS Sarah Hill on her enchanting books - I know just how difficult it is to get a publishing deal.

    I love the idea of using the seasons of the year as a framework, and the hidden proverb. I loved the 'What to look for in Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter' Ladybird books as a child and think that the changing flora and fauna of the woods throughout the year is a super idea as a backdrop to the stories.

    As well as the influences that Sarah mentions, I think there is a touch of 'Flower Fairies' and 'Pookie' there too!

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    1. I’m with you on that Sue – Flower Fairies and Pookie came to my mind too! Thank you for your kind words for Sarah, I’m sure she will appreciate them. Barbara

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  6. I thought I recognised the name. My friends stepdaughter has all of Sarah's books and loves them. Great post, thank you.

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    1. How lovely Tracy, I'm sure Sarah will be delighted to read that.

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  7. I love the title of the series and the stories sound like such fun! I don't believe I have ever read them, but I look forward to checking them out. :) Wishing Sarah the best of luck!

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    1. Hello Stephanie, I’m sure you will enjoy them. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. Barbara

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  8. These books sound adorable! Thanks for introducing us to Sarah and her stories. I wish her all the best!!

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  9. Hello again from hot and steamy North Qld in Australia! I now find that I am going to have to find these wonderful book treasures,and I am certain I shall enjoy every word all the more for having read this wonderful post! There are SO many fantabulous books out there for children,but when my son hit adulthood,I just rarely bought any more of the contemporary ones, as I resumed my lifelong hobby of collecting the old and antique ones!! Very remiss of me,I know,but I promise to correct my ways!!I do still have every book I have ever been given,or that I have ever bought,so SOME of these are not the really old variety!!
    Anyway,I am now very keen to discover Whimsy Wood and all its inhabitants as soon as possible!!! I know it shall be a most enjoyable journey for me. As I have myself been lucky enough to write Guest Posts,for this Blog,it is even more delightful for me to see a post such as this which really lets me get to know about Sarah and her works. Thank you Barbara,again for your generosity of spirit!!
    Cheerful smiles as always, Jules in Oz!!

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    1. Hello Julie, thank you so much for reading and commenting on this post. I’ve got quite a few contemporary children’s books on my shelves. Sometimes I just can’t resist them but at other times I buy them for our grandchildren and then don’t want to part with them so have to another copy for me! It’s the same with sticker books. I've just sent a couple out to Adelaide, but I so wanted to keep them! I don’t think I will ever grow up when it comes to books.
      Thank you Julie for always offering your love and support, it is truly appreciated. Barbara.

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  10. Hello Barbara, reading through about how Sarah wrote her Whimsy wood series of books I can relate to it. It is almost the way I work on my projects. :)
    Her books sound wonderful. I wish her the very best of luck with her writing.

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    1. Thanks Shashi I'm sure Sarah will be happy to hear from you.

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I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara xx

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