Happy Ghostly Greetings to you!
I hope every one of you has got some spooky events lined up for tonight with your kids and/or grandkids? But if you haven't got children, you can still decorate for your adult visitors! Let's face it, we're all kids at heart, aren't we?
On Saturday I attended my grandson's surprise 18th birthday party and we all had a fabulous time. There was a disco and karaoke, and being the karaoke queen that I am, I just couldn't resist getting up for a few songs!
Anyway, it's time now to get cracking with Yvonne's turn in the spotlight!
Photographer Credit: Ian Robinson
Eva: Welcome, Yvonne. Thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of this series of interviews. Now, tell us all about yourself, as in, a bit of a biography.
Yvonne: Thanks for having me, Eva. I’m really excited to do this interview. At heart, I’m a storyteller and a reader. I write to bring the stories in my imagination to the page and because I love endings. I write stories as a way of figuring things out, finding answers, connecting with people and connecting with myself. I was one of those kids who always wanted to be a writer. I loved books and the places they took me. Now, I write stories I would have loved to have read growing up. Stories about mysteries in small towns solved by heroines that look like 9-year old me. I also write stories that I want to read today. I write short stories, personal essays, novels, and scripts. I won the Northern Writers Award for fiction in 2017, a British Library Eccles Centre Fellowship in 2019 and also a Kimbilio Fellowship in 2022. I’ve also written six titles for the Ladybird series and short stories for children. My world is filled with stories. I’ve taught creative writing and am now Academic Director of Creative Writing at Cambridge University Institute of Creative Writing. I host and create literary events because I love being read to and have hosted an award-winning radio show. My love of being read to has led to an Arts Council funded podcast, Write Your Novel with Yvonne Battle-Felton which was a collaboration with New Writing North and my current podcast, Bookable Space where authors read to me. Finally, I’m also a commissioning editor of literary fiction at John Murrays (Little Brown, Hachette) and a columnist at Mslexia. I love the many ways I’m surrounded by words and stories.
How many books have you written up to now? Are they published or self-published? What genre are they?
So far, I’ve written two books. My debut novel, Remembered (Dialogue Books/Blackstone Publishing) was long-listed for the Women’s Prize for fiction in 2019 and shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize in 2020. My novels lean towards literary fiction. Remembered is historical fiction.
My second novel, Curdle Creek, is American gothic/gothic horror. It will be published October 2024 by Dialogue Books in the UK. I’ve started dipping into the third book, Every Treasured Thing. I’m not sure what it is going to be or whose story it is. I’m at that point where anything is possible. Characters are still sort of introducing themselves and I’m getting more and more curious about what they want to tell me and of course about what they don’t want me to know. I’ve rewritten myths for young readers and my short stories for adults tend to be contemporary fiction.
Of all the genres there are, is there any genre/s that you feel you wouldn’t be able to write and why? Is there any genre that you really wish you could write, but feel you wouldn’t be able to do it justice?
I would love to be able to write romance! I just don’t feel like I have it in me. Every once in a while I sit down and think, ok, this is it. These characters are going to fall in love and stay there. A few pages later, one ends up dead. It’s like I’m drawn to mystery. You’d think that would mean they could solve the mystery together but so far, no. Who knows? One day I may surprise myself.
Do you have any favourite ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ words that you like to use in your books? What are those words? Also, what words used by other authors irritate you more than they should?
As a nod to growing up in New Jersey, in Remembered, my characters used youse as a plural for you. It reminded me of friendships and family and even though the characters are not there, I wanted that piece of my past on the page. When characters sigh, look off in the distance, or blink, I never know what the writer wants that
to mean or what it is meant to show about the character or the situation they’re in. I don’t know how to translate it. Like, if a character is talking about how they first met someone 10, 20 years ago and they tell me they sighed or blinked I’m thinking why or how do you remember that, what am I supposed to do with that information, and did you kill them? But, I’m like that when writers use ellipses too. I want to know what happens within the silences. Ellipses seem to rely on the reader to fill in the space but I can’t. I skip over them. They end up lost in translation between what the writer wants them to show and how I read (or not read) them.
Do you sing at all, be it karaoke, in a choir or have done so professionally? Whether you have or not, have you ever written (or had the urge to write) any song lyrics? Have those lyrics been used at all?
You know, I’ve convinced myself that I cannot sing. It’s not something anyone has ever said to me but (I guess because I can hear myself while I do it) I’ve convinced myself that it’s best if I sing to myself, at home, or low. Although, I sing when I’m happy and sometimes catch myself doing it. I don’t sing in a choir but would love to sing in one of the ones where no matter how badly I do sing, I’m not thrown out because of it. I write and record skits (usually animated) or read audio (usually personal essays) for fun. I have sung at least twice in those. I’ve written rap lyrics. Ages and ages ago, a good friend and I started (and ended) a rap group. I can’t remember how many songs I wrote. Not because it was so many but because I can only remember one of them. Since then, I’ve written a short rap for a skit I wrote. I’ve also written a snippet of a song for Remembered. Now, from time I’ll think of lyrics and I write them down so I can think of them again but not with the aim of using them in anything—at least not yet.
What question would you like to pose, (if you were to ever interview your favourite author), which never seems to get asked in author interviews? And who is that favourite author?
I have lots of favorite authors. It sort of fluctuates based on what I need from a book at any given time. I love Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Jesmyn Ward, Octavia Butler, Zora Neale Hurston, Tananarive Due, Diana Evans, Jenn Ashworth, and many more. But, I’d like to ask them all about the book they most wanted to write but didn’t and what stopped them from writing (or publishing) it. I’d like to talk to them about their literary regrets if they have any. I’m curious about the characters they may have written differently, plot-lines not followed, and the edits they wish they hadn’t made.
If you were to ever write a children’s book, (and those of you who already do) would you/do you do the illustrating yourself, make use of a family member or friend’s talent or pay an illustrator? Do you solely write or do you have any other creative pursuits?
When my children were much younger I wrote and illustrated books for them. Then, I created personalized children’s colouring books for other kids. I mostly donated them to schools. I should say that I am not very good at drawing. It’s a skill that I admire but don’t necessarily have. I enjoy drawing but I’m no illustrator. The illustrations were rudimentary (at best) but they were fun to write and draw. I don’t do my own illustrations now. My daughter is a wonderful illustrator and I would love to collaborate on a book with her. Otherwise, I would pay an illustrator.
I love audio. I’m not an actor but I love recording audio for short scripts I’ve written, reading my writing out loud, and talking. I narrated the audio-book for Remembered and that was sooo much fun to do. I worked with a voice acting coach because my love for voice work (I’ve done voice-overs) is not the same as the talent to act. I have a podcast because—and I’m not sure this is a creative pursuit—but, I love to talk to people. A podcast lets me meet people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. My other creative pursuit is creating/hosting literary events like Telling it Like it’s Lived, a true story open mic night in Dewsbury, and Sheffield Draft Night, a monthly event for works in progress. I like bringing people together over stories and food.
Of all the characters you have created, who is your favourite? And why?
One of my favourite characters is Tempe from Remembered. I like that she allows herself to want, feel, and just be. If she wants to twirl, she twirls. If she wants to sing, she sings. If she wants to be free, she plots. Tempe is enslaved. She wants what anyone else would want: freedom, love, and happiness. She questions the laws and religion and understands that systems are broken. Tempe wants to be free and she’s willing to do anything it takes to be it. Even though she doesn’t live very long in the book, she finds ways to haunt it. I admire her spirit.
Have you ever killed off a character in your books (I’m sure you have)? If so, was it because…it fitted nicely into the storyline? OR…Did you start to really dislike the character and, with too much work involved to re-write without that character, think it the easiest option to have that person die?
I loved Tempe and I cried when I realized she wasn’t going to live through the book. I got to know her through writing scenes with her living, laughing, and loving. I saw her when she was vulnerable and when she wasn’t. I felt like I really knew her. So, I was surprised one day when I was picturing a scene and instead of what I expected to see, I saw an outline of Tempe in a doorway surrounded by flames. I knew then that she wouldn’t survive Remembered. I was there mourning for her and my daughter came to check on me. When I told her why I was crying, she got really quiet for about a minute. Then she said, “but, aren’t you the one killing her?” It wasn’t me. It was the story. It was the hardest option and still, it didn’t feel like an option, it felt like the way. When I looked at what she wanted, why she didn’t have it, and what she was willing to do to get it, it was the choice her story led to.
Are any of your characters based on family members or friends? Have you kept their characters totally true to life or have you given them bonus traits that you wish they possessed in real life?
I’ve used names of characters I love in quite a few books or stories. My great-grandmother’s name was Tempe, my grandfather’s name was Edward, there was also an aunt or great-aunt named Agnes. I grew up with these names but I never met my great-grandmother and the characters aren’t based on them as people. Writing characters with their names reminds me that the living people that I love have full and complex personalities and their own wants and needs though.
I’ve written a short film that I want to develop into a feature film. The film is for my son and the main character has his middle name. The mother is a villain who loves being a villain. I feel like she’s based on my inner villain. She is so much fun to write. She’s funny when she wants to be but never when she has to be.
Relationships and family life aside, what are your TWO main regrets in life?
What a great question! I wish I sang more. I’m not particularly good at it but it makes me happy. I’m always tempted to join a choir. I feel like it has to be a religious one. I’m not religious but I’d like to think that because they are, they couldn’t kick me out for being off-key. Just yesterday, a man was playing the piano in the library. He said he wasn’t very good but that he enjoyed playing after work. He asked me to choose a song and I picked Purple Rain. He was trying to play it and looked up the music. He kept saying he needed someone to sing the chorus. I know and love the chorus but didn’t sing along. I couldn’t let myself do it. I need to let myself sing.
Another is listening. Years ago, I was in Florence. I had somewhere to be but I had time. I’m often rushing from one place to another even when I have time. There were some musicians singing and playing on a street corner. The music sounded beautiful but because I had somewhere to be, I didn’t stop and listen. To this day, I wish that I had. The good thing for me is that yesterday (when I stopped to listen to the piano player), I was happy that I stopped and even though he couldn’t find the music at first, I was happy that I stayed while he tried. I stayed longer than I intended to. This time, I had an errand to run and left to do it. When I came back, he had the main chords down. I stayed while he played them for me.
What was your passion as a child? Did that passion stay with you during your adult life OR did you, as you grew up begin to detest what you once enjoyed?
I loved telling stories and making people either scared or making them laugh. I don’t know why there wasn’t a middle ground. My passion for storytelling hasn’t changed but I now try to reach a broader variety of responses. Saying that, my next novel is a Gothic Horror and I write a lot of short stories with ghosts. So, maybe I haven’t changed as much as I thought.
What was your best subject throughout your school years? And the worst?
All through elementary and middle school, I was really good at band class and playing the flute. I memorized the music for marching and for concerts. I practiced as much as the band leader told us to practice. I was like a model flute player. In high school, that sort of changed. I only memorized the concert music which was weird because you had the music in front of you during concert performances but you were meant to memorize it for marching and competitions. I also became more of a fair-weather band member. If the end of year trip was somewhere I wanted to go, I would play that year. If they were going somewhere I didn’t want to go, I wasn’t. And not quite a subject but I was awful at Track. I tried out for the team and made it. I wanted to do the long jump. Who knew there was all that running in practices? I didn’t last more than a week.
Tell me about your favourite teacher throughout your school years? Was it a crush you had? Were they just an excellent teacher of your favourite subject? Or some other reason…kind, fun, generous…?
I’m horrible with names and I don’t remember the subject (or grade) but I do remember that my favorite teacher had a gift for making it feel like she loved and believed in all of her students. Her room was like a warm hug. You just didn’t want to disappoint her. You wanted that warm hug to be there day after day.
Did either of your parents ever express a wish to write? Are they supportive and proud of your work? Or do they just choose to not get involved, but they are pleased for you?
My family is supportive and proud of my work. I’m especially proud that my children are proud of my work. I moved them to the UK so I could pursue my PhD. They can see what following dreams means to me and I want that for them too. Writing is my literary legacy for them. They know how important it is that I write because writing makes me happy. When I started writing every morning at 5:55, my boys would make sure I was awake in the morning. I am not naturally a morning person. When I overslept, they’d ask if I was writing that day. It’s part of our routine. I hope I’m also modelling the importance of making time to do the things you love.
Tell us about your ultimate ambition, be it personal, travel, writing, work, hobby related or other?
I would love to have a book related talk show. It feels like it would be so much fun! I do have a podcast where writers read to me and I get to ask them three questions. I love it! The difference for me is the show I imagine would be in person and I would be paid to host it.
Do you have any phobias and if so, what are they? Have you ever conquered any phobia and if so, how did you do it?
Not that I know of. There are a lot of things I haven’t done yet like surfing, sailing, snorkelling, skiing. Ha! I’ve just realized there are a lot of “s” things that probably should be on my bucket list. I don’t think there’s a phobia keeping me from doing them. Right now, it seems to be time. I haven’t made the time to try any of these things yet.
Most people I know are not happy with something physical about themselves (face/body etc.,) but if you could change anything about your personality, what would you wish to change?
If I could change anything about my personality, maybe it would be to have a bit more patience. I try to remind myself to slow down and to encourage myself to linger longer, enjoy the journey from one place to the next, look for pockets of joy. But, for some reason, I usually rush from place to place. No matter what time my train is, when I finish work I end up rushing to the train station and waiting there. I’d like to be the sort of person who walks there, looks in shop windows, pops into bakeries and tries new coffee blends or into museums to see the latest exhibit and then strolls, unrushed, to the station 15 minutes or so before the train.
What is your ‘go to’ snack, whatever the time of day? And drink of your choice?
I could eat a warm, gooey Cinnabon any time of day. They are little (well, not so little) chunks of goodness. My drink of choice is French Vanilla coffee with French Vanilla cream. Something about it makes me a nicer person. But, if it’s a cocktail, my drink of choice is a Raspberry Martini.
Cats or dogs? What do you have? Do you introduce any pets into your books?
I love both. I have cats but when we move, we will get a dog too. I don’t introduce them in my books but Cali has a pretend podcast called Tech-ni-cali speaking which cracks me up. When I have the time, I make recordings for her show.
And finally, hit me up with all your book links and links to social media.
Remembered (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Remembered-Yvonne-Battle-Felton/dp/0349700486/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1544028143&sr=8-10
Remembered (US): https://www.blackstonepublishing.com/remembered-yvonne-battle-felton
Ladybird Tales of Crowns and Thrones: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/314377/ladybird-tales-of-crowns-and-thrones/9780241413586
Ladybird Tales of Superheroes: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/312245/ladybird-tales-of-super-heroes-by-ahmed-battle-felton-chadda-cha/9780241381946
Bookable Space (podcast): https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/bookable-space/id1642345254?mt=2
Thank you again Yvonne for such a fascinating insight into your life.
This Friday we have author, Valeriya Salt up for questioning!
It's just left for me to bid you all a spooktacular and hauntingly good evening with your friendly neighbourhood witches and ghouls!!