I never thought I would say this, but middle grade is a pretty awesome time. At that age kids have outgrown picture books and easy readers but aren’t yet mature enough for young adult topics. They are discovering themselves and what interests them, and they are ready for a little bit of adventure. As a middle grade author, you are inspiring young readers and helping develop their interest in reading more. So how does a middle grade author grab the attention of 8-12 year olds so that they will read their book?
You don’t . . . (well, not at first. Just hear me out.)
You grab the attention of their parents, guardians, librarians, and teachers. These are the gatekeepers, the ones who make the purchases, who are on social media, and who ultimately make decisions for your target reader.
Have an online presence
With that in mind you want to tailor your online presence to catch the gatekeeper's eye. Use your social media wisely, promote your book, but don’t ONLY promote your book. Teachers and librarians aren’t only focused on books, but also on bettering the community. There’s a 20/80 rule where an author should use their online presence 20% of the time to promote their book and 80% of the time offering useful content like writing tips for writers of all ages or sharing links that are helpful to teachers and librarians. Talk about your writing process and other things that they can share with their students that can inspire them to want to give writing a try. Have giveaways geared towards educators that will get your book into their hands. Who doesn’t love free stuff?! Also, pay attention and respond to comments by the teachers and librarians, this will help you to connect with them and can lead to more personal ways to promote your book.
Get out there!
Once you have connected with the gatekeepers, you now have the opportunity to connect directly with your readers!
School and library visits are a wonderful way to engage with MG students. This can be done virtually or in person, and it’s your opportunity to feel like a celebrity! Them getting to meet the person who ACTUALLY wrote and published a book can be very inspiring and this will make them want to read your book even more. When you do go to in-person events, have something to give away, like bookmarks or lapel pins, something that the student can take away and be reminded to read your book. Again, who doesn’t love free stuff?! It can be scary to speak publicly but it is such an effective marketing tool. If public speaking isn’t your thing, make videos that you can share with teachers to show their students. Just get yourself out there in some way shape or form.
Channel your inner Spielberg (or hire someone to be your Spielberg)
Speaking of videos, another great way to connect with your reader is to create a book trailer. Let’s face it, we are all visual creatures, especially at that age. A book trailer can be a fun way for the parents and other gatekeepers to show MG readers how exciting your book is and pique their interest.
Just Be Yourself
Finally, just remember to have fun! Kids are very honest critics and they can tell when you are not in your comfort zone. You want to be authentic. If sprinkling jokes in here and there isn’t your thing, have some interactive games for the kids to take part in. Do what makes you feel comfortable, this will build trust between you and your potential reader.
by Michael Hardison
Christina Kann 00:24
Welcome to How Do I Book? by Wildling Press. We like to chat about book writing, book publishing, book marketing, and, of course, book reading. We're trying to help new and experienced authors develop their craft, widen their perspectives, and learn to get a little wild every once in a while. I'm Christina.
Grace Ball 00:41
Christina Kann 00:43
We are so excited because we have a very special guest with us today: Lucy Holland, author of Sistersong and the Worldmaker trilogy, host of Breaking the Glass Slipper, an intersectional feminist podcast celebrating women in genre fiction, and a pretty freakin cool person. Lucy, welcome to the show.
Lucy Holland 01:03
Thank you! That makes me seem cooler than I actually am. I'm really happy to be here.
Christina Kann 01:09
I just read facts. That's exactly how cool you are.
Lucy Holland 01:13
Well, thank you. It's really nice to be here, too.
Christina Kann 01:16
We are so excited to have you here. Before we move any further, please tell the listeners your pronouns.
Lucy Holland 01:22
She or her.
Christina Kann 01:24
Awesome. Thank you so much. We invited you on this podcast because last year, Grace and I both read Sistersong. Not to fan girl too hard, but I read 100 books last year, and it was my favorite book of the year.
Lucy Holland 01:43
Oh, wow. Okay! Thank you very much.
Christina Kann 01:49
I'll just let you tell the listeners a little bit about Sistersong, in case they haven't read it.
Lucy Holland 01:55
Sistersong is a reimagining of an old English murder ballad called "The Twa Sisters." It is also called "Bonny Swans," "Binnorie"; it has many names. It is basically the story of sibling rivalry. Two sisters fight over a man in the ballad. The older one kills the younger one, and the younger one gets made into a harp. It's usually a harp; sometimes she turns into a swan. But the version of the ballad that I heard first was when the sister gets made into a harp. That intrigued me so much that I wanted to do a retelling of it. So my retelling is set in sixth-century Britain. It restores and resituates the history of the stories of women in the period. At the same time as retelling the ballad, I thought it would be a really great opportunity to look at women in the period, and also marginalized identities in the period as well.
Christina Kann 02:56
It does such a wonderful job of all of those things. We read it with a book club that we're both a part of, and someone did share that legend. I'm the person where, when I'm reading, I can really turn off my critical brain. I'm just like, "Wow, what a cool story!" But other people were like, "This seems like it's based on something." But they were sure to say, "Don't read this if you don't want any spoilers." Reading the myth and then reading your story was a really cool thing.
Grace Ball 03:24
Yeah, I went into it in a similar way as you did, Christina. I'd never heard the myth or the ballad or anything. So I was along for the ride. Let me tell you, I had no idea what was coming.
Christina Kann 03:35
And what a ride it truly is. Yeah, it can be a bit of a shock if you're not expecting the -- the "thing." Read the book to learn more about what we're talking about.
Grace Ball 03:55
Lucy, you mentioned that you'd heard the ballad and the myth, but what actually inspired you about the ballad so much that you wanted to write this book?
Lucy Holland 04:06
I heard the ballad first by Loreena McKennitt, who is one of my favorite artists singers.
Christina Kann 04:13
Oh my gosh. I know her!
Lucy Holland 04:19
Wow, fangirl moment!
Christina Kann 04:23
Oh my god. Yes. I've watched her live concerts or whatever, her concerts on streaming. I love that so much.
Lucy Holland 04:32
I love meeting Loreena fans as well.
Christina Kann 04:34
She has Celtic Women energy, you know, like, very ethereal and timeless. I don't know. You'll just have to check it out for yourself.
Lucy Holland 04:50
I love Loreena's music and her version of "The Twa Sisters," which is called "The Bonny Swans." It's my favorite rendition of the ballad, and I've listened to quite a lot of them. There are many, many good versions out there. But Loreena's remains my favorite. I first heard it about, gosh, getting on for 10 years ago now. My colleague at work brought Loreena in one day and played it to me. From the first moment I heard it, I was intrigued by the weirdness of the story. The sibling rivalry is not weird; we see this quite a lot, especially jealous women. We often see tensions between siblings in ballads, but not at this extra level, which is this girl being dismembered and then made into a musical instrument. In the ballad, I just thought that was such a weird image, and also a powerful image, this heart that is made of bone that sings the story of what happened to her and condemns her sister. I just thought that was so so weird. But at the same time, because it is, after all, just a ballad, we don't really get a good idea of who these women were. We have no idea what really motivated them. They've become very stereotypical. On one hand, we have the evil older sister who is jealous and lustful and scheming. And on the other hand, we have the younger, chaste, virginal, innocent victim. And these two very different roles, our women often have to play them. We see them a lot in traditional folk ballads and throughout stories. It's why it's one of the reasons why I feel like women's stories are important, because we just don't get to hear them actually speak authentically. They all too often fall into these very broad, very tropey, very stereotypical roles. So I wanted to get behind the ballad and find out what really happened.
Christina Kann 07:01
And you did a wonderful job! Teading this, I felt so much for Riva the whole time. I didn't necessarily support her actions, her positions, but I really understood where she was coming from. And Sinne as well. It is pronounced like that? "Sinnuh"?
Lucy Holland 07:17
I mean, you can pronounce it however. I just made it up. It was the one name in the book that I literally made up.
Christina Kann 07:28
Sistersong has three siblings in it. Is the eldest sibling part of the original ballad?
Lucy Holland 07:38
In lots of versions of the ballad, there are two sisters. And it is called "The Twa Sisters," two sisters. Loreena's version was, I think, adapted from James Child, who was a folklorist in the Victorian age. He collected about 10 or 11 variations of the same ballad. But a couple of those variations have a third sibling in there. This third sibling is mentioned in the first verse, and then totally disappears from the rest of the story. This was another one of the reasons why I wanted to retell or reimagine the ballad: I was so intrigued as to why there was a third sibling, and they just didn't do anything, and they didn't feature in the story. That was fascinating. I will talk about this a bit later, but it was the idea of erasure, and how some people are erased from history, and why are they erased from history? What was it about their identities that the dominant narrative has overridden? So that is a really big part of Sistersong as well.
Christina Kann 08:46
How did you conduct your research? I know that you said you read like, a million different versions of this ballad, but what other kind of worldbuilding research did you do for this?
Lucy Holland 08:56
My first idea was to write it as a secondary-world fantasy novel, which is where I came from, because I've also written epic fantasy. And then I felt like I wanted to grow a bit as a writer, and I also thought it might be really interesting to choose a real time period in which to set the story. But I obviously hadn't decided which one that would be. I don't even know how it happened. I just got really interested in very early medieval Britain. The great thing about this time period is that there's not a lot of information about it, which can be a boon because it means you can slot your story in there.
Christina Kann 09:45
Right, it's hard for historians, but it's good for writers.
Lucy Holland 09:49
Exactly. Once I'd settled on the period, I started doing research. The internet is an amazing, amazing resource, particularly things like local archaeology sites by amateur archaeologists. Sistersong is set right here where I live in Sidmouth in Devon. So it's set really right here, and in Dunbriga, which is the main settlement in Sistersong, where all the siblings live. That was inspired by, about a mile and a half from my house, up on Peak Hill, they discovered the remains of the Neolithic settlement. On top of the Neolithic settlement were sub-Roman remains, which date exactly to the time when Sistersong is set. So conceivably, there could have been a Dumnoni settlement up there. The Dumnoni tribe controlled this area of Devon in the sixth century AD, and they were kind of itinerant; they moved their capital around the area, and this conceivably could have been one of the places that they had their capital. So I was really interested.
Christina Kann 10:59
That's so cool! And you can just walk there easily in like under an hour. Oh, my God, that is so cool. I have chills right now.
Grace Ball 11:12
Lucy Holland 11:13
So that was part of my research. I went up there and stood on the hill. And there's nothing there. It's just a hill. And there's a bit of information. But I had a look at the cliffs. You're right on the cliffs. On one side, you're looking out across the ocean. And the other side, it's forest and fields. And I just went up there, I came back down, and I did some stream-of-consciousness writing to try and get the feel of what this location was like at the edge of the world, because that's kind of what it feels like for the characters.
Christina Kann 11:45
Oh my god. Wow. So cool.
Grace Ball 11:49
So you're obviously very versed in the fantasy genre. So what's the importance of the fantasy elements in Sistersong?
Lucy Holland 12:00
The magic in the book is chiefly the means of articulating one of the central narrative tensions, which is the conflict between Christianity and the established paganism of the native Britons. That came slightly later in the novel process, and it really came from me reading about Gildas. Gildas is pretty much one of the only contemporary sources we have from this period. His treatise on the ruin and conquest of Britain is not so much a history as a rant. He's very angry, angry man, and he rants a lot about the state of Britain, how the Saxons are the natives' punishment for not being very pious and not embracing Christianity as they should. He had a very big rant about Constantine, one of the British kings, as well as another four British kings. In fact, he devotes one entire half of this tract to insulting them and calling them all sorts of names. I thought he would make a great character because of that.
Christina Kann 13:24
He probably didn't realize how much he was discrediting himself by being so violently opinionated.
Lucy Holland 13:31
So opinionated! I'm sorry, Gildas, you're 1500 years dead, but you're a character now. The other part of the magic was also a vehicle to illustrate the bond between the king and the land, which is another really big theme in Sistersong. Obviously, it showed the disastrous consequences of forsaking the bond we have with the land. A reader pointed out to me later -- and this shows how everything is subconscious -- they were like, "Oh, it's more relevant than ever," because we live in the era of climate change, where humans are basically shitting all over the world in which we live, which nourishes us. This is more relevant than ever, that we recover what was lost. I feel like it's very important to remember that we are the world and the world is us; we come from the world, and we come from the Earth, and to the Earth we return, and that kind of cyclical nature.
Paganism includes the idea of living as one with the seasons -- like the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth itself. These elements were so important to the native Britons, early practitioners of paganism, across a whole region. That was really, really intriguing for me to dig into too, and that again feeds into the encroaching Christianity and how that was not always a good thing. People who preached Christianity thought they were saving the natives. And native Britons were like, "Well, hang on a second! We've already got our own beliefs." And they possibly didn't sit very well together.
Christina Kann 15:24
That kind of answered our next question about how you balance fantasy with historical facts. It seems like a lot of the fantasy came from things that were inspired or directly connected to historical facts. Do you have anything else to add to that?
Lucy Holland 15:38
The facts are so scarce or contradictory. As I mentioned before, it's a really interesting period to set a story in. This carries over with the rest of my work that I'm still doing with this time period. I'm really interested in the line where history becomes myth, and you can't begin to distinguish between the two of them. A perfect example of this is the Arthurian legend. This time period is basically squarely in Arthur's time. I was quite careful not to belabor anything, because the Arthurian myth is so powerful, if you let it into your story, it can overtake what you want to say. So I was quite careful not to make too many references to that. But the Legend of Arthur is so powerful that multiple nations have adopted it as part of their country's cultural narrative. That began with Geoffrey of Monmouth in this country, and but it's amazing how powerful it became.
This is a little like mini anecdote. I went to Glastonbury Abbey a few months ago to do some research. The history of the abbey is really interesting. At one point in the 12th century, I think, there was a big disaster, some of the abbey crumbled, and they ran out of money. And amazingly, soon after that, the monks were digging in the gardens, and they unearthed these amazing skeletons. And the skeleton was a grant of a grand man and a beautiful -- well, as much as a skeleton can be beautiful -- and delicate skeleton lying beside him. They decided that these were obviously the bones of Arthur and Guinevere themselves, lying in Glastonbury all this time, amazingly! These people have no proof that they actually lived. They're mostly just a folk story. But it was such a big deal that the bones were removed, and they were reburied in this lavish ceremony that Edward I came and attended in the beginning of like the 1300s or so. Obviously the abbey needed money, and lots of people came and donated money. The fact is that the Arthurian legend is not history, it's not fact. But it's so strong and so powerful. People want to believe it. It's part of the fabric of Britain now.
Christina Kann 18:19
I think most cultures have those stories that are not proven or patently false. I'm thinking about here in America, some of the super false historical narratives we get taught in elementary school.
Grace Ball 18:34
Yeah, absolutely. Getting to the actual characters in the book, how did you conceptualize the three siblings? How are their similarities and differences important?
Lucy Holland 18:49
With Riva and Sinna, who are the sisters -- the two sisters of the ballad title -- I began by using their basic characters, just how are they described in the ballad, identified those traits, and then explored why each sister might have those traits. This is all part of trying to make them less stereotypical. You know, there's always two -- or in this case, three -- sides to every story. For example, the bitterness in Riva; she is described as bitter in some of the ballads, she's jealous. There's obviously a darkness in her, and I wanted to think about that and how it could be more nuanced. And Riva had a really tough hand. She had a terrible accident when she was young. It's left her with disabilities, and she's shunned in some respects by the people around her. They don't like how she looks, how her injuries have made her look. They've made her feel like she's not ascribing to the perfection that a young princess has to ascribe to. I thought that there's got to be a reason for this seed of this jealousy. Where did it come from? And with her, I thought, it's got to come from somewhere.
Christina Kann 20:32
Very real trauma.
Lucy Holland 20:34
I mean, it's physical trauma, and then it's mental trauma and emotional trauma from having to live in a society with such strict gender roles and assumptions about how women should look and what women should do. And then on the other side, we have the innocence of Sinna, who is the younger sister, who is always described as the wronged character, the victim. She didn't do anything wrong, her only crime is to be beautiful, all of this stuff. For me, that ended up becoming the immaturity of a slightly spoiled child, who was the youngest, she'd been given everything she always wanted. She didn't have Riva's problems and her difficulties. She chafes against -- like all the siblings do -- they chafe against the rules of their society and the bones of the cage that they're locked in.
Christina Kann 21:31
So to speak.
Lucy Holland 21:35
Yeah, so that's where I began with that, trying to dig down past, "You're lustful and jealous; you're chaste and innocent." I wanted to find out what traits those actually were, where they came from. For Keyne -- or Constantin --
Christina Kann 22:04
We've been ducking around his character because I don't want to spoil anything, but he makes it pretty clear on like, page three that he is trans. There's not really ever any question about it. So it's not really a spoiler.
Lucy Holland 22:19
No, no. And Sistersong was published in the UK in April 2021. My God, almost two years ago.
Christina Kann 22:29
Lucy Holland 22:30
I just don't know where the time has gone. Yeah, I'm just gonna call him Constantine. Hey, spoiler, Constantine is his name by the end of the story. Constantin is a little bit more complicated, because this is the person who was missing from the ballad. And it's a difficult one, because a lot of people say that he is the main character of Sistersong.
Christina Kann 23:09
I totally agree.
Lucy Holland 23:10
Yeah, I would agree as well. But the irony is that he's still invisible in the ballad, because the ballad is a binary song. It's actually a horrible song that I do recreate in Sistersong. It is a horrible song. And it doesn't tell the truth. It's literally just about a murder. It's not fair. It doesn't portray either of the women in truthful, or at least in three dimensional, terms.
I wanted to echo the fact that Constantin is not part of that. He belongs to a better world, a world that is forward thinking, forward looking, that is embracing every different identity. It's not prescribing to people all the roles that we should play when we're just children. It was a journey of discovery, because I'm cisgender. I don't share Constantine's life experience. So it was a journey getting to know him and figuring out how I could tell his story. I did my own bits of research for that. I have a couple of friends who were very, very helpful early on in the book, and he was so kind to share their insights. My sensitivity reader, she's wonderful. She's a transgender historian. I learned an absolute ton. Some of the transgender history in the book wouldn't be the same without her insights. So I was so lucky to find her and so so happy that she agreed to sensitivity read for me.
But yeah, I suppose, obviously, Constantine was my favorite character to write, because it's wonderful, right? It's wonderful writing any sort of human being who discovers themselves and blossoms and fights and achieves what we all deserve, which is to be ourselves and to be recognized as who we are and lauded and respected for who we are. So that was very close to my heart. It was really wonderful to go along the journey with him.
Christina Kann 25:28
During his story, particularly in the third act, I was just weeping. I was nannying when I was reading it, and I was like, "I hope they don't come home and find me just like blathering on their couch." Because it's hard to explain to people who don't read, "Sorry, this book is just really affecting me right now."
Lucy Holland 25:50
Thank you. The extra theme running through the whole book is that it's the power of stories. The fact that we like to tell stories, and stories have a life of their own. They outlive us by thousands of years, and they always will. But, you know, their stories have power. And it depends who's telling the story, as to what survives throughout the years. It's really important to reclaim our stories. It's important for women to reclaim their stories. It's important for marginalized people to say, "We lived in this time period. We have always been here." Kameron Hurley's essay "We Have Always Fought," I love it. I love "We Have Always Fought," this idea that women have always been warriors. We've been here. It's only the dominant narrative has overridden the roles and the very existence of people who've always existed. So that idea of reclaiming stories, reclaiming identities, reclaiming the truth of ourselves in the world is at the heart of Sistersong.
Christina Kann 27:08
Amazing. So is Constantine your favorite of the three siblings in this book?
Lucy Holland 27:15
I mean, it would be a lie to say no. He's definitely my favorite. But because I feel like she she's probably the least liked of the siblings, I always like to give a shoutout for Riva, because she is dealt a really tough hand. And like Constantine, she really struggles with being different in a very unaccepting and intolerant world. And she chooses to defy tradition. She trusts her instincts. And even though everyone tells her that those instincts are monstrous, she sees it through. She sees her choices through to the end, and that takes integrity. And it takes self belief. So I feel like giving her a bit of a shoutout.
Grace Ball 28:09
Christina Kann 28:11
She follows through on her choices way farther than I would ever have a dreamed. That was very shocking. No spoilers, but the end of her story really shocked me, which is cool. I love when a book just really catches me by surprise.
Grace Ball 28:31
So on the flip side of your favorite characters, which character did you hate the most?
Lucy Holland 28:39
It would be easy to say Gildas, but I think he's a love-to-hate character. I so enjoyed writing him. I loved coming up with the image of him gliding around as a kind of carrion bird. I thought he was actually really enjoyable to develop as a character because he's so he's such a great antagonist and a great foil to Myrdhin. They kind of play off one against the other.
Grace Ball 29:16
I liked that dynamic a lot.
Lucy Holland 29:18
They were great rivals across the board. I don't know. I actually think the most horrible characters are like the kings and lords who are just so intolerant. Even when Constantine is standing in front of them saying, "I am king. It's my right. I am your lord. I'm going to give my all to preserve our people's lives and our traditions," they're still going, "This is wrong. You're a woman," and trotting out that level of ignorance is in a way more dangerous than Gildas's active defiance. In a way is a defiant ignorance. "No, this is the way it's always been, and I'm continued going to continue to behave like you don't exist and you haven't changed anything." Unfortunately, it's that kind of character that we see a lot in the people around us. It's a really horrible thing to say, but you know, they're out there. They're exemplified by those lords who cling to what they know.
Christina Kann 30:41
Yeah, I think for similar reasons, I also had a really hard time with the mom. The unwillingness. You're making changes in the wrong direction with this Christianity thing, girl. Come on.
Lucy Holland 30:58
She's not a lovable mom. Definitely not a lovable mom.
Christina Kann 31:04
Yeah, she's cold. And that one scene with Constantine and the clothes was awful.
Lucy Holland 31:10
Yeah, that was not a nice scene to write.
Christina Kann 31:13
Lucy Holland 31:15
That was really an unpleasant scene. I think I actually ended up toning it down slightly. I think the first version was just a bit worse. It was physically painful for me to write this. I think I made her a bit more sympathetic as well, in the sense that she knows she's done wrong. She knows what she's done is wrong, and I'm not sure if she was quite so sympathetic before then. But I thought it was important to know that she has this internal struggle, that there is a voice in her saying, "I don't think what you're doing is a good thing." That was important to have, because I think every character has to have a little degree of sympathy and also a bit of nuance. But ultimately, she is a headstrong person who sticks to her beliefs to the detriment of those around her.
Christina Kann 32:14
Yeah, absolutely. You touched on this earlier, but I definitely want to drive this home considering that this is Women's History Month. Why is writing history from women's perspectives important?
Lucy Holland 32:26
I mentioned the need to challenge the dominant narrative already is really important. We're going through this amazing, like, a renaissance. It's this wonderful movement with reclamation of women's voices in established epics, stories, we think we know. I know everyone's doing Greek myth at the moment, and actually, it's almost too much.
Christina Kann 32:56
Um, yes. We've read Ariadne, Circe. I know there's more than just those two, but those are the two that come to mind.
Lucy Holland 33:06
Yeah, there's like a dozen Persephone retellings, Medusa.
Christina Kann 33:10
People are very into the Persephone/Hades as like a sexy thing right now. There's a lot of it, but I'm still down.
