Interview with author Cheryl Burman - December 2022
Wendy Leighton-Porter is a very appropriate guest for December! It’s
the festive season and much of our focus is on the kids, which is why I’m totally thrilled to have Wendy as my guest author this month.
Let’s find out about her award-winning time-travelling history tales for the 8 to 12 year old group. Thank you for being here, Wendy.
How did you come to be a writer?
After 20 years of teaching French, Latin, and Classical studies, my career took a new direction when I decided to retire early and turn my hand to writing fiction for the 9+ age group instead. My husband’s job subsequently took us abroad – we’ve lived in different parts of France, as well as in Andorra and, more recently, Abu Dhabi, so it was lucky that my new line of work was portable. One of the best adventures I’ve ever had was the 7 years we spent in the UAE, but the downside was that my busy social diary ate into my writing time in a big way! Life is much quieter these days, allowing me to focus on my books again. I now spend the majority of my time in rural France, although I regularly travel back home to the UK.
Tell us about your wonderful sounding series for kids
Right at the start of my writing journey, I knew exactly the project I had in mind and embarked on creating a 25-part series of time-travel adventures, Shadows of the Past, featuring thee children and a rather special feline hero, the inimitable Max, who is a larger-than-life character in every way. Max is based on my very own Tonkinese cat, which makes him especially dear to my heart. Interspersed amongst the main “Shadows” books are several shorter adventures where Max must undertake solo missions and, as the series progresses, it becomes clear why the cat’s role in the time-travelling journeys is so significant. The stories are a mixture of history and adventure, with a sprinkling of magic thrown in for good measure. They’re also educational – once a teacher, always a teacher!
The first five books are set in ancient times, based on subjects I was already familiar with. I have a passion for history and love getting my teeth into any kind of research, which helps as I’m moving forward through time with each book. I read as much as I can around the topics, but the internet is a fantastic resource for maps and general information. I try to stick closely to the historical facts and am a stickler for detail, but I’m writing fictional versions of real historical events and will occasionally twist things for the purpose of the story. However, I always include plenty of background material at the end of each book and make it clear if I’ve changed anything of historical importance. I’m now working on book #18, but already have a rough plan for the rest of the series. [ed note: book 18!!]
Which bit of history does the latest book deal with?
The most recently published “Shadows” book in my series was The Shadow of the Great Fire, a re-telling of the famous catastrophe which devastated the City of London in 1666. For the backdrop to each of my stories, I’ve chosen key moments in history, or well-known myths and legends. For the 17th book, I decided to send my young time-travellers to the scene of one of the most famous events in 17th century England, and who better for them to stay with than the celebrated diarist, Samuel Pepys, thanks to whom we know so much detail about the Great Fire. I had such fun exploring London on foot, visiting each place that features in my story.
What do you want your readers to feel when they have closed the last page of your book?
That they’ve enjoyed it, learned something they didn’t know before and, most importantly, that they can’t wait to read the following book in the series!
Are you close to other writers and how does that help you?
I’m fortunate to have made friends with two fellow authors who also write Middle Grade fiction with a historical bias. We grouped together to promote our books on www.adventurequestbooks.com and, although we all live in different countries, we stay in touch by email and chat regularly on Skype. It helps to have like-minded friends to share ideas with, who will always offer honest advice and support.
What do you like to read yourself?
I have my father to thank for me being a complete book addict, because he taught me to read when I was just 4 years old, and I’ve had a book in my hand ever since! I enjoy most genres, from police/detective fiction to contemporary romantic novels, but my greatest love is anything historical – both fiction and non-fiction. I recently read, and thoroughly enjoyed, The Lost Diary of Samuel Pepys by Jack Jewers, a work of fiction, but with such an authentic flavour that it almost felt as if it had been penned by the man himself.
What’s the best thing someone has said about your writing/your most thrilling writing experience?
I love hearing from my target audience and I think I must be doing something right when young readers contact me to say how much they’re enjoying the series,
but I was truly humbled to be included among a list of illustrious names when I received the following message from a parent:
“My 10-year-old daughter is hooked! She informs me that alongside CS Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder, E Nesbit, Michael Morpurgo, the author of How To Train Your Dragon (whose name I can’t recall – Cressida Cowell?) and the author of The Silver Sword, Wendy Leighton Porter is one of her most favourite authors.”
[ed note: Congratulations! That’s fantastic!]
Where will the next book take us and when we do we get to go there?
For now, I’m focusing on completing my series and am currently working on the next adventure, The Shadow of the Slave Ship, which is set in England in the mid-18th century. It will feature Dr Samuel Johnson, compiler of the first English dictionary and owner of a famous cat. I’m hoping to finish writing it early next year.
In the meantime, I’ve just produced a little something to accompany the series: Max’s Diary – tales of a time-travelling cat. This was a bit of fun, allowing my feline hero to document his adventures in his own words and his own unique style!
Interview with Mother Daughter Book Reviews - October 2013
We are pleased to welcome with us today, Wendy Leighton-Porter, author of the Shadows of the Past book series, as we kick-off The Shadow of Atlantis Blog Tour hosted by Mother Daughter Book Reviews. The Tour Schedule features book reviews, character interviews, author interviews and guest posts from over 30 other blogs.
1. As succinctly as possible, tell us why someone should read your book.
It's a fun adventure with a hint of magic, which will transport you back in time to an ancient city shrouded in mystery ... and the story features a talking cat. What more could you ask for?
