Jasmine Richards is one of my favourite people. Not only is she an extremely talented senior editor for Oxford University Press, but she is also a talented writer in her own right. This week sees the publication of her third novel, Secrets of Valhalla.
Your new book, Secrets of Valhalla is due out today, how are you feeling about it?
Secrets of Valhalla has been a rather long time in the making. After the publication of my first novel Book of Wonders I have been busy renovating a house, running Book Bound which offers intensive writing workshops and retreats, becoming a mum and developing and editing children’s fiction at Oxford University Press.
It has been a manic few years but the characters of Buzz and Mary and the idea of gods in hibernation wouldn’t leave me and the seeds for Secrets of Valhalla were slowly germinating. Still, I had to dig very deep to turn ideas into a finished manuscript.
In some ways then, seeing this book being published feels more momentous than publishing my debut novel [which I really didn’t think was possible] because finding the time to write it has been such a challenge. I feel incredibly proud that this day has come and in particular I need to thank my phenomenal editor Andrew Harwell at Harper Collins for getting me over the finish line!
Can you tell my readers a little bit about it to whet their appetites?
Secrets of Valhalla is the story of Buzz [a British boy who hates mythology] and Mary [an American girl on holiday who has some rather unique abilities] and their quest to save Sunna [Norse Goddess of the sun and famous weather woman]. They also need to find the Runes of Valhalla and restore time as we know it in our world.
With Sunna kidnapped and taken to a different realm the world is stuck on a loop and things are deteriorating fast. The stakes then are pretty high and I draw on both Norse and Roman mythology for my gatekeepers, heroes and villains. Oh yeah, there is also a talking squirrel and a dragon with an attitude problem.
I really wanted this to be a classic quest novel but with young people that felt relevant and modern. It was also important to me that the characters were diverse as I think fantasy is for all readers and children fiction should represent that.
The cover is gorgeous. Did you have any say in it’s development and are you pleased with it?
I’d say the cover was a joint endeavour between the publisher, the illustrator Sam Nielson and myself but obviously we all had different roles to play. I remember talking to my editor early on and saying that I thought the mythical World Tree that features prominently in the story could be a great starting place for the cover. After speaking to the designer he came back and asked for some visual references for the characters of Buzz and Mary which I provided. After that, it was just a matter of waiting to see what the illustrator created with those ingredients and I have totally lucked out with my gorgeous cover! I love the colours, I love that the more you look at it the more you see and that it gives you a sense of wonder and adventure and invites you in to find out more.
I know you are a very busy working mum. How do you fit writing around motherhood and working in publishing?
For sure, it is a challenge to write whilst working and being a parent and I am still learning strategies to help me with that balance. I talk a bit about some of things that have worked for me over on the Book Bound blog.
But a key thing for me, I think, was having a support network of friends and family who I could ask for help if I needed time. There is no quick fix solution, you have to write a book one word at a time and you need time to do that. There’s no getting away from it!
Sometimes, I wish I was a faster writer but with each book I think you do get a bit quicker and certainly more confident. Being a busy mum adds to the time pressure but the upside to that is that there is less time to procrastinate which is a huge enemy to writing!
Have you read many Young Adult novels and if so, which one was your favourite?
To be honest, I don’t have as much time to read as I once did but I think it is absolutely key for a writer to consume books for their own craft. Reading helps elevate your own writing and it gives you an escape into other worlds and headspaces. Therefore, I try and make it a priority to read a range of books and I find audiobooks really aids with that.
Something I’ve read recently which I thought was really strong was The Rest of Us Live Here by Patrick Ness. In terms of an all-time favourite young adult novel I think it might have to be Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
Do you have any advice for unpublished authors on dealing with rejection?
I think the only thing you can do is keep going and keep believing in your writing. Instead of saying ‘I haven’t got a publishing deal’, say ‘I haven’t got a publishing deal yet!’.
The truth is, it may not be this book, it may not be the next one but you are improving each time and no writing is wasted. It’s all practice and experience.
Write characters that feel authentic and real to you and seek out those ideas that excite you as much as your future readers.
The market is incredibly competitive but tenacity and imagination will eventually get you across the line as just long as you put the work in to make your novel as strong as it can possibly be.
Secrets of Valhalla is published by Harper Collins on January 19th 2016
Two friends awaken a world of myth and magic in this clever middle grade fantasy perfect for fans of Rick Riordan and Anne Ursu.
It’s not every day that you find a famous weatherwoman bound by magic to a tree deep in the woods. Or discover that the weatherwoman is in fact Sunna, the Norse Goddess of the Sun, and one of the seven day guardians who keep time in order. But that’s just what happens to new friends Buzz and Mary—and it’s only the start of their adventure.
Now, as the people of Earth are forced to repeat the same Saturday over and over again, Buzz and Mary must journey to collect the Runes of Valhalla and awaken the other day guardians, before vengeful god Loki can get to them first.
To find out more about Jasmine Richards: