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Tracy's Hot Mail, Trevor's hilarious book for adults of all ages
MY INTERVIEW WITH TREVOR BELSHAW
Married with two grown-up kids and two springer spaniels, my guest today is a British author of numerous books for children and lives in a village in Nottinghamshire… which might explain why he’s a fanatical supporter of Nottingham Forest Football Club. There has to be one!
His books are all humorous, verging on funny, and they are all for children… of any age. His Stanley Stickle and Magic Molly (probably named after one of his Springer Spaniels) books are a treat to read and it’s great to welcome their author Trevor Belshaw as my guest today.
Trevor, firstly many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. We exchange comments on Facebook, frequently on football, but tonight I want to find out something about the man behind the profile photo. Nervous?
Thanks for inviting me. I’m always nervous when people ask me questions, especially when the person asking the question is wearing a policeman’s uniform.
Sorry, I’ll take it off! Tell me, how did you get into writing and what was your first book about (published, or not!)?
I’ve always had an ambition to be a writer. I longed to own a typewriter. I saw myself hunched over it, a basket full of screwed up paper at my side, an empty whisky bottle on the desk and a cigarette permanently hanging from my lips. It’s a strange vision for a ten year old I have to admit.
The dream was never fulfilled. I gave up smoking long before I became an author, I never did develop a taste for whisky and sadly, the waste paper bin is full of old newspapers, not my alcohol induced imaginings. I never did get the typewriter. By the time I could actually afford to buy one they had been superseded by computer programs. I still think about picking one up at a car boot sale, even if it’s just to stick on the desk to look at when I’m struggling for motivation.
In my childhood I was a voracious reader. If it had words then I’d read it; the content didn’t matter too much. I devoured everything: Just William, Paddington, Swallows and Amazons, The Famous Five. I remember reading an old book called The Bell Family that I found on a rubbish tip. The pages were damp and smelly but I dried it out and read it. I’d have a go at anything from A Tale of Two Cities to Woman’s Own. I even read the ingredients list on the cornflakes packet at breakfast. Mum’s women’s magazines were a mine of information to a ten year old. I remember reading about monthly periods when women could get a little testy. I worked out that our mum must have had weekly periods as she got testy regularly. I’ve since worked out that her testiness was more likely to have been caused by having five kids under her feet than any biological reason.
I used to write silly plays with my brothers which we performed in front of our long suffering parent’s on Sunday evenings. My sister was in a pram and too young to take part. I wrote a lot of stories back then, mostly about spaceships and aliens. The aliens always had two heads and sharp teeth for some reason. One alien used to eat spaceships for lunch so my spaceman hero painted the ship with Marmite. In my late teens I wrote a bit of poetry which I shared with my flatmates. I received little in the way of positive feedback and even less by way of encouragement, so I decided that the world wasn’t quite ready for me and reluctantly gave it up.
I wrote my first novel in the early 1990s. It was a fantasy story with a Narnia-like theme. The lead characters entered the magic land via an ancient, oak tree. They came back to their own land via a creepy old house on the hill where the old hag with a big nose and warty face lived. I wrote it on an Amiga A1200 computer that doubled up as a games machine. I printed it all off on an Epson, dot matrix printer. It was quite a long book as I remember. I know I got through a couple of printer ribbons and five reams of continuous paper while I was working on it. In those days I worked away from home so I only really got to work on the book at weekends and holidays. I used to jot down ideas in a notebook in my room at whichever bed and breakfast I was staying in after work. There is no surviving copy of that book although I made three at the time. It wasn’t very good if I’m honest, and it borrowed heavily from Narnia and Middle Earth. I still write a lot of children’s fantasy in my Trevor Forest persona but I like to think I’m a little more creative these days.
Like me you write books for the younger generation. Have you always written for younger people and do you find it easier than writing for adults?
