Last week I read and reviewed a beautiful and unique YA book, called Tree Magic. I came across this book in a Facebook group I am lucky enough to be part of, and the front cover and title immediately caught my eye. It sounded just my sort of thing. (If you follow me on Instagram you might have an idea of how obsessed with trees I am!) You can read my review of Tree Magic here. Author Harriet Springbett kindly agreed to an interview, which you can enjoy below. Tree Magic comes out in paperback on the 1st of March, and is currently only 99p for the ebook on Amazon. Grab it!
1) Can you tell us what inspired you to write Tree Magic?
I was sitting under a weeping willow tree in my garden, writing the start of a novel about Rainbow, a teenager who didn’t fit in. A recent storm had uprooted a nearby sumac tree and I found myself wishing I could stroke its branches back into shape to rebalance it: we hug trees to make ourselves feel better, but who ever makes trees feel better? I started to wonder what it would be like if someone could communicate with trees and help them in this way. As Rainbow was under my pen, she became the one to be blessed / cursed with this gift.
2) Did the plot come first, or the characters?
Definitely the main character. I’d already written a short story about Rainbow, and a member of Lumineuse, my writers’ group, said she was such a vivid character that she could almost see her beside me. The plot grew organically from Rainbow, her gift and her problems. This was a deliberate approach on my part, because the previous novel I’d written was plot-led and I’d found the writing experience too restrictive.
3) The story is told in both past and present tense – why did you choose this approach, and how difficult was it to pull off?
The tenses are intrinsically linked to the characters of the two protagonists: Mary wants to forget her past so the present tense represents her best, whereas Rainbow is like a tree, with roots into her past. It wasn’t a question of ‘pulling it off’, because it was natural rather than being a storytelling device. I was warned that publishers wouldn’t like the tense-mixing, but I believed it was too essential to change. In fact, my publisher (Impress Books) never questioned the tenses.
4) Are any of the characters based on people in real life?
No! Part of the fun of writing stories is creating characters. I’m a detail hoarder, and I jot down lots of rubbish that amuses or interests me, which may then produce a character (or not). For example, the other day I was running with a friend who’d bought a new pair of trainers. I noticed that the underside of her trainers happened to match the colour of her T-shirt, and found myself thinking about the kind of person who would do this deliberately.
5) Did you have to do much research into trees, or did you already have some knowledge in that area?
I love trees. I grew up on a Dorset farm that had 10 acres of woodland and a stream, and we were always playing in them, making tree houses or fixing rope ladders and swings to them. We had our own trees in the way other children have pets. Tree Magic doesn’t have technical details about trees, so I only needed an everyday knowledge, which my childhood and a tree guide provided. However, I did research details for the habitats and characteristics of certain trees, such as the symbolic silver maple.
6) This is your debut YA novel, can you tell us what is coming next?
I have already finished another YA novel called Red Lies, White Lies. It’s a thriller with a 17-year-old protagonist, set in France, and has no magic realism. A beta reader said she couldn’t put it down – but I really should make time to seriously hunt for an agent. I love the writing part of being an author, but I’m not very good at sending out my work. I must confess that I have begun to write another YA novel when I should really be trying to find a home for Red Lies, White Lies.
7) Do you read a lot of YA yourself? If so, what are your favourite YA books?
I didn’t intend Tree Magic to be a YA novel because I hadn’t read much YA fiction. When it was placed runner-up in a competition, the judge told me that with a little rewriting I could target the YA market. An agent who rejected it mentioned YA too – so I researched the YA market and rewrote it for younger readers. I only really started reading YA a short time ago – and I’m seriously seduced by what I’ve read. There’s a refreshing liberty in YA writing. I loved The Sun is Also a Star for its ‘science versus intuition’ approach (a little like in Tree Magic). I was shocked and impressed by Orangeboy. I adored the protagonist in Wing Jones and thought A Monster Calls was beautifully written. I could go on, but I’d better stop there.
8) Can you tell us about your writing and publishing journey so far? What have been the highs and lows?
The lows were the rejections. I originally sent Tree Magic to about 10 agents, was rejected by all of them and concluded that the story was rubbish. I left it in a drawer for years before learning that this rejection rate was normal, and that small publishers accepted unsolicited manuscripts. Long live small publishers! The highs were firstly getting my manuscript accepted by Impress Books (though I worried for ages that they’d change their minds) and then the whole editing process with them. They are wonderful. The weirdest moment was when I read the blurb my editor wrote. My immediate reaction was ‘that sounds like an exciting book’ and my second was ‘it’s your book, you idiot.’
9) What advice would you give to new writers just about to start the journey into publication?
Don’t be put off by rejections. You must keep searching for a home, but make sure you get readers and other writers to critique your story first. Writers’ groups are invaluable for this. Also, I wish I’d written more short stories before launching into a novel because the experimentation, feedback and rewriting loop takes less time than with novels. Short stories help you to find your voice.
10) What have you learned so far about promoting your book?
I didn’t realise that book promotion and publicity would be so time-consuming. Getting started can be scary, so it’s wonderful if you have a publicist to guide you. If you’re not careful, it will eat into your writing time, so you have to sum up your courage and push yourself to be proactive while still remembering that the writing is what’s most important.
11) Describe an average writing day for you
I exchanged my full time job for part time work in order to have writing time, so this motivates me to sit down every morning and write until lunchtime. Most evenings I run or cycle – this is my problem-solving time, when I run through scenes in my head and visualise characters’ reactions. Of course, my friends don’t believe me when I say I’m working as I run! I don’t write at weekends, because I want to live fully, spend time with my family, do sport, see friends etc. Inspiration comes from interacting with real life, from watching and listening to what’s going on in the world, so it’s important not to shut yourself away all the time. It also means I look forward to getting back to my computer on Monday mornings.
12) Finally, tell us three interesting facts about yourself
This is the most difficult question. OK: when I was 22 I did a Raleigh International expedition in Chile and then hitchhiked 5000km from the south to the north. My ideal holiday is an itinerant trip with a bike, a tent and good company. And I’m (distantly) related to Thomas Hardy.
More about Harriet Springbett…
Harriet Springbett lives in France with her French partner and teenage daughters. She grew up in West Dorset and qualified as a manufacturing engineer before realising she preferred people to machines, and words to numbers. She moved to France in 1995, where she studied French and then worked as a project manager, a freelance feature writer, a translator and an English teacher. She has always written in her free time.
Her debut YA novel, Tree Magic, was published by Impress Books in ebook format in January 2017. The paperback is due out on 1st March. Harriet writes every morning and blogs on writing and cultural events at Harriet Springbett’s Playground of Words and Thoughts. Several of her short stories (Quark Soup, Shingle & Sand, Ami Entends-tu?, Big Bones…) have been placed and shortlisted in competitions or published in magazines such as The French Literary Review.
Tree Magic page at Impress Books: http://www.impress-books.co.uk/impress/tree-magic/ Tree Magic on Amazon.uk: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tree-Magic-Harriet-Springbett/dp/1911293001/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485160742&sr=8-1&keywords=9781911293002 My Blog: https://harrietspringbett.wordpress.com Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/HarriSpringbett/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarriSpringbett