Monday 28 December 2015

Debuts 2015 & 2016 - Day 4 - Anna McKerrow

Welcome to Day 4 of the celebration of the debut authors of 2015 and today I have an author who has quickly become a firm favourite in the YA world - Anna McKerrow
Anna McKerrow debuted in March this year with Crow Moon published by Quercus. 
The second book in this series, Red Witch, will be published in March 2016. 
What was the reaction to your book cover when it was revealed?
The cover for CROW MOON got an unbelievable reception when it was revealed, and I still get lots of comments about it. I really liked it, but I hadn’t quite anticipated how popular it was going to be! It’s a simple silhouette design of a girl’s head against a white background with a modern style title; the detail of paint splodge/space with stars in the silhouette is subtle and very beautiful. The artist is an American chap called Alex Cherry; he did the cover for RED WITCH too. The cover of CROW MOON was a clever solution for what is in many ways a cross-genre book; it’s not straight witchy, it has romance and climate fiction elements too and it’s a dystopia/utopia, so it was really hard to get a representative and appealing cover. So I’m delighted that so many people love it.

How do you feel about publishing your sophomore book?
Super excited - and deadly nervous. I think RED WITCH is possibly a better book than CROW MOON - and at least as good, but my worry is that other people won’t think so! Book 2 of a trilogy can be a tough point in the story and it has to stand up on its own as well as carry the overall story forward. There’s the other weird thing of readers alrady being invested in your story, instead of coming to it cold the first time around. What if they don’t like it? What if you don’t do what they wanted with the characters? And there’s the worry about retailers might not take up book 2 as much as book 1. That’s a possibility. But overall, nerves aside, it’s really exciting. Really.

What was the best piece of advice you were given about publishing?
Before the trilogy was accepted by Quercus, I was lucky to have some feedback on the book from an Editor at another publishing house. She was really generous with her time and talked to me about making the right choice of publisher for the book. One thing she said to me was that you can only be a debut author once, so you should make the best choices for you - listen to your instincts but aim high and go for the best deal for your book. That isn’t to say that your whole career rests on your debut; in fact, most writers will mature nicely over time, like wine (!) however, it’s an important moment and if you can start strong, that can only be a good thing.

Did you have to visit schools and were the visits what you were expecting?
I’ve done some school events with CROW MOON and really enjoyed them. I’ve worked with schools in my professional life for a long time now so school environments are pretty familiar; I’m glad of all the years I spent teaching, running workshops, visiting schools, working in a drama school with incredibly rowdy young people (I mean, if you want to test your public presentation skills, go and try and get the attention of a hall of 50 drama students. They never shut up. And I say that with love. I love actors.) Nowadays I’m fairly relaxed with teens and doing presentations, and not minding the chatter and giggling which comes as part of it! I really enjoy being around young people anyway, that’s part of why I started writing for them. They’re bright and funny and sensitive and honest.
What I’ve been surprised by, I suppose, is how much the teens and the teachers and librarians want to talk about the pagan elements of the book, and about me as a pagan and what that means. It’s great to be able to talk to young people about what that term might really mean in the modern world - someone who is an environmental activist, someone who tries to be in tune with the natural rhythms of the earth, the seasons, the sun and moon, and enact change in their life and the world around them in accordance with the highest good, and in harmony with those energies - and connecting to deities from historic cultures, especially a Goddess. That’s simplifying the work and commitment involved but it’s hard to represent a very diverse spiritual path - and a recognised UK religion in Paganism and Druidry, by the way - in a school Q&A session! Still, I try.

What was the best quote about your book that you received? 
I’ve been very fortunate to have received some lovely reviews for CROW MOON. But my favourite is Lucy Powrie describing it as her dream novel. When I was developing the story and had decided to take it forward and try to get it published, my dream was that at least one teen - probably a girl - would really like it. That I could reach at least one young woman and entertain her, make her believe that magic is real; write that book that I always wanted to read in my teens, and after. If I do nothing else, I’ve achieved that goal and that feels great.
Thank you Anna for sharing your experiences as a debut. Come back tomorrow to hear from another one of our successful debuts of 2015.

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