My first completed book was Magic Molly. Initially it was little more than short story but after falling in with an agent for a few weeks I expanded it to what it is now. (The agent disappeared as quickly as she arrived.) At the same time as I was writing Magic Molly I was working on a series of short, gossipy emails, supposedly written by a teenage girl who had just started work in an office. The emails were posted up on a website over the period of a year and the regular website readers encouraged me to put the emails together to see if I could find a publisher. Luckily Crooked Cat Publishing liked the look of it and the book was published as Tracy’s Hot Mail last year.
I don’t personally see that much difference between writing for adults and children. I’m lucky in that I can vividly remember what sort of thing excited me when I was a kid and I find it quite easy to regress. (My wife claims I do this even when I’m not writing.) To me it’s just a matter of making sure my head is in the right place before I begin.
Have you tried writing an adult book, other than Tracy’s Hot Mail?
I have started lots and they all show promise, but for some reason I leave them half finished. I don’t think it’s because the story isn’t up to it, most of them are. I think it might be something to do with the longer book length that is usually required in adult fiction. I like to get the story going then whizz through it in a breathless gallop. I don’t like padding a story out just to make a word count. Unfortunately I find a lot of adult books have more padding than story.
When I was writing Tracy’s Hot Mail I began a web serial called The Westwich Writer’s Club about an aspiring writer who joins his local writers group, with, as the saying goes, hilarious consequences. http://thewestwichwritersclub.blogspot.co.uk/ The serial is still online and I fully intend to finish it one day. Since then I’ve begun another serial called The Diary of an Aspiring Adulteress which tells the tale of a woman fast approaching forty, who feels that life is rapidly passing her by. http://aspiringadulteressdiary.blogspot.co.uk/ I also have unfinished books about a stalker and a housewife who plots her husband’s demise to get at the insurance money.
Pratchett, Rawlings, now you and me…. We’re all writing YA books about witches and wizards. Do you think this is becoming an overworked genre?
I don’t see my books as being YA. I believe they are all firmly cemented in the upper primary genre. (Mid Grade Chapbook.) I have thought about writing YA; it’s very popular. It would be a large step into the unknown for me though. I think there is quite a difference in language between primary and YA fiction. Sadly, for me at least, there are far too many vampires and werewolves in YA. Hopefully authors in the genre will find a way to move on from the vampire/werewolf quagmire that it has been stuck in for the last 5 years. Twilight has a lot to answer for. You seem to have found a niche with The Temporal Detective Agency. I might investigate it again this year.
I think there will always be a place for magic in storytelling. Those of us who still nurture the child inside, love it. My favourite quote of all was provided by the wonderful, Roald Dahl. “Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”
Do your book plots about Molly and Stanley come from past experience, what you hear kids say, or do you just have an incredible imagination?
It’s all down to imagination I’m afraid, I actually think this way; scary isn’t it? You wouldn’t like to be inside my head; it’s a strange place. I have a very strong sense of the ridiculous and the unusual. In Magic Molly, the witches live among the ordinary people, (I flatly refuse to call them ‘muggles.’ The people in Molly’s town don’t see anything odd in a child walking round wearing a witch’s hat, though they probably wouldn’t like to see wands being carried in full view. The town has a witch’s academy and the junior witches also attend normal schools. They do get witchcraft lessons but still have to learn cookery, maths and geography. Most writers tend to hide the witch, (or wizard,) away from public view. I just thought, if a talking Peruvian bear can live amongst us without being questioned, then a junior witch shouldn’t be a problem.
Regarding Stanley Stickle. Things just happen to Stanley, usually because a master plan has gone dreadfully wrong. This does have a connection with my childhood. I used to daydream all the time, especially in class or walking home from school. I saw the opportunity for adventure everywhere I went. I saw monsters in dark alleyways, under beds, in wardrobes and in the teacher’s staff room.
To my astonishment, I’ve been compared to both Blyton and Dahl. This is not only a huge compliment but also a bit of a puzzle, as they are such different writers. I have read their books; Blyton as a child and Dahl when my kids were growing up, so I’ve almost certainly been influenced by both of them. I can’t see the resemblance myself, but I can assure you, I glow with pride every time I read that someone else does.
