Next in our ‘Getting To Know’ series is author of the gruesomely hilarious Mort the Meek and the Ravens Revenge – Rachel Delahaye.
Rachel has a great sense of humour and a passion for writing which will become clear after reading this corker of an interview… so let’s get to it!
First off, tell us a little about yourself…
Well, I’m a writer and an editor and I am lucky to live in the beautiful city of Bath with my partner, two teenagers and a crazy dog called Rocket. Life is pretty bonkers at my house (mainly due to the two teenagers and the crazy dog called Rocket). It’s sometimes hard to find peace when the music gets whacked up full volume (by the kids, not the dog) and you get jumped on for ‘walkies’ three times a day (by the dog, not the kids).
What is your local bookshop and how can people find it?
My local bookshop is called Oldfield Park Book Shop on Moorland Road in Bath. It’s a brilliant place – very small, but warm and welcoming; the owner, Harry, is passionate about books and reads so much. It’s a great place to go for a natter and Harry always puts my books in the window, which is lovely. I’d love to write a story about it one day – maybe a travelling bookshop. When it shuts the doors, it isn’t locking up, it’s flying off to another planet to share books with alien children…
Tell us all about your book ‘Mort the Meek and the Ravens Revenge’.
Ah, Mort… Mort the Meek is about a boy who lives on an island called Brutalia, which is awful. It’s full of hunger, boredom and danger, where anything could get you into trouble, and if you fell over you might get attacked by starving ravens (who are always on the lookout for a juicy eyeball).
The problem is the vicious Queen (and King, but he’s not allowed to talk much). She gets much enjoyment from making others feel uncomfortable and has banished fun in any form. She doesn’t think twice about punishing people, either. There’s always a ‘punishment of the day’ (and she can be really quite creative). But Death is her absolute favourite punishment. With a lack of kindness and wonder, is it any wonder the people on the island have grown up irritable and violent, themselves? Sometimes a fight down at the fruit market is the only way to brighten the day!
But Mort is different. He doesn’t believe in violence at all. He is a PACIFIST. He even runs a Pacifist Society, although he’s the only member. But in a terrible twist of fate, the Queen appoints him Royal Executioner. To make matters worse, he is expected punish his very best friend who is in trouble for ensnaring a raven. Oops. How’s he going to get out of that one?
The Ravens’ Revenge is about Mort discovering that you can still fight for peace until the very end. Without actually fighting, of course.
(Read review of Mort the Meek and the Ravens Revenge)
What was your nickname at school? (If you had one)
My nickname was RATS. Yes, Rats (plural). I actually have no idea how it came about. If you can think of a reason, please let me know!
Were you good at writing at school?
I was not very good at all in primary school. When I do my author talks to school assemblies, I make everyone laugh by reading out something I wrote when I was eight… because it was TERRIBLE. But as I grew older and read more, it shaped my writing and I think I did okay. As you grow up you have more experiences to write about too, which helps.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I was absolutely obsessed with The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper. As soon as you opened the cover it sucks you in, making your heart pound, forcing you to read long into the night underneath the duvet. It’s a great good versus evil adventure with mythology and magic. Scary at times, but so exciting.
What was it that inspired you to become a writer?
My father was a writer. He wrote thrillers in the ‘80s and was also a tv journalist. I remember the excitement of his books arriving. I also studied how he used words to shape stories and get them across in a memorable way. Both my parents loved joking with words, too; I’m an only child and dinner would be the three of us, making up puns. My mother was a librarian for an Oxford college, and although the books she cared for were old and dusty and boring, it just added another layer to the world of words I grew up in*. Apart from drama, I think the idea of doing anything else with my life was alien. Following education, I went straight onto the editorial floor, researching and then feature writing. And now, I feel like I’ve won the lottery – I’m writing children’s books.
*please note, you do not need to grow up in a world of words to be a writer or be interested in writing.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Fear. I started writing books long before I ever met a publisher. And when I say ‘started’, that’s exactly what I mean. I would start a book and then I’d stop after a few pages and ask Why am I doing this? Who would ever want to read it? Am I kidding myself? It’s normal when you’re writing to suddenly get nervous.
But the answers are: you’re doing it because it’s what you love, and someone will want to read it, and no, you’re not kidding yourself. Worry too much and you’ll never finish your story.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Write what excites you! When I was young, I sometimes tried to be clever and write about things I thought were ‘intelligent’; those stories always came out boring as a boiled potato. So, don’t write about a cheese farm in Devon when what excites you is a sweet factory on the planet Zonk. If you’re excited about your story then anyone reading it will be excited too.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Using words to make people laugh. Around the age of ten, my friend Alice and I would send each other nonsense stories, posted to each other’s houses. They made no sense. The butterflies tied their shoe-laces and shouted tally-ho before falling into a planet called Moose, for instance. It was all bonkers, but it made us laugh. It took us out of the moment and changed our moods. That’s wonderful, isn’t it. Whenever I felt a bit sad or worried, I’d write another story for Alice.
Why don’t you have a go at a nonsense story and see how it makes you feel. I bet as you’re writing, you’ll find yourself grinning. I’d love to read it, too!
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Thanks to social media, I’d now consider many writers my friends. I’m not sure if we influence each other’s writing – I think probably not. However, there are many other reasons why having author friends is so special. For instance, Gareth P Jones (Dragon Detective) is always there for moral support, fun and brainstorming.
And through the years, others like Tom Easton (Girls Don’t Hit) and Jonathan Meres (The World of Norm) have been there to champion, which is so great. Other authors, like Martin Howard (Alfie Fleet’s Guide To The Universe), Darren Simpson (Scavengers) and Gabriel Dylan (Whiteout) have been generous with their time, offering to read manuscripts I need feedback on. Basically, there are too many authors to mention here – so many, all important – and without them I’d feel very alone.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
I’d be an actor. I haven’t acted in a long time, but there’s nothing like pretending to be a character – practicing the lines and movements and mannerisms – and then stepping out in front of an audience and making them believe you ARE that character. It’s thrilling. It’s fiction in motion. Maybe one day, I’ll join a drama group and go back to it.
Has a book ever made you cry? What was it?
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. It’s the story of frail human hearts caught in the whirlwind of war. I also cried at So Long And Thanks For All The Fish by Douglas Adams, but I can’t remember why. Probably because it was so funny.
Where Do You Go, Birdy Jones by Joanna Nadin was the last children’s book that made me cry. You’ll have to read it to find out why. It’s a brilliant book.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Social media. Whenever I am stuck for a word or feeling a little unmotivated, I head over to Twitter. And a few hours later, I’ll realise just how much time I have spent joking and laughing when I could have been putting words onto a page and getting those ‘bones’ of a story down. Saying that, Twitter can also act as a motivator. Friends will lift your mood, tell you to write, or offer help with a story idea. It’s a wonderful community out there.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
My computer with a giant screen. It’s not very exciting, but as my eyes get older and trickier, it’s so good to have a large canvas in front of me.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A whale. They represent communication and wisdom, and are special to so many cultures. I couldn’t think of any better spirit animal for a writer who wants her stories to be read all over the world.
What does literary success look like to you?
What a tricky question. Some would say success is linked to sales, and it way it is. But for me, success would be knowing that my book has a following. A group of fans desperate for the next Rachel Delahaye book to come out… That’s when I’ll feel successful.
Do you Google yourself?
Occasionally, but my results often get muddled up with those of Rachel De-Lahay, who is a rather brilliant award-winning playwright. Then I feel rubbish that I haven’t won any awards.
And most importantly… What is your favourite biscuit?
Garibaldi. Crispy, sticky and chewy – hello! What a combination. And they come in sheets with perforations. So unusual and fun.
I’d like to give a huuuuge thanks to Rachel for coming on the blog and for providing the best reason I’ve ever heard for liking a Garibaldi.
It was great to have you on Rachel and hope you come back to talk about your next book 🙂
If you’re a fan and would like to know more about Rachel…
And you can get your hands on a copy of Mort the Meek and the Ravens Revenge at the following…
*If you are an author (or publisher who would like to introduce an author) and would like to do your own q&a, or something else, to feature on the blog then send me an email… It’s a great opportunity to wax lyrical about your work and do some shameless self-promotion.