2. As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? What inspired you to choose to write books?
My very first ambition, when I was 5 years old, was to be Dr Who's assistant - I must have been into time-travel even then! (I'm not sure if you're familiar with the English TV programme Dr Who, but it's still going today.) I didn't start writing books until my forties, after a career in teaching. I'd always had the idea that I'd like to write, in the back of my mind, and creating books for children seemed like a logical step after teaching.
3. What advice would you give someone aspiring to write a children's book?
Write for your target audience rather than for yourself. Try and put yourself back in your child-sized shoes and remember the sort of books you read under the covers by torchlight after you'd promised your mother you really, really, cross my heart, had turned the light out.
4. Can you tell us about the challenges you have faced in marketing your books? What works? What's a bust?
Marketing is tough, because there is just so much competition - getting yourself noticed isn't easy these days. Having an author's website is important, although I'm still a bit of a technological dinosaur without a blog or twitter account. Joining Goodreads can be useful, but I've found there are a lot of people who just want something for free without giving anything back in the way of reviews or ratings. For me, the most effective thing seems to be promotional websites and by far the best of all those is Mother Daughter Book Reviews! And I really do mean that - Renee's promotions have worked wonders for my books and I can't thank her enough.
5. What are some of your favorite books from when you were a child and did any of these inspire you when writing your books?
When I was very small, I was addicted to Enid Blyton's "Five Find-Outers" mystery series; I think they got me hooked on mystery stories and detective novels from a young age. I also enjoyed "The Bobbsey Twins" adventures. Then I progressed on to some of the classics, such as Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. At about the age of about 10 or 11 I started reading Gerald Durrell's books, starting with My Family and Other Animals. That's a very funny book and I've always loved anything which makes me laugh.
I suppose that the Enid Blyton mystery stories may have influenced me, in that my books have a slightly old-fashioned air of innocence about them, coupled with mystery and adventure. I also hope that I manage to inject a note of humour into my stories via the character of Max.
6. Which authors have influenced you the most and how?
My favourite authors all share one important attribute - the ability to make good writing look effortless. For me, and it's an opinion shared by one of the finest novelists of the 20th century, Evelyn Waugh, the 'Master' of this art was P. G. Wodehouse. His lightness of touch and the ability to conjure a beautifully drawn scene with only a handful of words remain unsurpassed. A children's author with that skill was Arthur Ransome and, to this day, I remain spellbound by the magical world of Swallows and Amazons, the first book of his I read.
7. If you could invite any 5 authors to dinner who would you choose?
Homer (the ancient Greek storyteller, not Homer Simpson!), the Latin poet Catullus, P. G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie and Lindsey Davis.
8. What is a typical day in your life?
My husband wakes me up with a coffee in bed (I'm spoiled, I know!) which our two cats, Bertie and Clio, take as their cue to come in for a cuddle. Then I get up for breakfast, but I have to feed the cats first or Clio will complain loudly. After breakfast, I switch on my computer to check my emails, then have my bath and get dressed. I might then go and do the shopping, come home and make lunch. After lunch I'll settle myself down for a couple of hours' writing. In the afternoon we like to go out for a walk in the countryside, for some fresh air and exercise, but back home in time for the all-important cup of tea at 4 o'clock (an English habit which is sacrosanct). If the weather's hot, I may indulge myself with an hour's reading on the terrace or go back to my computer until it's time to start getting dinner ready. If it's still warm, we'll sit outside and admire the view until it gets dark, or we may watch a little TV. Then it's off to bed with a good book - not too late as I'm hopeless at staying up past 11.00 pm - and of course the cats come too. At lights out, they're very good. We say "Bedtime!" and, although they may grumble, they jump off the bed and leave the room - they're very well trained!
[Would you mind sending Bertie and Clio over to have a chat with Flame who we have decided is completely "untrainable". If he wasn't the snuggliest cat I've ever met, I'll tell ya! lol]
9. If you were stranded on a desert island what 3 things would you want with you?
My husband, my cats and my laptop - would those be allowed?
[Sure, why not?!]
10. If you could choose only one time period (i.e. past, present or future) and place to live, when and where would you live and why?
I'm tempted to say I'd stay right here and now; I love the life I lead and the place I live in, and wouldn't want to swap it for anything else. But if I really had to choose somewhere different, I think I might opt for the first century Roman Empire - maybe Pompeii, but with the proviso that I could get out before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. I already feel as if I know my way around the ancient city, having taught about it for so many years, and I'd love to meet the real Caecilius who features in my fifth book, The Shadow of the Volcano. However, I do worry that if I did wish myself back into the past, I'd very soon miss my modern day comforts.
- Sport to Watch? Rugby, Formula 1 Grand Prix, golf, particularly "The Masters".
- Animal? Cats - and I adore cheetahs, although I suppose they would count as cats too!
- Board game? Scrabble
- Musical Instrument to Play? Piano (but I'm not very good!).
- City to Visit? Venice - I've never been there and it's top of my list of places I'd like to go.
Interview with author/journalist Fiona Ingram
I’d like to welcome Wendy to my blog to give us the background to the series. Hopefully, any questions you may have had will be answered here!
As far as the three children are concerned, I have absolutely no idea where they came from! I knew that I wanted one of my central characters to be a girl – and I’d had her name planned long before I even knew what I was going to write, but more about that later on. Once I’d decided on the idea of a time-travel adventure series, I knew my young heroine would need company and so I invented a twin brother, knowing they’d already have a naturally close bond which would be reinforced by the shared experience of losing their parents. Charlie came along later as a useful addition to the group dynamic; a brilliantly clever lad, his knowledge proves immensely valuable to the youngsters during the course of their adventures.
I’d always wanted to write a book one day but, with a busy teaching career, I never seemed to find enough time. When I gave up teaching I found myself in the enviable position of being able to indulge my own interests at long last. Writing for children seemed the logical step after so many years spent in the classroom and, ever the teacher, I hope that my books are a little bit educational as well as being fun.
History and mythology have always fascinated me from an early age—Greek myths and legends have timeless appeal and are wonderfully exciting stories. I devour any books about history, both fiction and non-fiction, and I’m never happier than when there’s a great documentary on TV to do with history or archaeology. Although my love of these subjects started when I was young, it has continued to grow over the years and, of course, teaching Classical Studies for such a long time merely served to fuel the flames!
The Shadow of the Yeti, huh? Now there’s a thought … Seriously though, if Mr and Mrs Lancelot had just gone away on a planned trip, then there would be no quest! As it is, the first book opens with their mysterious disappearance and I hope that my readers are inspired to read on and find out what has happened to them. Once the twins discover the truth, they are drawn time and time again into the hunt to find their mum and dad, desperately following the trail. Their missing parents are the thread which binds the stories together and keeps the children journeying into the past until the series reaches its conclusion. Will the youngsters ever find what they’re searching for? Well, you’ll just have to keep reading if you want to know the answer to that one.
I agree that there are some tough subjects in my books, but I couldn’t see any way of avoiding them given my choice of stories. I’m sure many children will have come across some of the myths and legends before and I felt I couldn’t leave out some of the major events, such as the death of Theseus’ father or the mortal combat between Achilles and Hector in the Trojan War. I avoid gratuitous violence; I think it’s unnecessary—after all, I’m writing fun adventure stories and not tales of horror designed to frighten my young readers out of their wits. That said, I don’t think I should change or sugar-coat certain things when they’re vital to the story or if they concern facts which are already well known.
This follows on from the previous answer really. The children have to come to terms with some pretty dreadful things, such as the deaths of Paris and Hector, as well as the destruction of Troy itself. They soon realise that, although they must try to help people to the best of their ability, they have to accept the harsh truth that they will not always succeed and sometimes core historical events cannot be altered. The important thing for them is that they do their best, even in the most demanding situations. This is really brought home to them in The Shadow of the Trojan Horse and they start to question their reason for being there in the first place. However, let’s not forget that their plan almost worked – if only Max hadn’t made a fatal error …
I freely admit that I’ve chosen topics which interest me personally for my series. I love history and taught Classical Studies for many years, so many of my titles were obvious choices for me. You’re right that it’s a bit of a mix of real historical events and mythology, sometimes blurring the line between the two, because I firmly believe that most legends are probably based on a long-lost truth. However, I hope that my choices will interest my young readers too. After all, everyone has heard of Atlantis, the Trojan War, Tutankhamun, and Camelot, haven’t they?
Oh yes, indeed, let’s talk about Max, one of my favourite subjects. The real-life inspiration for Max is my own cat, Bertie, as I have already said, and we love him dearly. He befriends everyone who comes to the house and, owing to his impressive size (8.5 kilos, but not fat, just huge!) and devastating good looks, people fall totally under his spell. He really is like a big, cuddly teddy bear, just as in the books; an endearing gentle giant. Rather like Max, Bertie isn’t at all brave. In fact he’s never tried to hunt or catch a single thing; that’s definitely something of a relief, because with his size and strength I dread to imagine what sort of wildlife he might bring home otherwise. When I’m
Max is the first to admit that he’s about as courageous as a big wobbly jelly, but he often finds himself thrust into critical situations where he just has to do something to help. The poor creature tries his best and sometimes what he manages to achieve is simply amazing, considering he’s just a cat. I’m not sure that his “human side” would be the right way of describing it, but he certainly shows that he has feet of clay (or should that be paws of clay?) and is not Supercat! I have plenty more exploits planned for him, some of which will be successful, whereas others might not. I like the idea of unpredictability and I don’t want him to turn into some sort of superhero who overcomes the odds every single time; he has his weaknesses, as do we all, and I see him as more of an unwilling, bumbling hero who occasionally gets it right, sometimes by accident, but who also makes mistakes.
This is a theme which will crop up more than once in the series. I thought it was important for the children to work out for themselves the reality of violence and to learn that war is not glorious. In particular, I wanted to Joe to come to that conclusion for himself, because he’s the one who tends to be rather gung-ho and excited at the prospect of seeing warriors and battles. I’m sure that TV and electronic games these days can desensitise youngsters to the horrible realities of violence, but when Joe witnesses combats and battles for real he is deeply shocked and recognises the true ghastliness of it all.
For the moment my head is full of this series and that’s what I’m focused on right now. I’m currently working on book number 8 and I’m planning for there to be 16 in total, so there’s plenty to keep me occupied. I do, however, have an idea for a ghost story that I’d like to write afterwards. There’s a house in the village where I live which is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a child and I’d like to create a story based on that, but it might be a while before I get round to it.
As I mentioned earlier, in my answer to the first question, I already had my young heroine’s name planned before I even conceived the idea of the Shadows from the Past series. One of my hobbies is genealogy and I’ve managed to trace my family back several hundred years. I find the thrill of following a trail, solving the clues and uncovering my ancestors’ lives absolutely fascinating. One day I came across my 5 x great-grandmother who was born in 1721 … and she was called Jemima Lancelot. I thought that was a wonderful name and decided, there and then, I would use it for my heroine if ever I wrote a book. I headed back to my family tree for the names of all my English characters, so Joe, Richard, James and Isabel Lancelot, Charles and Ellen Green, and even good old Mrs Garland are all related to me back in the dim and distant past! I guess it’s a good way of “keeping it in the family”!
Interview with House of Chaos
I was able to ask the author, Wendy Leighton-Porter, some questions and I must say I was delighted by her playful answers:
Can you tell us some about the process of getting ready to write? As a teacher of French, Latin and classical studies you probably knew much of the history already, but did you have to do additional research for the specific topics? How well did you know your plot before you start the research or to what extent does it grow from what you’re reading?
Up until this stage in my series of books, I haven’t really needed to do much in the way of research as most of the topics were things I’d taught over many years and I was, therefore, familiar with them. When I set out to create the series, I’d already got the plots for the early books mapped out in my head and only needed to check a few details to be accurate. For example, in The Shadow of Atlantis I wanted to include a few symbols of an ancient language, Linear B, and so I had to do some research on that. It was the same with book 4, The Shadow of the Pyramid, where I chose to include some hieroglyphs. I do like to check my historical facts as I go along, just to be sure I’m not making too many glaring errors.
In the story I’ve just completed, set in 1066 just before the Norman Invasion of England, I decided as I was writing that it would be fun to change all the place-names to their Anglo-Saxon equivalents. That didn’t prove to be too easy, but the internet is a wonderful tool for writers these days.
I’m currently working on the eighth adventure, all about King Richard III and the two princes in the tower. Again, it’s a topic I know well, but I’m re-reading many of my history books on the subject to refresh my memory.
What is the research like for you? Do you know what the plot will be before you start the research or do you come up with the plot afterwards?
My series will ultimately comprise 25 stories and I already have all the titles, as well as a vague idea of the plots for each of them. However, the subject of each book will be a topic I already know something about and my research will mostly be centred on checking facts and adding historical detail.
I thought you dealt rather skilfully with the challenge of Atlantis being doomed, yet having the children feel they could accomplish something to help. In time travel books you can’t have kids change history too drastically, but you don’t want them to just sit at the sidelines and watch bad things happen either. Could you share anything about how you deal with that?
I knew that I wanted my young time-travellers to at least try to alter the course of history and sometimes they almost succeed. In fact, without giving too much away, in the book I’m currently working on, I intend to play around with history and allow my trio to achieve something which might be considered impossible, in order to prevent a very unpleasant event from taking place. I’m not saying any more than that about it at the moment – you’ll just have to wait and see …
All three children have real consciences and Jemima is especially sensitive. They believe the book is sending them to places for the purpose of helping people, as in The Shadow of Atlantis, when they try to warn the inhabitants of the imminent destruction of the city. In the third adventure they attempt to save the Trojans from the fate which awaits them and, in book 5, the same thing happens in Pompeii when the children know that Mount Vesuvius is about to erupt. In each situation, I make sure that they are able to help at least some of the people they meet to escape the disaster. I’m very aware that some of the subjects in my books involve fairly horrific historical episodes and I don’t want my stories to be too gruesome or scary for my young readers.
Were there times in the book where you wished you could be more historically accurate? Or times when you wished you could be less accurate?
I consider my stories to be history with a twist, a device used by many other authors. By taking a true historical situation and weaving it into a fictional story, you can allow yourself the licence of playing around with the past. If I’m writing about a legend, such as Atlantis, no one really knows the truth anyway – but I still like to get in a certain amount of accurate historical information. Sometimes I’m a real stickler for getting things right too, when other people tell me it really doesn’t matter. But it matters to me! With The Shadow of Atlantis, I wasn’t happy that I had my Atlantean family escaping to the island of Crete, because I knew that Crete was devastated by the eruption of the volcano and subsequent tidal wave from Thera/Santorini, my chosen location for Atlantis and probably the favourite contender for the site of the legendary city. However, I needed those characters to be on Crete for the sequel, The Shadow of the Minotaur, so that’s where they had to go.
The children return in time to the same time they left, but they are aware of time passing since their parents have left. I presume this is because the parents have no way of returning. If they are found, and do return, will time move back to the moment they first left? Will the whole time the children lived with Uncle Richard cease to be part of the timeline?
Wow, that’s a tricky question and no mistake. I’m afraid I had to ask for Max’s help with this one, because, being a Schrödinger’s cat, he’s more familiar with these things than me – physics just isn’t my sphere of knowledge at all.
Apparently, the conundrum can be elegantly explained by reference to Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity. Although relative velocity time dilation is obviously at work, in order for the children’s parents to travel forward rapidly from prehistoric Atlantis into the Common Era, it is clear that space-time warping, causing gravitational time dilation, must also have taken place. Max’s calculations show that this could have been caused by a special condition of the Higgs field, which, in acting to break the symmetry laws of the electroweak interaction, may have caused the gauge bosons responsible for the weak force (which don’t forget, at certain energy levels is synonymous with electromagnetism) to become many times more massive than predicted by the Standard Model.
That said, he believes that the Shadows of the Past book is somehow responsible for a strong relative velocity time dilation effect. To combine the two effects, Max used the Schwarzschild solution to the Einstein field equations, calculating the necessary co-ordinate velocity by deriving the values for i) radial velocity and ii) a variable, equivalent to the Newtonian potential required for the known gravitational time dilation.
Embarrassingly simple, I know, but Max is such a clever cat. I found it so hard to break it to him that I just made the whole thing up and hoped nobody would ask me questions like this!!!
Okay, that reply was just for fun – sorry! This is my real answer: I hadn’t really considered the implications of what will happen at the end of the series, but I’ve taken a little time to ponder the conundrum and have reached a conclusion. The children’s constant comings and goings, while in possession of the magic key, involve no time passing during their absence, but because the parents are constantly moving forward through holes in time without the magic key, the time zone works differently for them; it can’t cancel out the experiences the children have at home. So, if and when the parents return to the present, time will have elapsed since their disappearance and the children’s timeline will remain unchanged. Phew! Have I got out of that one or will I have to say it was all just a dream?!
What authors are you inspired by?
I am constantly reading and usually have several books on the go at once, both fiction and non-fiction. I also try to keep up to date with what’s new in Middle Grade fiction – there are currently some fantastic authors out there, producing quality books for youngsters. So I guess my inspiration comes from a whole variety of sources, but I suppose I’m influenced by any author who can create a gripping plot, believable and sympathetic characters, realistic dialogue, and who has the ability to transport their readers to another place, immersing them so completely in the story that they just don’t want it to end – that’s a true gift.
If I really have to name names, I would mention Robert Harris, whose novels I really enjoy and in children’s fiction, J.K.Rowling; the Harry Potter series was inspired, as well as inspiring. Also, I recently read a children’s book by a new author, which ticked all the boxes for me and left me thinking, “Wow, I wish I’d written that!” The Secret of the Sacred Scarab by Fiona Ingram is the first in a series and I shall definitely be reading the rest when they’re published.
I loved those answers, and they left my husband wanting to know if the cat is perhaps named after Max Planck?
Interview with Snacks For Max (My Max thinks that's a perfect name for a Blog!)
SfM: Thanks so much for joining us, Wendy! Where did you draw your inspiration from for your characters?
Wendy: I don’t know that anyone inspired the characters of the children in the stories. I had decided there would be twins, Joe and Jemima, who would have a close bond which would be reinforced by the loss of their parents and that they would meet another boy, Charlie, who would complete the trio of young adventurers. But I didn’t really set out with a plan of what their personalities would be like – they just grew as I wrote and I think they are continuing to develop with each adventure, almost as if they’re taking on a life of their own which I don’t really have any control over.
However, I didn’t have to look very far for the inspiration for my favorite character and that is Max, the loveable talking Tonkinese cat. He is my real-life cat, Bertie. All the descriptions of Max are based on Bertie and I have used comments people have made about him, such as “Is that really a cat? It looks more like a mountain lion”! He is huge, weighing in at over 8 kilos – he’s not fat, but everything about him is enormous. A real gentle giant, he is adored by everyone who meets him.
SfM: Any character named Max is automatically our favorite! What is YOUR favorite part of the book?
Wendy: All the parts which feature Max, but especially when he meets Mia, the Temple cat, and together they steal the key from the High Priest, Zorotes.
SfM: That is definitely an exciting moment. What has been the best compliment you received as an author?
Wendy: From an 8 year old who wrote me a letter, saying, “This is one of the best books I have read in my life!”
SfM: I believe I wrote a few of those letters when I was younger. I’ll have to remember to urge Max to write some too! What is your favorite adult book of all-time?
Wendy: I think this is the point where I’m supposed to choose something heavyweight and meaningful but, if I’m honest, I really don’t have just one favorite book. However, for a combination of intelligent writing, clever plotting and atmosphere, you’d have to go some to beat The Ghost by Robert Harris, one of the best novels I’ve read in recent years.
SfM: No worries about not choosing grand literature; sometimes we just need an escape! Speaking of, if you were a superhero what would be your name, your super-power, and your kryptonite?
Wendy: I’d definitely be Catwoman! And like the characters in my books, I’d like to be able to understand and speak any language, anywhere in the world, and maybe read minds too. My kryptonite would be creepy-crawlies – I think even as a superhero I’d still need someone to get spiders out of the bath for me!
SfM: Yikes! Me too. Now, we must know: what is your favorite snack?
Wendy: Salted cashew nuts – I love them!
SfM: Those are Max’s Mamaw’s favorite, too! Thank you so much for joining us at Snacks for Max, Wendy. Good luck with your series. We look forward to reading all fifteen!
Interview with "I am a Reader not a Writer"
What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Coffee. Although once, on a visit to Rome, I went to an amazing Gelateria where they had a mind-boggling selection of ice creams (I’m hopeless at making decisions, so it was agony for me to make a selection), but in the end I chose Watermelon. It was one of the most heavenly things I have ever tasted and the watermelon “seeds” were little pips of dark chocolate scattered through it. Yum! I dream of going back there one day.
If you could meet one person who has died who would you choose?
King Richard the Third. I’d like him to tell me the truth about the death of his two nephews, the princes in the Tower. I’m currently writing my eighth book about that very topic and it’s very frustrating not to know what really happened. That said, the weight of evidence points to Richard being guilty.
One food you would never eat?
Shellfish – because they make me ill. It’s really not fair because I love mussels, but just can’t eat them.
Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Getting positive feedback from my target audience is really rewarding; when children write to me, saying I’m their favourite author, it gives me a lovely warm glow inside. One little girl recently told me she’d already read my latest book 6 times. And I have to confess to a certain glimmer of pride whenever I look at my books all lined up on the shelf – a little voice in my head says, “I wrote those!”
What was your favorite book when you were a child/teen?
I loved reading when I was a child. In fact my father taught me to read even before I started school, so I always had my nose buried in a book from a very young age. I’d find it hard to narrow my choice down to just one. I devoured Enid Blyton’s “Five find-outers” mystery series, as well as all “The Bobbsey Twins” adventures. Then I progressed to “Anne of Green Gables” and “Little Women” before becoming a huge fan of Gerald Durrell, starting with “My Family and Other Animals”, a very amusing account of his childhood on the Greek island of Corfu.
If you could be one of the Greek Gods, which would it be and why?
It would be tempting to say Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, but I think that might cause all sorts of problems – just look at what happened to the ancient city of Troy, thanks to her. No, I think I’d rather be Athena, the goddess of wisdom. It’s far more important to be clever than beautiful and besides, I like it that she has an owl as one of her symbols. I’m very fond of owls and they play an important role in my books!
What’s your favorite season/weather?
Early summer, maybe late May or the beginning of June, when everything is still fresh and green, but the weather is warm and sunny … with the promise of all those hot summer months still to come.
Newly mown grass – I know it’s probably a cliché but, for me, that sweet, fresh scent is the very essence of a perfect English summer’s day and I find it almost intoxicating.
What TV show/movie/book do you watch/read that you’d be embarrassed to admit?
I’m a sucker for silly romantic movies like “You’ve got mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle” – but please don’t tell anyone!
In your wildest dreams, which author would you love to co-author a book with?
J K Rowling. I think the “Harry Potter” series are amongst the most inspired, clever and entertaining children’s books to come out in recent years. I wish I’d written them!
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I was once involved in a high-speed crash whilst riding a camel in Cairo! (True … and unfortunately I had a party of my students with me to witness it!)
Pets? – childhood or adult
As a child I had small pets; hamsters, gerbils and then guinea pigs, which I adored. My guinea pig Millie lived for 9 years which I think was something of a record. Now I have 2 cats, Tonkinese cats to be precise. My male is a lilac-point called Bertie (after P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster) and he is absolutely enormous – not fat, but huge in every way; big face with a long muzzle, massive paws and weighing in at over 8 kilos. Everybody who meets Bertie falls head-over-heels in love with him, partly because he’s so striking and handsome, but also because he’s such a friendly gentle giant. The character of Max in my books is based on Bertie and many of the things I write about him are what people have said in real life or things which have happened to him. I also have a female Tonkinese, a little brown cat, named Clio after the Greek Muse of History. She’s half the size of Bertie and devastatingly pretty, but is the bossiest cat on the planet – in fact I’m sure she thinks she’s the supreme ruler of the universe!
Favorite place you’ve been and/or would like to go
Lake Garda in Italy – it’s absolutely delightful. I’d happily go back there again and again. I would also like to visit Venice one day too. I’ve never been and, although I know it’s terribly touristy, it’s still a magical city… and I’d just have to take a gondola ride while I was there.
What is on your “keeper shelf” of books?
Homer’s “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey”. The father of Greek storytelling, Homer’s epics are as fresh and exciting today as they would have been nearly three thousand years ago.
Do you write as you go or do you have the book all planned out from page 1?
I begin with a general outline, starting out at a certain point and knowing where I’m going to end up, with a basic framework of events in between. But, apart from that, I find that the story tends to evolve as I go along, often taking unexpected detours along the way.
How do you come up with the characters names/personalities?
For my characters’ names I delve into my family tree. One of my hobbies is genealogy and I’ve traced my family history back several hundred years, so I’ve got a lot of names to choose from. For example, my young heroine, Jemima Lancelot, is called after my 5x great-grandmother who was born in 1721. I loved her name when I came across it. As for their personalities, well they just seem to grow as I go along. As I’m in the middle of writing a series (The Shadow of Atlantis is just the first book), I’m finding that the characters are developing with each adventure.
Craziest thing you ever ate?
Frogs’ legs – I love them! Well, I do live in France most of the time, so I guess I’ve gone native.
Most embarrassing moment?
It happened one Halloween a few years ago when I’d been to a friend’s party, dressed as a vampire with full gruesome face make-up; white face, black-ringed eyes and fake blood dripping from the corners of my mouth. I was the first to leave just after midnight, as I had to go to work the following morning. My friend lived in a rural area with a manned level-crossing near to her isolated cottage. Late at night you weren’t allowed to ring the bell to get the railwayman to come and open the barrier for you to cross the railway line. Instead you had to climb the steps of the signal box and knock on the door, which I duly did – but there was no reply. I was a bit cross at having to wait there in the cold and the dark, so I moved in front of the window and saw the man with his feet up on the desk, seemingly engrossed in his newspaper. I rapped angrily on the window pane and at last he looked up. His face went white, his eyes almost popped out of his head, but he remained seated, staring at me with his mouth hanging open. So I banged harder on the glass and eventually he staggered to his feet and came to the door, looking terrified. ‘You nearly gave me a heart attack,’ he gasped. Then I remembered what I looked like and felt such a fool! Apparently he dined out on that story for years and always told my friend, every time he saw her, that the encounter had probably shortened his life by 20 years!
Titles: do you write the books first and the title comes next or does the title come to you as you write?
I’m in the middle of writing my “Shadows from the Past” series, which I think will comprise 16 adventures in total. I’m currently working on number 8, but already had planned the titles for each book when I started. It wasn’t too difficult as each one begins with the words, “The Shadow of …”
About how long does it take to write a book?
Each book probably takes me about 3 months, before I’m totally happy with my manuscript. Then I pass it on to my proof-readers.
What is your favorite part of the writing/publishing process?
There are so many parts of the process that I enjoy, from the thrill of anticipation as I set out on a new adventure and the joy of actually writing the story, to the immense feeling of satisfaction as I complete the last line. Then I get so excited waiting to see the design for the cover. I’m lucky to have a brilliant designer, the wonderful Berni Stevens, who always produces the most amazing covers for my books. But the best part of all is when the first copy arrives hot off the press from the printers and I finally get to hold it in my hands – that feels great.
Interview with Baby BookWorms
I’d say I’m most like Jemima – for a start, I’m devoted to my cat, or rather cats (I have two), I tend to be rather sensitive and not too keen on doing scary things. Also, I do have a bit of a stubborn streak, particularly when I don’t want to do something. My husband says he can always tell when I “put my ears back” (like a cross cat)! It’s a sure sign that I’ll be digging my heels in over something.
Interview with Stitch Says
When did you decide to become an author and what impact has this had on your life?
When I gave up my teaching career after almost 20 years, I suddenly found that I had the time for something I’d always wanted to do, and that was to write a book. My husband, Simon, is also an author and he really encouraged me to get started. I knew from the outset that I wanted to write for children, but I had no idea just how much I would love it. Now I can’t imagine not writing. Even when I’m not sitting in front of my computer, I’m thinking and planning (I often get my best ideas when I’m in the bath and should really keep a notebook there to jot them down – it would probably get a bit soggy though!). I try to spend at least a couple of hours each day on my actual writing. And also, when the opportunity arises, I really enjoy going into schools as a visiting author to talk to the pupils; their participation and enthusiasm always make it such a rewarding experience.
Writing is addictive – love that you have such great support from home!
Tell us about your latest work and what motivated you to write it:
When I decided that I’d like to write stories for children, I knew right from the start that I wanted to create a whole series of adventures and I’ve already planned where and how the series will finish. The Shadow of Atlantis is the first step in a journey through time, made by my characters in the quest to find their missing parents who are lost somewhere in the past. I chose a list of myths, historical events and periods in time which I thought would make interesting stop-off points for my young time-travellers. Atlantis seemed like a great place to begin as everyone is fascinated by the legend of that mysterious ancient city.
The first journey was pretty exciting, must read the next one!
What are your future aspirations as an author?
I shall continue to work on my Shadows of the Past books for the foreseeable future. The series will ultimately comprise 16 adventures and as I’m only on number 8 I think that will keep me busy for a while. I know that I’ll feel somewhat bereft when I finally get to the end of the journey; I’m becoming rather fond of my central characters and will be lost without them. But I plan to carry on writing for the Middle Grade age group and already have the grain of an idea for a ghost story.
Always hard to actually complete a series, the characters are a big part of your life!
Where do your ideas come from? What experiences or aspects of your life influence your writing?
They always say “Write about what you know”, don’t they? Well, I don’t actually have experience of time-travel, although I wish I did! However, as a former teacher of Classical Studies, I have a real passion for anything to do with the ancient world, myths and legends, and indeed history in general. I hope that my books are exciting adventures, but I’d like to think I’m also helping my young readers to discover that history can be fun and that they might learn a few things from my stories, perhaps without even realising it – once a teacher, always a teacher, I guess!
My books also feature a rather unusual character – a very large Tonkinese cat called Max, who has the ability to speak, thanks to a magic charm he wears on his collar. I don’t have too far to look when I’m writing Max’s scenes, as he’s based on my very own large Tonkinese cat, Bertie. The only difference is that Bertie can’t speak … or maybe he could, if I could just find him a magic charm to wear!
Stitch wants to meet Bertie!
What do you do to improve yourself and a writer?
Read, read, and read some more! I’m a real bookworm and always have several books on the go, both fiction and non-fiction. When I’m reading a novel, I tend to be quite critical, looking at the way the story is written; the style, the use of language, even the punctuation, and I’m quick to admire things that are done well. I also make a big effort to read lots of books within my own genre of Middle Grade fiction – it’s important to keep up with what else is being published and to take inspiration from my fellow writers who are producing quality work … and there is a huge amount of really good stuff around at the moment – the future of children’s fiction is looking rosy!
Writing for children is getting better and better!
What are the names of your books?
The Shadow of Atlantis
The Shadow of the Minotaur
The Shadow of the Trojan Horse
The Shadow of the Pyramid
The Shadow of the Volcano
The Shadow of Camelot
The Shadow of the Norman Arrow (to be published in November 2013)
Tell us a little bit about your next WIP
I’m currently working on the eighth book in my Shadows of the Past Series. It will be entitled The Shadow of the Two Princes and tells the story of the notorious English king, Richard the Third, who is believed to have killed his two nephews in the Tower of London, in order to usurp the throne in 1483. I was very excited by the recent discovery by archaeologists of the long-lost skeleton of King Richard, buried under a car park in Leicester. Looking at his bones, the archaeologists realised that Richard had suffered from a severe spinal deformity, something which had long been speculated but never proved. I’m really looking forward to writing this one, but it might turn out to be quite a scary adventure when my time-travelling heroes must risk their own lives to rescue the princes!
Thanks Wendy for joining Stitch Says – remember to hop over and join in the fun on the blog tour. Stitch Says will be posting a review of The Shadow of Atlantis very soon. In the mean time – keep reading, keep writing!