Do you have a set routine as a writer and a special place where you work?
I always write at my desk on the desktop computer. I did buy a laptop and a tablet but I don’t use them as writing tools. I bought a laptop for the same reason I bought a kindle; it enables my wife to borrow them before claiming them as her own.
My desk is situated in the extension which we bolted onto the side of the house in 2005. My two Springer Spaniels are usually out here with me. They let me know when the phone rings, when someone is at the door, or when someone is parking their car thirty yards down the road. I talk to them a lot and (unlike my wife,) they listen. All my ideas are tried out on them first. If they don’t like it, we don’t continue with it. Now I think about it, they weren’t fond of any of my discarded adult books. I think we may have stumbled on something here.
I don’t have a set writing routine. I can, (and do) go months without writing a word. Then I’ll suddenly knock out two or three books over the rest of the year. I should write more, but like all writers I suffer the nagging doubts. Do people really want to read this rubbish? Is there any point in writing it if they don’t? Sadly, my reply to these questions is often a negative one. I assured my adult book publisher, Crooked Cat, that I’m working on the sequel to Tracy’s Hot Mail but I never seem to get round to actually doing it. I’m a lazy bugger at heart, that’s the truth of it. I have made a conscious decision to try to finish Tracy’s Celebrity Hot Mail this year. I know where the story is going; I know, (more or less,) how Tracy’s life will pan out. I have the funny situations in place, new characters have been developed; it’s just the usual problem of finding the motivation.
What project are you’re working on right now?
I am, as actors say, ‘resting,’ at the moment, though I do have a few suspended, irons hanging over the fire. I am five chapters into Magic Molly book four and I’ve plotted out the third Stanley Stickle book. I have also mapped out a story about a boy who becomes apprenticed to a sorcerer at the time of the Black Death and I have a story called, Clarissa Crumb, Changeling, on the back burner. It’s about a baby who was swapped for a fairy child a few weeks after it was born. Nine years later the fairy child has to be returned to its family, but the Hags, (witches hidden in the community,) need to find the changeling and make soup out of her to enable them to keep their young appearances and stop them getting old.
I started a book a couple of years ago, called The Duck Pond Lane Detectives which is still on hold. I keep telling myself to finish it but it sits alone and unloved in its folder. (The folder was moved from its desktop position to the ‘ideas’ folder a while ago, so it’s not looking likely any time soon.)
The Duck Pond Lane Detectives tells the tale of a group of kids who enter a local treasure hunt competition, but stumble across the final clue from a national treasure hunt with a huge unclaimed, cash prize that started twenty five years earlier.
As I mentioned, I’m a lazy bugger, and I tend to write in bursts. When I do hit the zone I can easily write 4000 good words a day. The average is about 3000. I really do wish I could write every day like other authors. I tell myself every night that I will write tomorrow… then I find something else to do instead. Like Facebook and Twitter… drinking coffee, clearing the snow from the patio table… patting a random dog…
What is the most important piece of advice you could give a budding writer?
Don’t let the nagging doubts get to you. Keep at it. Don’t be frightened to let others read your stuff; it’s the only way you will ever know how good your work is. Smile and hug relatives who say nice things about your project, then share it with people who actually know something about the craft. Always remember, not everyone will like what you turn out but then not everyone likes everything J K Rowling and Dan Brown have written either, (especially me). Join an online writers site or a local, face to face group if you can find one. Hopefully it won’t be as cliquey as the Westwich Writers Club
One last question, Trevor. If you could achieve one important goal within the next 5 years, what would it be?
I’d still like to have one of my kid’s books published by a mainstream traditional publisher. I know it’s not the be all and end all these days, but it would be nice to see Magic Molly or The Wishnotist in the window of Waterstones.
Trevor has an excellent web site at: www.trevorbelshaw.com.
Trevor’s children’s books, written under the name Trevor Forest, are available in paperback and kindle versions on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/10qAmGA