Book Angel Booktopia welcomes Shelia Agnew today as part of the Evie Brooks: Marooned in Manhattan Blog Tour with a quick Q and A
1. How would you promote reading to a group of teenagers?
Read for yourself. What are you passionate about? If, for example, you want to be a musician, start working your way through the shelves with books relating to music. Read biographies. Learn from your idols’ mistakes and get inspired by what they did right.
Read so that you can get a break from yourself. Maybe you’ve had a bad day at school. Maybe you had a day during which you realized that your crush of seven months is actually an idiot. Or maybe you’ve got more serious problems, like a parent or a sibling with a serious illness. Books can be wonderfully distracting and help smash that annoying loop of thoughts in your head. Escape to another world through a book. You might have fun. Even if you don’t, just by reading, you can often find your way to a calmer state of mind. You might even end up with that wonderful all’s well with the world feeling.
Read for other people. I mean, read so that you are a more interesting person. It’s very boring to talk to people whose reading habits are limited to trivia on social media websites because they rarely have anything original to say. Reading can also help connect you to other people. Perhaps you find that you’re really into steampunk. Well, there’s a whole world of steampunk fans out there who will welcome you into the tribe.
2. You’ve travelled extensively, has this had an impact on your writing? If so, in what way?
Travelling has definitely had a huge impact on my writing. To give just one example: my young adult book, Before, We Were Aliens, is narrated by Alejandro (Alex) Sanchez, a thirteen-year-old Latino living in hiding in Manhattan ten years in the future. I’m not Latino. So how did I get into the mind of the main character? In 2011/2012, I lived with a family in South America and learned Spanish. Now, sure, it would take a lifetime to truly understand and know a culture so different from my own. But I don’t agree with the old cardinal rule of writing – Write What You Know. I believe in writing about anything that you feel you can do with confidence. My time in South America gave me the confidence to write Alex’s voice. That was all I needed.
3. What creative writing tips would you give a school writing club?
Write to your strengths. Know your writing weaknesses and try to overcome them by reading as much as possible. Em, don’t forget about plot. It’s kind of important. Oh, and be kind but honest when you are critiquing the work of club members. If a reader can’t come up with one positive and honest point about someone else’s story, that reflects more poorly on the reader’s abilities than on the writer’s.
4. Marooned in Manhattan features a Vet. Did you do much research on vets?
I used to make regular trips to my local vet in Manhattan with my own dog. I found the clinic fascinating and I always observed a lot of what was going on. I particularly liked eavesdropping on the conversations of the other pet owners in the waiting room. But my research mainly related to animal diseases and treatment. The book opens with the death of Evie’s mother so I didn’t want to have a lot more death in the book. I tried, for most part, to find illnesses that were curable! I would do things like google “common diseases in monkeys,” and take it from there. There are about thirty animals in the book so coming up with a different problem each time was challenging.
5. Do you have any funny stories about your research?
No. But I do have a funny story about my book promotion. Last week I visited a ton of local schools and I dropped into a local café for a take-away coffee. The three waitresses all huddled together and started whispering and shooting furtive glances in my direction. Don’t be paranoid; I reminded myself, they are not talking about you. One of them approached me and said, “We were just talking about you.”
She thrust a napkin into my hand. “Will you give us your autograph?” My mouth dropped open. Sure, I’d had some local press coverage but it wasn’t the kind of stuff that you would equate with celebrity status. Then I slapped myself mentally. Of course, they must be parents of kids that I had met. I signed the napkin with a flourish and handed it back to her. She squinted. “Who is Sheila Agnew?” she asked in a tone bordering on disgust. “Em, that’s me, I have a book out for children. Don’t you want the autograph for your child?” “No,” she said, “we thought you were that famous American actress,” and she handed the napkin back to me. I didn’t quite know what to do with it. As the other customers watched silently with great interest, I stuffed it into my handbag, grabbed my coffee and tried to leave the café quickly without breaking into a gallop. I managed a kind of half-trot. I think that I will keep that napkin as a reminder for the rest of my life!