Interview with Valerie Ormond - August 2013
American author Valerie Ormond asked me if I would be willing to do an interview which she would post on her blog. Of course I said yes! Here is the link
to Valerie's blog page: http://believinginhorses.com/blog/?p=775 and here's a copy of the interview:
"Yes, we CAN travel back in time…with books. Today Wendy Leighton-Porter, author of the Shadows of the Past time-travel novels, talks about a few of her sixteen time-travel adventures, and more. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know this interesting woman who spends her time writing and enjoying life in the United Kingdom and southern France.
Wendy, my first question – what inspired you to write your Shadows from the Past series of time-travel novels?
My mother had always told me I should write a book. However, with a full-time teaching job, complete with lessons to plan, books to mark, exams to correct and reports to write in the evenings and on weekends, I never quite found enough time. When I gave up my teaching career, I found I no longer had an excuse. But what would I write? For some unknown reason, I had a sudden epiphany whilst on a flight from the UK to France. The idea for my “Shadows from the Past” series just popped into my head, almost fully-formed. I couldn’t wait to get started and, as soon as I was able to sit down at my computer, I found the first story just flowed out of me!
How did you decide which time periods to include in your stories and how many books to write?
I started with Atlantis because it’s a legend which captures everyone’s imagination and I’m a firm believer that the myth is probably founded on a real place and a real cataclysmic event. Then, moving forwards in time with each subsequent story, I arranged for my young time-travellers to stop off in places and periods of history which interest me, but which I thought would also interest my readers. Because I’m from the UK, some of the books which are still to come may lean more towards key events in English history, but I’m hoping that they’ll still make an entertaining read.
Which book in the series is your favorite and why?
If I had to choose just one, it would probably be “The Shadow of the Trojan Horse” because the story of the Trojan War has long been one of my favourite tales from Greek mythology. I can read Homer’s “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” time and time again – they are wonderful adventure stories. I love the way the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece meddled in events during the Trojan War, and I’ve incorporated that aspect into my re-telling of this epic tale. Despite the fact that my version is a something of a twist on Homer’s story, I’ve included many characters and events from the original, and have also sneaked in a few of his famous epithets when describing people and places such as, “rosy-fingered dawn” and “the wine-dark sea.” But I must confess to a tendency to prefer each new book I’m working on! I loved writing “The Shadow of the Volcano” because I used to teach all about Pompeii in my Latin lessons, and then I had such fun writing the latest adventure, “The Shadow of Camelot” .…
What was your favorite part about writing the books?
I just love writing – I get really carried away when I come to an exciting bit, completely losing track of the time as my fingers fly over the keyboard, but I have to admit that the parts I enjoy writing most involve Max, the adorable talking Tonkinese cat. I’m more than a little biased here, because he’s based on my own lilac Tonkinese, Bertie – and, like Max in the stories, he is a very large cat in real life, weighing in at 8 kilos! I want my readers to fall in love with Max, as I’m totally in love with him myself. And I also hope they’ll find him funny. Most of the humour in the books comes from the things Max says and does – he’s quite a character!
Can you describe your research and writing routine?
I don’t really have a routine as such. If I had staff to do the housework and cook meals for me, then I’m sure I could probably have a strict timetable. But, as it is, I write when I can. If possible though, I do like to set aside at least a few hours each day.
What would you most like to leave readers thinking?
I would love to think that I’m encouraging my readers to discover that history can be enjoyable and leaving them with a thirst to find out more. I also hope that they’ll learn something new in each book, which perhaps they didn’t know previously.
What are your top suggestions for writers?
Above all, have faith in yourself – if you believe you can do it, that’s the first step!
I find that on days where I’m struggling to get going, I try and make myself write at least a few hundred words –I might end up deleting them all the next day, but sometimes, when you’ve had to wrestle each and every word on to the page, you read it back and it’s not half bad – it may even kick-start the creative juices! Whatever happens, I fully believe it’s never time wasted.
Make sure you love what you’re doing! If you don’t enjoy what you’re writing, how can you expect anyone to enjoy reading it?
And finally, never ever give up in the pursuit of your dream!
What is next on the horizon for you?
At the moment I’m just focusing on the “Shadows from the Past” series – I’m currently working on book number seven, but am planning for there to be sixteen in total. I already know what each of the books will be about and where the last one will end. There will be a lot of loose ends to tie up and questions to be answered as the journey reaches its final destination. However, I do already have the grain of an idea for something I intend to write when I’ve finished the series. It will be a ghost story, based on the true tale of a haunted house in the village where I live in the UK.
So you’re already thinking ten books ahead? Wow. Anything else you’d like to share?
One of my hobbies is genealogy – researching my family history – and I’ve been lucky enough to trace my family back quite a long way. One day, I discovered my five times great-grandmother, Jemima Lancelot, who was born in 1721. I thought she had such a marvellous name that, if ever I wrote a book, I would have to call my heroine after her! And so, when I embarked upon my “Shadows from the Past” series, Jemima Lancelot was reborn. Since then I’ve borrowed names from my family tree for the rest of the characters in my stories too.
Finally, just in case you hadn’t already noticed, I totally adore cats, particularly Tonkinese! I have two of them and they are such characters – they’re probably more like dogs in the way they behave and bond with humans. They are very sociable creatures and want to be with you all the time – this can get a bit tricky, especially when you’re trying to write at your computer and a furry paw insists on helping you out! Our female cat Clio is half the size of Bertie, but considers herself to be the supreme ruler of the universe and is constantly telling us what to do. I once read somewhere that you don’t own a “Tonk,” they own you … how true!
Thank you, Wendy, for stopping by. For my review of Wendy’s “Shadow of Atlantis,” please see http://bit.ly/ShadowOfAtlantisReview. (Short version: I loved it!)"