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Happy birthday, Mr C 🎊

On this day in 1832, Charles Dodgson was born. Known to us as Lewis Carroll, this creative genius is one of my big inspirations and one of the main reasons I went to Oxford last year. I wished to stand where he stood, retrace his footsteps if you will.


I was lucky enough to visit Christchurch meadow where the idea for Alice in Wonderland began, and perhaps that is what put Dudley the Dodo at the back of my head. As I stood in front of the spread of grass, I could envisage the young Charles Dodgson lying, watching, listening, until inspiration struck, and one of the greatest worlds in literature was created.


Lewis Carroll chose the Dodo to take part in chapters of Alice in Wonderland as he felt affinity toward the animal. Lewis Carroll had a stammer and would introduce himself as “Do-do-dodgson.”

He made no secret of his affection and became associated with the Dodo for years to come.


The Dodo fitted in so well in  fantastical, bizarre, and wacky Wonderland that won the hearts of every reader who joined Alice on her little adventure.


So I think of this great influence today and thank him for being the first writer to make me see that in the world of imagination, anything is possible. Lewis Carroll played a big part in giving me passion for writing. When a world is limitless, you have so much freedom in your art form. That’s what he instilled in me. When you write, however you write, you are free.

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war with reality.”
CHESHIRE CAT, ALICE IN WONDERLAND By Lewis Carroll

Picture Books: Portable magic for a young imagination

On the eve of my attempt at a picture book, I thought I’d look over old and new ones I adored. I love picture books; they have this incredible scope of subjects and creativity and are so visual. When you read a picture book, you have instant reactions. Grown-ups laugh to themselves at parts where children properly belly laugh, ask questions, and show fear and excitement. It’s a joy sharing a story with kids at this age. They get so attached to specific characters and love the theatre of it all. The passion for this method of storytelling is infectious. You end up loving bits because they hold memories of the time you first shared it. Picture books are sublime. So here are a few if you are at that stage (lucky you!) I can thoroughly recommend.

Peely Wally by Kali Stileman

This book is delightfully simple yet so effective. Peely Wally (a scribble of paint made into a bird-brilliant) has laid an egg but it falls. You follow the egg’s journey with your finger, which is wonderful for fine motor skills. In the end, the egg cracks, you open the flaps to reveal a tiny Peely Wally baby. Perfect in its own little way.

Elmer by David McKee

I love this book! Elmer is a patchwork elephant, bright and colourful, amongst grey elephants. Although Elmer is different, and the odd one out, he is the joker, and all the elephants love him just the way he is.

Not Now Bernard by David McKee

Yes, I know it’s another McKee book, but the man is brilliant! This was my favourite picture book as a child. At the beginning Bernard is eaten by a monster (the horror as you get to this bit in kids is so funny- yep the kid is gone!), then the monster goes into the house where Bernards parents are oblivious! They give the monster some tea, he bites the dad’s leg, and in the end, the mum and dad send the bewildered monster to bed. It is incredibly funny and unique. Absolute joy.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

The classic. This is the masterpiece of picture books. The language, the characters, the concept…I won’t say the plot as you all know it. All we need to say is this book is perfection, and is worth all the hype ten times over!

Here we are by Oliver Jeffers

I only came across this book from loaning it out at the library. It is stunning, beautiful illustrations throughout and explains our world that is easy to understand and answers questions little ones might have about our planet.

There’s a monster in my book by Tom Fletcher

Is there anything this man can’t do? This range of books (there’s loads- not a bad one between them!) is funny, and the most interactive picture book I have ever come across. Pure joy.

The Tiger who came to Tea by Judith Kerr

This is the story that seems to be obsessed over every time a new child comes in our family. The idea of a tiger in your house is wonderful. It doesn’t matter that he eats all the food, drinks every drop of liquid in the house so you can’t even have a bath, the tiger plays a trumpet and you get to go out for sausage and chips. Only gripe is how small is that can of tiger food at the end? This dinner guest ate everything, get two at least!

Penguin by Polly Dunbar

If you have a child who struggles with communication you will fall in love with this book. Ben is given a penguin for his birthday, the penguin doesn’t speak, Ben does everything to get the penguin to speak or react, then the penguin saves him and shows his love for Ben in a beautiful way in a two page spread that warms your heart. Wonderfully different and brilliantly done.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

This is the perfect example of how to use rhythm, repetition, and melody to captivate your readers. Expect to act out the story when out on woodland walks.

Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

This story is all about three owls whose mum flies away and the adorable babies worry and comfort each other until she comes back. Even babies will enjoy the soothing text and classic style of illustration. Very young children will relate and find comfort in this simple but effective story.

Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler

There are so many of these guys’ work I could choose, but in the end, I went for Monkey Puzzle. A young monkey has lost its mum, and a butterfly tries to help him find her. The butterfly finds all sorts of animals, but none are his mum. Brilliant twist and punchline, many children laughed so much at the monkeys reaction at each butterfly suggestion. Wonderfully written, and of course, the illustrations are sublime.

And finally…

Here are a couple of titles that you could also consider when building your picture book library.

Bradley and the Dinosaur by Julian Hilton and Jacqueline East

When Bradley is sent into the garden by his Mum to get flowers, he encounters the biggest creature he’s ever seen. Bradley’s bravery and kindness makes them instant friends and the Dinosaur takes him to Dinoland where he encounters all sorts of dinosaurs. He even flies on a Pterasaur. But will they get back in time for dinner, and what is Bradley’s favourite meal?

Map of You by Sophie Williams

This delightful activity book asks young readers to explore the landscape of their own psyche. They are invited to visit their mountains of strength and wetlands of weaknesses. to confront their ‘forests of fears’, and to take comfort in their ‘islands of interests’. Personality quizzes, colouring in, drawing, and designing all features. Self-examination has never been more enjoyable!

So, there we have it – my favourite picture books. Maybe in time, my own will make a list such as this. Hey, if you want to be ahead of time, you can pop along to Amazon (available in other places soon) and grab yourself a copy…

Breaking the rules of Genre

There are certain rules you are meant to follow as a writer. Edit, edit, edit, then edit some more; keep going; and stick to one genre as it helps established readers know your identity as a writer.

As my fourth book is coming to publication, I have gone rogue. In fact, I have completely ignored the last bit. And when I look back over everything I have done, I have been a hellblazer since day one.

Every book of mine is different. The first was a collection of fictional short stories, the second autobiographical, the third was a young adult, and the fourth is a picture book. Not only am I all over the place with genre, but I am playing havoc with ages too. It is like I’m working round the sections of my beloved local library! I even tackled crime at Christmas. 🕵‍♀️

In fact, the only thing that binds the books is me. Each project has been a labour of love. They have passion, time, and filled random chunks of notebooks throughout my house!

As a writer, I am finding my way. I use inspiration as my fuel. I spend so much time on a project that I need to be excited about it, I need to know I’m doing good or that the project has lasting value. Each book had an aim, a drive. A purpose. I never cared about the sections it would come under in a bookstore, I merely wanted to create a body of work I can be proud of.

Isolation Tales was written to help the NHS, The Collection was to showcase my profile as a writer, The attempted demise of Augusta Walsh age 15 years, 4 months and 6 days was created to spotlight young mental health, Murder at Black House was a homage to Dickens and Agatha Christie, and Dudley the Dodo was a request from my 8 year old son. When your child asks you to create him a book as his only present for his birthday, you can’t refuse.

I have enjoyed everything I have done. Each has provided unique new challenges and ways of working. I get asked all the time, “Where do you write? What’s your routine?”

The truth is I write everywhere, on everything – little snippets on receipts, back of shopping lists, parking tickets, and junk mail. I have no routine, I’m a loose cannon!

I may not know my forte yet, but I feel good about everything so far. So, I will continue to break the rules – eat before swimming, put the christmas tree up before December, eat doughnuts between meals, scoff all my kids Haribo when they aren’t looking, sleep past my alarm, and not be identified by anything other than I am a writer.

I will describe myself as a writer of universal fiction, open to all. It’s good to be a rebel. After all, it worked for Bowie. And who doesn’t love a bit of David Bowie?

Love Letter to Oxford

Dearest Oxford,

I have never felt safer than here. You make people want to achieve, have passion and a curious mind, and investigate and discover the unknown.
I sit in this college university garden, writing, attempting the impossible. To try and contain how I feel about you.

I arrived as a sightseer, intending to experience the book sites. Tolkien’s bench, the covered market from Lyra’s Oxford, and to step upon the pathways and within the prestigious halls of universities, my heroes walked. Visit the Bodleian Library, one of the oldest libraries in Europe. I have seen them all, but I did not expect to discover a new way of life.
The vibe here is LEARN. Knowledge is our most powerful attribute; we all can learn regardless of age or circumstance. Learn from the past, let it sculpt your future, root out the trailblazers and the achievers, and recognise what came before. The hardships along the way are just as significant as the milestones; one simply cannot exist without the other.
Oxford, you are infused with history, culture, and respect. Lush green spaces and cycles outnumber the cars so many times over, and alleyways are filled with little treasures. The sights I have seen have been breathtaking. Beautiful sculptures, love letters to science and achievement, pure devotion to the past and intellectual achievement.
Within your great City, your people love you. They speak passionately for the City and encourage you to uncover hidden jewels you would otherwise miss. I have walked around in a daze, trying to memorise all the beauty, sculpted stone embellishments adorning striking buildings that line every street.
The riches you have bestowed upon me have been plentiful. I have seen a blackboard written by Einstein’s hand, notes and a diary by Howard Carter, opened the day he made one of the most iconic finds in history. Walls from ancient Egypt covered in hierographic, an entire wall of saints and saviours in New College chapel, original paintings, and sketches by Dante Rosetti (although whenever I see his name, I can’t help but picture Aidan Turner from the BBC show a while ago). He came up with the term ‘Stunner,’ which is cool. Seeing his original work was incredible. I was in awe of life-sized skeletons of dinosaurs in a museum that could overtake London. 
I guess that’s why this place feels so magical. It has shown me so many things I am passionate about; Tutankhamun, Dante, Dinosaurs, Alice, The Tudors, ancient Egypt, and ancient Greece. The list is endless. So many connections to my studies in my degree helped give significance to different sights. It added details I otherwise would have missed, for instance, the Roman Augustus and his role in the life story of Cleopatra. I appreciated the power of the Virgin Mary altar and what it gave to believers and the significance of Elizabeth I’s portrait next to Henry VIII in Christchurch College.
I walked through the streets with my jaw open. It is so beautiful here. I wish I could stay.
Oxford, the thing I love you for is that you see us all the same. People may believe you would start off with a class system and be elitist due to the sheer number of university colleges. But it is not like that at all. In your eyes, we are forever learning and finding our way. It feels that it is not expressed as a justification or excuse but as an opportunity. One we should celebrate and relish.
When we are on holiday, we romanticise a place, and I am sure to the people of Oxford, living there is a lot different to visiting. But I can only draw on my own experience. So, people of Oxford, thank you for showing me where I need to be. The way I need to see the world. The greatest gift you could show me is aspiration.
Oxford, you have taught me we are not meant to know the answers, but there might be a place where we can find them. When people go away, they leave the real world behind. Their stresses, relationships, and anything they don’t want to deal with. Going back to reality can be daunting, but when I return home, I hope everything I learnt comes into play. We are all students. Every day is new. We don’t know what will happen or who we will see if we read a new book or discover new ideas or concepts. But if we make a mistake, it’s okay. They will be celebrated as part of what gets you to your goal. Hardship and creating opportunities to overcome make the journey. The pressure is off.
Creatively for me, I took away moments that I could not get anywhere else other than with you.
I loved the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe story, and even now, a row of coats makes me wonder whether to part the sleeves and seek adventure. I never try and see beyond. I want to believe in it, if just for a moment. So, as well as experiencing the many sights that inspired the Dark Materials trilogy, I wanted to see the lamppost. I found it on my first day in just over 10 minutes. It was about 8:20am, just me. I stood in St Mary’s Passage, on the cobbles where C.S. Lewis walked, and I looked at the doorway opposite. Centred on a big wooden door was an engraving of a lion’s head. On either side were two fauns. The inspiration for the gateway into Narnia. For a moment, just a moment, I saw the idea. The gateway, wooden entrance, greeted by an endearing faun, the iconic gas-light lamppost where you meet him.
An hour later, I was at a quaint, picturesque Christchurch meadow. Charles Dodgson, a student at Christchurch and later a lecturer in Mathematics, previously sat and envisaged a little girl following a white rabbit down a hole and having wondrous and crazy adventures. These stories made me passionate about books, gratefully eager to sacrifice my time for a career that pays so little. I write because I was inspired by adventures in Wonderland. I seek ways to enter Narnia. I will always treasure getting inside the head of such influential, renowned storytellers and world-builders. Standing where they walked and sat, seeing clearly how the idea may have formed and the creation came together.

So, thank you for letting me visit,
I will never forget the time we spent together and the gifts you gave.

Yours,
A besotted author.

Halloween Story

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
A brand new one-shot story for Halloween 2022. ⚠️ Warning! ⚠️ It gets quite dark!

Taylor Spears has consistently had the fastest-growing number of followers on Instagram and TikTok for the past 18 months. She was young, skinny and had made the best of her looks. As a result, Taylor had offers pouring in every day with offers of free clothes, jewellery, shoes, and clothing deals, and everyone wanted her ‘brand’. Life couldn’t be better.
One hot afternoon, Taylor and her staff walked through a market in Chinatown in London. They came across a stall with a little old man behind it. He had bushy grey eyebrows and a long silver fuzzy beard that only grew in the centre of his chin. There were lots of ornate bangles on the table.
‘Ellie! Come here, check these out!’ Taylor called over.
Ellie, Taylor’s PA and organiser of every aspect of Taylor’s life, came toward her. Dressed in a black power suit, a high ponytail, and heels, Ellie ended her call and smiled widely at her boss.
‘Oh, Taylor! They are fabulous! How many do you want?’
The old Chinaman had maintained the same polite smile since Taylor had approached his stall.
A man with a baseball cap with the Batman logo came close to them, ‘Yo, T! What’s the… hold up? Woah!’
‘I’m feeling these bangles; I might get some.’ The Chinaman stood smiling.
‘Yeah, but look at that!’ The man pointed at a blood-red decapitated hand on the stall. Ellie looked and screamed. Taylor, a big horror fan, picked it up.
‘Good call Jeff! Woah! This is so cool. It’s a proper weird colour.’ Taylor said as she pushed toward Ellie’s face, making her scream again and back away.
The Chinaman leaned forward. ‘Make a wish.’
‘What? Is it like magic or something? I get a wish?’
‘Three.’ The Chinaman answered.
‘AWESOME!’ Taylor laughed. ‘What should I wish for?’
‘What about World Peace?’
‘Jeff, I’m not political!’
‘Global Warming?’
‘Nah, I already made the hashtag SAVE YOUR EARTH YOU LEGENDS viral two months ago. So I did my bit for that.’
‘No diseases?’
‘There are charities already for that,’ Taylor spat impatiently. ‘This is about me!’
Jeff started flapping his hands, ‘OOOHHH! I know! I know! Superpowers! You could get superpowers and do loads of cool stuff!’
‘Hmmm…I like that. What would you choose?’ Taylor asked.
‘Easy. Superstrength. Or reading minds, although everyone would be thinking about you.’ Jeff smiled.
‘Course they would,’ Taylor said and smiled back. Her eyes widened. ‘I got it! I will live forever! Okay, weird red hand thing. I wish to be…invisible.’
Taylor looked at Jeff, who seemed slightly worried. She didn’t notice a finger on the decapitated hand had moved down. Then, slowly the bottom of Taylor’s body began to disappear.
She screamed and looked around for Ellie, who had wandered off. ‘Jeff! Please help me! What’s happening!?!’
‘You were meant to say immortal, not invisible. Quick! Make another wish!’
Taylor panicked and closed her eyes, ‘I wish to be immortal!’
The Chinaman kept his fixed smile and watched as another finger moved into the palm of the blood-red hand. A white washing machine fell from a window and landed on Taylor’s head. Taylor felt a whack and then blackness. She fuzzily opened her eyes and thought this hand is fantastic!
Excited, Taylor made her final wish. ‘I wish I could read minds.’
Without warning, she was flooded with voices.
‘Did he call?’ ‘Oh my God, his hair is such a wig!’ ‘What should I make for dinner?’ ‘Fuck! I need to sort my shit out.’ ‘Is it going to rain?’ ‘How can I tell her?’ ‘Why is he such an idiot!?!’ ‘I need to find a bar’ ‘This thong is right up my ass.’ ‘I wonder what he’s doing now.’ ‘Damn! That girl got a nice ass.’ ‘Why does Superman wear pants over his blue suit? Why not just go bare like spiderman?’
To Taylor’s surprise, no thoughts were about her. Instead, she walked around; voices came from everywhere. After an hour, she was so furious she punched her head to make them stop. Taylor didn’t even feel pain through the excessive amount of noise entering her brain. Finally, after two days, she tried hitting her head on the metal railing. The intensity of so many voices became so extreme Taylor decided to find a knife and stab her mind. She found a hotel and snuck into the kitchen. A row of long sharp blades was magnetised to the wall.
Taylor picked one up and took a deep breath.
The kitchen staff’s thoughts flooded her mind. ‘Table 18…two swordfish’, ‘three prawn starters, two camemberts, one pate.’ ‘bloody hell, I’m hot!’ ‘I need two, then five, then three, then eight.’
Taylor screamed and hacked at her head with the blade. The worst happened. Nothing.
‘WHY CAN’T I DIE!!!!????!!!!’
Taylor ran in anguish and desperation. She kept going.
It was midnight; Taylor found a bench and lay quietly. Since the voices came, she couldn’t remember her address or how to get there. She wondered why no one came looking for her. Where was Ellie? Where was Jeff?
Five hours later, Taylor started to cry as an old man came and sat down at the opposite end of the bench.
‘Please, no more,’ Taylor pleaded. She bent over and held her head in her hands, waiting for the onslaught of voices. Silence.
The man sat. Hours passed, and no thoughts came.
Then in a small voice, he whispered, ‘I miss you.’
Then he stood up slowly and walked away.
A tear rolled down Taylor’s cheek. She did not know the man’s story or need to. Four hours she had watched him. He had surrendered to the torture that consumed him. Accepted he would be in unspoken pain. The emptiness was all that remained. Yet, the sincerity and heartache in those three words made her feel human again. She searched for him in the days following but never found him.
On the bench opposite her, an old front page was flapping in the breeze. The headline read INFLUENCER KILLED BY FREAK ACCIDENT WITH WASHING MACHINE IN CHINATOWN. The paper blew away.

World Mental Health Day 2022

Today is World Mental Health Day, which affects everyone on the planet. When I learnt statistics about mental health, I felt inclined to act. It was shocking to me how many people struggle. Like so many, I didn’t realise how many of us were affected. It’s not a nice thing to think about, is it? People being sad, upset, crying, people we love. Yet unconsciously every day so many of us think about our mental health, we just don’t realise it. Every day we each take hold of it, some more successfully than others. Every time you have a friend over for coffee, exercise, take a walk, meditate, listen to music or simply cry you are taking care of yourself mentally.

The biggest irony of humankind is no one is alone in feeling alone. We all do no matter our circumstances, financial situation, social or relationship status or age. It affects everyone from the moment you are born. It is a skill within us to take care of our emotional well-being. It is as important as breathing. Babies cry when they need comfort, children cry when they are sad, and teenagers vent on everyone and go through a rollercoaster of emotions straight into adulthood. Adults gradually find their own releases and ways to cope.

So, you may ask if we all already have the skill set to deal with our mental health why raise awareness? Sometimes the balance can consume even the people who seem the most together, and we struggle to cope. We cannot think or see things to try and find a solution. We lose ourselves.

The most important thing we can keep doing is talking. Even the people who have no one around can talk; the Samaritans are open 24/7. You can call for free on 116 123. Keep checking on your friends and loved ones, and keep talking. Your voice is powerful. Use it; you never know how much of a difference it makes.

Dear Teenage Mel,

With the release of The attempted demise of Augusta Walsh age 15 years, 4 months and 6 days on the horizon, it got me thinking…if I could speak to my 15-year-old self, what would I say? This is what I came up with…

Dear 15-year-old Mel,

Important stuff first, dump that boyfriend! He’s an a🤬hole and way too old for you. I know you think you are fat 🐷, you are wrong. You just have skinny friends!

Get rid of gimmicky fad clothes like slogan crop tops with suggestive messages, and stop wearing so much make-up 🟠 (Orange belongs only in Essex, and everyone can see that line around your neck.).

Stop wasting all your money on 20/20 and Lambert and Butler 🚬 and save it for learning to drive.🚗 It might not seem very important now, but you will wish you had, and not rely on mates who have actually got themselves together.

You have some amazing qualities- you love books (hurrah!), you are passionate about human and animal rights (ignore the teasing, it’s wonderful how much you want to make a difference), and you are tall (it’s actually good you are partying early in life, works out for you in the end), you know what you want to do (writing plays a big part in your future).✍️📚

But you also have some things you need to stop. 😠

  1. Boys. 😍 Stop focusing on boys! Just because a lad has a gorgeous ass and a curtains haircut does not mean he is right for you. Like I said, dump your boyfriend. He will make you cry and give you trust issues for years 😭. I know this is the last thing you want to hear but listen to your parents. They are right. You do need to focus on schoolwork. Otherwise, you will have to do a whole other year of school, which I know does not appeal to you in the slightest.

2. Stop believing a little plastic troll has special powers. It is plastic. Just because it has brightly coloured hair does not make the stupid thing lucky.

3. Stop dying your hair mahogany red. As much as you try, you are no Claire Danes, and in real life, there is no one like Jordan Catalano.

(Although, in college, there will be a guy called Robbie who will come close. You will have a major crush, you will get gutsy enough to ask him out, and he will say no (because he’s dribble worthy and so cool😎), but you took the plunge.

And he actually talked to you 🙂 )

4. As well as not being Angela Chase, you are also not All Saints. Nope, none of them. Throw away that massive combat jacket. You look like an ass and will live to regret how often you wore it with those matching combats. Don’t worry, later you find your style and completely OWN IT LIKE A BOSS.

5. Stop saying WWWWAAAAAAASSSSSSSUUUUUUUPPPPPPPPPP!!!!! You’re an idiot.

6. Stop worrying about the world ending when we get to the millennium. Nothing happens. Seriously. Nothing.

7. Don’t worry about getting Atmosfear the Boardgame. I know you have asked every Christmas since the age of 12; you don’t get it till you are 22. The guy does not come out of the TV or make the lounge a horror show. You only want it so bad because you love Knightmare so much. Atmosfear is no Knightmare. That show is awesome.

8. No one is impressed that you know the raps to popular Salt’n’Pepa songs. Stop inflicting people with your bad rapping. You are still pulling this shit at 30. No one is impressed.🙄

Follow my advice, hopefully it’ll save you a few embarrassments that you will find a bit cringe later on.

I’m guessing you want to know a bit about the world now. I’m afraid you do not move to London and become this amazing career girl in the big city (I know, SPOILER!), but you end up pretty good and happy.

I’m afraid 2022 isn’t like The Jetsons or Back to the Future part 2. Although I do wish we had those trainers that do up by themselves!

It’s pretty ordinary but very techy (hence all these emojis! Umm…little pictures. Cute aren’t they? 😃). And Queen Elizabeth II is even still on the throne.

Our Queen, the one and only Madonna, is still going too. Inspiring as ever. Except with a few more kids and husbands under her belt. And we get to see her in Hyde Park! I know, crazy, right?

In fact, thanks to conventions, you get to meet lots of your heroes, including Helen Slater, the actual Supergirl herself. She even holds your baby!

Before I get carried away and give even more spoilers, (one of your favourite movie stars, Arnie, goes into politics. I know, mind blown! 🤯) Okay, no more now. Promise. (We also get to drive the Batmobile- it is so frickin awesome!)

I think the main thing you need to know is you will make mistakes, but you will learn from them. Believe in yourself a bit more; that will save you many years of body issues and self-doubt) and embrace you because you’re pretty cool. And you have some amazing times ahead.