Lucy Holland 33:20
I'm a massive Hadestown fan. So yeah, I'm really into that. But yeah, women's stories. Yeah, it's great. This is happening. It's really, really wonderful to see. And I think it's very important to say, "Hang on a second. Women are present in all of these stories." Like Penelope, Odysseus's wife, is obviously a named part. But in the original Odyssey, what does she do, but remain as a shadow figure far away? And when we do get to meet her, she's not had the best of times. She's never given any kind of chance to say what's actually been happening from her point of view.
Christina Kann 34:04
If you think about the strength she must have had all that time, not knowing anything about her husband. And the tapestry! Isn't it that she unravels every night to try and keep the suitors at bay?
Lucy Holland 34:18
It's like Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights.
Christina Kann 34:24
It's like exactly like One Thousand and One Nights!
Lucy Holland 34:26
Yeah, she's obviously very clever. She's come up with this plan, but it's awful because it's also a plan born of desperation, because her husband's off somewhere and might never return. I love that we're getting these stories. I love that these these women are like, "Hang on a second. We've always been here." It's not only important, but it's also extremely entertaining and vital. I just love reading their stories. It's not just like, "This is something that must be done so we can have a broad understanding of women's stories." They are exciting stories. I want to see women on the page; I want to see mothers especially on the page. Mothers have always been a group of people who are unfairly dismissed in so many great mythological tales. Grendel's mother from Beowulf is a wonderful character, but does she have any time to shine? She almost defeats Beowulf himself, and this is the great undefeatable warrior. And in the end, she's just slaughtered, so it's kind of frustrating. But here was a great character; you could have done so much more with her.
Grace Ball 35:51
Do you have any advice for people who are interested in writing historical fiction?
Lucy Holland 35:58
I suppose I'd say read some historical fiction.
Grace Ball 36:02
That's a great start.
Christina Kann 36:03
That is a very good start.
Lucy Holland 36:04
I don't actually read that much historical fiction. I know it's bad. I should read more historical fiction. I tend to read a lot of speculative fiction, because it's my genre. Breaking the Glass Slipper is mostly focused on women in speculative fiction. It's interesting, because I'm trying to develop a workshop at the moment that looks at cross genre writing, specifically historical fiction and fantasy, and how to weave these two genres together, and how they complement each other. So it's difficult to talk about advice for specifically historical fiction.
I think the exciting stuff that I've watched and things that have excited me is like looking into my local area. Wikipedia gives quite a broad sweep of what's been going on, but you don't really get the interesting details that you get on a local historical level, things like visiting the Abbey and hearing the stories about Gweneviere and Arthur; finding out that Peak Hill, a mile from my house, had a settlement there. You can't, say, type in "sub-Roman Britain" and Google will say, "Oh, there was a sub-Roman British settlement in Devon!" You just can't find out that sort of stuff on these broad Google searches. Rather than starting from a very broad place, how about you start from a very narrow place and expand outward? Because I learned a lot about the Saxon invasion just from focusing on how Devon changed how Dumnonia, this area where I live right now, how it evolved from the departure of the Romans, through to the invasion of the Saxons, and that really turbulent liminal period. It was vying for power; it was also the birth of the country. But all of that came from a very local angle. What was happening right here, where I live on this soil? What impressions have those kind of cataclysmic events left behind? I feel like that's a nice way to get into it.
Christina Kann 36:27
Yeah, that's awesome. Probably makes the story you're telling so much more important to you because it hits close to home. It super literally does. I guess that's where the expression comes from. Is there anything else you'd like to say about Sistersong or about women's history in fiction in general?
Lucy Holland 39:08
I feel like I've talked for ages. I feel like I've covered quite a lot of what I wanted to say. It is a serious book, I suppose it is a serious book. But I also hope that it's -- I hate to use the word "entertaining," but it also is a fun story to read. It's got characters you come to care about and maybe leads some people to have a Wikipedia page open at the same time and learn a little bit about history as you go along. That's the best thing, when you open a book and you're like, "Oh my god, this is made me interested to find out what else was going on at the time because I didn't know anything!" That's a wonderful thing when you can enjoy a book but it also makes you think about like the wider concerns.
Grace Ball 40:00
A bit of a selfish question. Are you working on any other book projects right now that we can be looking out for? Because we definitely are.
Lucy Holland 40:12
The next book is waiting to be edited. Actually, it's taken me two years to write it. It's been through a rewrite. And I'm now waiting on the verdict. So let's hope it's -- fingers crossed -- a bit more book-shaped than it was the first time. Don't ever say you can write a book in seven months. Especially when you only have a 50-word concept. You haven't sat down and asked yourself, what do you really want to do with that concept?
Christina Kann 40:51
Writing a book idea and writing a book could not be more different things.
Lucy Holland 40:55
Yeah. It's very different. And it's been the most challenging thing I've ever written. Sistersong benefited from a lot of fallow time, because I couldn't write Sistersong when I first had the idea for Sistersong. I was working on my trilogy.
Christina Kann 41:12
Lucy Holland 41:15
Yeah, it sat on the back burner for four years or so, and I never forgot about it. But I think that time allowed me to mature as a writer, so by the time I started writing Sistersong, I had the skills to write it, which I wouldn't have had before.
Christina Kann 41:32
Oh, my god, that's so cool.
Lucy Holland 41:34
It is really interesting, especially in the context of my struggles with writing a loose followup. It's had no time. You know, the thing about publishing and the capitalist world in which we live: you feel like, "I've got to be relevant, I've got to keep writing fast, I've got to produce another book." But art doesn't really work like that. And ideas don't work like that. And a lot of thet really good stuff comes from just lying fallow in the back of your mind for an interminable amount of time -- not necessarily very long, but longer than I thought I could write the book in. But it's okay!
Grace Ball 42:22
You just take your time. We'll be here. Okay?
Lucy Holland 42:26
It's coming out next year. It should be here around spring, this time next year, in the US as well as in the UK. I think they're going to be out at the same time. It's called Song of the Huntress. You can read about it on Goodreads. That's the most up-to-date place. I've seen the UK cover. It's amazing. I can't share it yet because it's not finished. They're still tweaking, but it's an amazing, amazing cover. And it retells the story of the Wild Hunt which is a motif that lots of people have probably heard of. The story is just really really fascinating. Actually, because you've read Sistersong, you'll know that Constantine tells the story of Herla and the Wild Hunt in as a mini story.
Christina Kann 43:16
Oh my God. Constantine knew what was gonna happen next all along.
Grace Ball 43:22
We should have known
Lucy Holland 43:24
Actually, that was what gave me the idea. I was retelling the story as Constantin was telling it, and I was like, "This would make a great novel. Maybe I should do this next!"
Christina Kann 43:34
Thanks for the idea, Constantine! Right, I've read a couple of different books about that. It never goes well.
Lucy Holland 43:35
I did do it next. But my my King Herla is not an old British king. My King Herla -- she's actually a woman, for starters. She's an Iceni war chief fighting against the Romans. She's the lover of Boudicca. Yeah, she makes a pact with the king of the other world, which you should never do! You should never make pacts with the fae! It does not go well. You get cursed, and you become the Wild Hunt, and you have to ride eternally reaping souls.
Grace Ball 44:17
Tale as old as time.
Lucy Holland 44:18
So if you don't want to become an immortal reaper, don't do that. Yeah, I love the story of Herla. I love the story of the Wild Hunt, the incarnation of the Wild Hunt, and all of the mythology that goes along with it. And I also wanted to write another historical novel, so this one is even more historical than Sistersong. I think if I redid it -- I wouldn't want to -- but I would want more history. There's few things, a few mistakes I made. I'm a bit better informed now about the period and how things worked. And this this book is set in around 705 AD, so about 175, 180 years after Sistersong, but it's in the same world. If you've read Sistersong, there'll be some Easter eggs in there. The biggest easter egg is that one of the main characters is the direct descendant of Riva.
Christina Kann 45:25
Ah, that's very exciting.
Grace Ball 45:27
I'm really excited.
Christina Kann 45:28
I can't wait to read that. That's amazing. Awesome. Are you reading anything yourself lately that you're excited about?
Lucy Holland 45:35
I am reading this book! *shows in Zoom* It's Sam Shannon's book. It's the prequel to The Priory of the Orange Tree.
Christina Kann 45:51
The cover has a similar tone.
Lucy Holland 45:56
Have you seen how long it is?
Grace Ball 45:57
Wow. That's a chonk.
Christina Kann 45:59
That's like Order of the Phoenix. That's a chunky one.
Lucy Holland 46:03
It's so impossible to read when you're lying in bed.
Grace Ball 46:10
Christina Kann 46:11
Drop it on your face. Knock yourself unconscious.
Lucy Holland 46:15
It's really good. I'm really enjoying it. I'm interviewing Samantha Shannon, the author, in a week's time in Cornwall. I think she is in the US at the moment doing her US leg of the tour for the book, but I'm gonna meet up with her in Cornwall, so I get to talk to her about it. It's really good. It's really good.
Christina Kann 46:36
I'm excited for you. Because, you know, it's fun to meet the authors you love.
Grace Ball 46:41
Yeah. We're doing it! It's happening right now.
Lucy Holland 46:43
That's very sweet.
Christina Kann 46:46
Lucy, where can people find you on the internet if they want to connect with you?
Lucy Holland 46:50
I am on Instagram mostly. That's my platform of choice. I am on Twitter as well, which is now less my platform of choice. I'm the same handle. I'm @silvanhistorian. "Sylvan" with an I, not a Y, because some other person stole the Y. So I'm @silvanhistorian everywhere. I have a Patreon if you like my work so much that you'd like to pay me some money to carry on writing every month. I post extra stuff about the books and behind the scenes things and research. So if you're into that, then check out my Patreon.