Stay awesome,

your future self x

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

CELEBRATED CORNISH AUTHOR SHINING LIGHT ON 70% OF GEN X GENERATION

Today we are talking to Cornish fiction writer Melanie Stephens about her upcoming book, The attempted demise of Augusta Walsh age 15 years, 4 months, and 6 days. More than 70% of teens say they and their peers suffer from anxiety, depression, or both. So Melanie decided to help.

CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE INSPIRATION BEHIND AUGUSTA WALSH AND WHAT YOU HOPED TO ACHIEVE?

As soon as I became aware of how badly mental health issues impact the Gen Z generation, I had to look closer. The numbers have trebled in the last two years; it’s a real problem affecting many young people today. I wanted to know how it felt to be a teenager today with additional pressures of social media, the worries about the future, our planet, and with so much focus on identity of gender and sexuality. I want as many teenagers as possible to know they are not alone. Unfortunately, so many believe they are the only ones who feel this way, as hardly anyone talks about it. Hopefully, Augusta can bring them some comfort and give them someone they can really relate to.

WHO EXACTLY IS AUGUSTA, AND WHY IS SHE WORTH KNOWING?

Ah, Augusta! She’s awesome. She is 15 and going through a bit of a hard time. She is talented at art and used to be outgoing doing school productions, a star pupil in virtually every subject, so she’s smart. But in the last year or two, Augusta has gone further and further inside herself. She doesn’t see herself how others do, there’s bullying, and she doesn’t know her own value. But Augusta is thoughtful, caring about issues, and funny. A key friendship dynamic has changed, and Augusta doesn’t know where she belongs. Augusta is a hidden treasure and holds so much power. She just doesn’t realise it. Augusta Walsh’s a typical teen, I suppose.

AMAZING COVER AGAIN!

Thank you! I do love my covers!

THE ART AND DOODLES THROUGHOUT THE NOVEL REALLY SET IT APART FROM MOST OF THE OTHER BOOKS OUT THERE.

Thank you, as Augusta is an artist, it’s the main thing she likes to do. So it made sense to me that if it was her notebook, she would naturally draw all over it. I thought it would also help engage even the most reluctant reader. We live in a visual age; TikTok and Instagram are all driven by visual entertainment. So I wanted Augusta to appeal to as many teens as possible. Plus, it gave an extra insight into what was happening inside Augusta’s head. She draws and sketches as a form of expressing herself and therapy.

THE NOVEL WAS WRITTEN AS A DIARY. HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT THAT The attempted demise of Augusta Walsh age 15 years, 4 months, and 6 days WAS IN THE FIRST PERSON?

Vital. Augusta doesn’t talk about it like many people suffering from depression and anxiety. We needed her voice, her thoughts; she needed people to understand.

THE FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN AUGUSTA AND DAKOTA IS ONE OF THE MAIN DRIVING FORCES IN THE BOOK. CAN YOU TALK A BIT ABOUT THAT?

Augusta and Dakota have been best friends forever. They are both pretty similar in insecurities, so when their social status suddenly changes, they struggle in different ways. When you have been friends and spent what feels like your whole life together, it’s hard when things shift onto a different path. But at their core, Augusta and Dakota care about each other deeply. Friendship is massively important along with friendship groups during adolescence, so I knew if I had to portray a 15-year-old accurately, a big focus had to be on that.

WERE YOU WORRIED ABOUT WRITING ABOUT YOUNG ILL MENTAL HEALTH?

It was a challenge but an important one. With so many young people experiencing ill mental health, there should be a book that deals with it within 21st-century teenage life. I worked with experts to ensure the subject was handled with sensitivity but kept relatable and authentic. Also, they made sure I didn’t unknowingly negatively influence anyone. It did concern me that as we are inside Augusta’s head, it could be hard going or hard to read, but everyone who has read it so far has read it so fast! Within a day, I was a bit relieved.

AND FINALLY, WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES WHEN IT COMES TO PEOPLE READING THE NOVEL?

I hope people see they are not alone in thoughts or feelings. I hope people see Augusta as proof that there is help out there. You are not powerless. Augusta goes through so much, yet all that happens is real, and she reaches dark depths that keep getting increasingly further into the mindset that there is no way out. I want people to see beyond Augusta’s perception of herself. As we discover what’s underneath Augusta’s mask, I hope any sufferers recognise the benefits of lowering theirs. She goes from being invisible to being spectacular. They can too.

THE ATTEMPTED DEMISE OF AUGUSTA WALSH AGE 15 YEARS, 4 MONTHS, AND 6 DAYS IS AVAILABLE FROM 15 AUGUST, FROM AMAZON, APPLE BOOKS, KOKO, AND BARNES AND NOBLE.

FOLLOW MELANIE ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND ONLINE http://www.melaniestephensauthor.com

Learning on the Job

With each book you write, you learn and adapt, applying new skills to each experience and pushing yourself to try new things.

With my first published book, Isolation Tales, everything was new. The book contains poems and short stories highlighting key workers during the pandemic. I had never put so many short stories and poetry together of the same premise or written so much fiction based on facts and interviews. It was a rewarding project as I knew I was helping the NHS (I donated all my royalties both now and from every future copy to the NHS).

Luckily I had studied journalism for years and knew how to put a press release together, which was paramount. Although it wasn’t the first book I had written, it was the first that had gone so far in the process. The whole thing was pressured, emotional, fascinating, intoxicating, energising, consuming, challenging, and frantic but also wonderfully monumental. Thankfully, I was fortunate with my timing and hit things just right.

My second book, The Collection, brought different challenges. In a way, it was my hardest writing project as it was so personal, and I really put myself out there. I have never felt more vulnerable. I even used photos from my own albums. Every part of me was on show, my hopes, fears, and best and worst moments. It was tough, but to me, you have to give everything when you become a writer. Show your readers you trust them. As I am such a private person, this book is one of my bravest achievements.

I had a fantastic experience researching and building relationships. At one point, I was on a zoom call with LA which was quite exciting (literally had to pinch myself), and I had lots of resources such as recordings so I could do the piece justice.

For the first time, I made an email address just for my readers after taking inspiration from Dorothy Koomson. Instead of going through a team, each email comes straight to me, and I answer them personally. A few do this now, and it’s such a lovely touch.

I taught myself how to build a website; being technically daft, this was quite an undertaking, but I got there. And eventually, I got into libraries with both books. I even had the honour of Isolation Tales being placed in the World’s largest archive of Cornwall’s history, Kresen Kernow (being extremely proud of being Cornish, this felt incredible, pinched myself again).

With this third book, The attempted demise of Augusta Walsh age 15 years, 4 months, and 6 days, I changed things again. I learned from my previous endeavours. My book will be submitted straightaway to be included in libraries this time. I have also taken fewer royalties so I can make the book more accessible on multiple platforms and so I can aim to approach bookstores to achieve another writing goal.

For the first time, I set up pre-ordering and made sure I had reviewers ready to go to get the book off to the best start possible.

Isolation Tales was two years ago, so I will have to dust off my skills and put together a press release once again. The book is about teenage mental health and anxiety, so it’s a big issue to talk about. Some media I last contacted on a whim really got behind both myself and the story, so I know they are a priority as the groundwork for a relationship has already been built.

Due to the nature of the book of Augusta, I had to send the first presentable draft to a media consultant in London. Her job was to make sure I wasn’t unknowingly influencing anyone negatively. This was an unusual feeling but necessary. I approached charities so I could include information, and I also included a bibliography for the first time. I even employed someone. I had professional photos taken to promote myself in the best possible way.

Thanks to my previous publishing experience I plan to do a competition with brands to spread the word. I found this was the most effective way to let people know about your book other than word of mouth.

When I look back at my writing career so far, I am proud of what I have achieved but also very aware I am still so new and fresh. I enjoy learning so much with each day; I find it exhilarating. I need to keep myself in check, and make sure I pay attention.

Being a writer is the most competitive saturated crowded career choice, you have to really love it to keep going. So many hours of craft go into every book, in fact for most, its probably the poorest paid job you can get. Especially when you start out when no one is aware of you. There is so much work to do when it’s down to promoting yourself and trying to get your stuff out there. So why do so many of us do it? The answer is simple, it’s absolutely thrilling. When someone enjoys your work, there’s no feeling like it. I like learning. And I can’t wait to see what comes next.