Christina Kann 47:39
Lucy, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. It's been a delightful conversation.
Lucy Holland 47:47
Oh, it's been so fun. I don't get to talk about Sistersong as much as I did a year ago, so it's lovely to carry on revisiting the book.
Christina Kann 47:56
I just love that throughout this conversation, we've been able to really feel your passion, and that's really awesome, having read it and felt the passion through the words and you obviously put so much of yourself into it. Thank you for writing it.
Grace Ball 48:09
Lucy Holland 48:10
Thank you for reading it!
Christina Kann 48:14
And that's how you book.
The difference between the middle-grade and young adult book categories may seem obvious—one’s for younger kids and one’s for older kids . . . duh! Well, that explanation is a bit reductive because there are loads more things to consider, but it’s also not even incredibly true given the fact that I know plenty of thirty-somethings who read books in both categories (raises hand). Really, the categories exist for folks like us, publishers, who are desperately trying to get books into the hands of a target audience, and people with children who want to make sure their kids are reading at what they deem to be an appropriate level. Slapping a label like middle-grade or young adult on a book makes it infinitely easier to market and infinitely easier to pick up for readers. So, what might you expect to see in a book placed in the middle-grade category and what might you expect from a book labeled as young adult?
The first detail people generally look to when determining which age category is most appropriate for a book is the main character’s age. How old is your protagonist? Oftentimes, young readers want to read about characters who are just slightly older than they are, so for a middle-grade book, you’re looking at characters anywhere between ten and thirteen years old; and for a young adult book, the characters are typically between fourteen and twenty-two. But the differences don’t stop there! Let’s break it down even further.
If you’re writing a middle-grade or young adult book, we hope these guidelines will help you figure out where your book might fit best, and if you’re reading a book in either category . . . have fun! They’re two of our favorites!
written by Grace Ball
March 8 is National Proofreading Day!
Edit, proofread, revise, beta read—there are so many different terms for the act of reviewing a manuscript, and they’re all connected in some way. But proofreading is the easiest to define, and it’s the one thing people should do out in the real world, in emails and other correspondences, rather than just within the realm of their manuscript. So what is proofreading? And why is it so important?
What is a proofread?
A proofread is a cursory review of any written document in which the reviewer is looking for any glaring errors, like spelling, grammar, and mechanical issues.
A proofread does not involve comments about plot, character, or theme (that’s developmental editing or beta reading).
A proofread does not involve recommendations for smoother, clearer language, tone, voice, or concision (that’s line editing).
A proofread is merely meant to correct small and objective errors like misspelled words, dropped commas, incorrectly formatted ellipses . . . and so on.
When does a proofread occur in a book’s production process?
No matter when or what kind of proofreading you’re doing, it’s almost always the final step.
When you’re building a book, the proofread occurs last, after all the other editorial steps mentioned above. After the developmental edit, after the rounds of line and copy editing, after the book is “done”—that’s the right time to conduct a proofread. The point of the proofread is to catch lingering glaring errors, so you wouldn’t want to keep messing with the manuscript after. In the odd case that bigger work does need to be done on a manuscript after its proofread, it’s a good idea to get a second proofread.
A proofread might also be conducted on your book after the printer’s proof has been printed. A printer’s proof is one single copy of your book that the printer provides so you can ensure the book looks the same in real life as you thought it would based on the computer files. Because this is a new way of looking at your book, a proofread is advised. There may be some errors in your book that didn’t stand out on the computer, but in print they may be more obvious.
Who conducts a proofread during a book’s production process?
It’s a good idea to let a fresh set of eyes proofread your book. If you’ve been working with one editor through the developmental, line, and copy edits, you won’t want that same editor proofreading your book. Why? If the editor has already missed this error once or more, the odds are good that they’ll miss it again on the proofread.
Often, your publisher will ask a new editor, one you haven’t worked closely with, ideally one who has never read your manuscript before, to proofread it. If they’ve never read your manuscript before, they have no expectations of it, and therefore they’ll be able to catch glaring errors more readily.
Where does proofreading happen outside of a book?
This is really important! Proofreading isn’t just for writers. When you write an email to a friend or a coworker, when you draft language for your kid’s school bake sale flier, when you write a report—when you write anything, ever, that matters at all—you should proofread your own work.
This isn’t hard or time-consuming! All this means is that you should read through what you’ve just written before smashing that “send” button. What if you typed something wrong? What if the computer flagged a misspelled word for you to review? What if you phrased something super weird, and simply reading it back could help you realize there’s a much clearer way to say it?
Proofread your own work, always. You owe it to the other people around you to make your correspondence easy to digest, and you owe it to yourself to come across as smart and thorough.
How Do I Book?
We'll try to find the answer to that question in our blog.