Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Big Comfy Interview - Tara Behan and Matthew Hill, author and illustrator of The Legend of Everwinter

Since starting the bookshop, albeit just on line at the moment until I open up in Fargo Village in Coventry, I've come across several local authors I never would have otherwise. I'm hoping to bring them to a bigger audience (AKA YOU!) with book signings, readings and workshops.

I caught up with one such local author Tara Behan and her partner Matthew Hill to discuss their brand new d├ębut children's book 'The Legend of Everwinter'.

As well as working together, the pair have been a couple for 3 and a half years and it clearly shows in the ease between the two, with the collaboration making The Legend Of Everwinter a joyful read filled with majestic characters realised by Matthew's art complimenting Tara's fantastical storytelling. Coventry University alumni Tara is currently working at Coventry's Herbert Art Gallery whilst Matthew is training to become a lecturer at Solihull College after his time studying Fine Art at Birmingham City University. I started out by asking Tara how long she'd been writing for.

Tara: "I used to read a lot of books, I cant specifically remember which books I read, I know I used to read a lot of fairytale books, Enid Blyton books, I used to read Beatrix Potter and stuff and my Mum and Dad always used to read to me before bed so I was always bought up, you know, surrounded by books and I just had an idea one day to write a story about fairies in the garden. At school we were given a handwriting book but I never really used it for handwriting, I used it to write my own stories in. I'd take it home and I'd write stories about fairies and unicorns and things like that, so, it was just something I really enjoyed doing from an early age."
Tara and Matthew at their book signing at Kenilworth's Tree House Book Shop
The book you've written, The Legend of Everwinter, why is that your first story? why did you choose Everwinter and fantasy as your first avenue?

Tara: "We worked on it together. I've always enjoyed writing magical fantasy-like stories and wanted to write a children's book inspired by J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, J.R.R.Tolkien's Lord of The Rings series and Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen."
Matthew: "Yeah, I've also worked on fantasy art and magical or mythical art in the past so we thought it would be good to come up with a story idea that could incorporate all of these avenues and use our skills to create a book that children would enjoy reading, as well as appreciate the artwork and encourage them to use their imagination."

That's great, that's fantastic. Because you are a couple did that make it easier or harder working together? Were you very honest with each other, were there a few arguments about artwork and story lines etc?

Tara: "No I found it really easy, I found it a lot easier to work with Matthew, yeah, we didn't have any arguments did we? About what things go in."
Matthew: "We had a respect about what each other was good at, so, you know, Tara took care of the writing, I took care of the illustration and kind of... we bounced ideas off of each other and trusted each other to do the best things in our particular area, so Tara would start the story, I started painting it we kind of..."
Tara: "We'd approve each others work but if we wanted to change anything, like... We had to change the story, tweak the story a little bit didn't we..."
Matthew: "Yeah."
Tara: "...With the illustrations that you thought would, you know, be better to do, but it went fine, there were no problems. It was good!"

Could you tell me how the characters came about. Were there specific guidelines for their look?

Matthew: "To be honest Tara gave me complete freedom to kind of really visualise the characters myself, so I'd sort of come up with designs for the characters, I would show Tara but she was kind of, you know, you would give me your opinion wouldn't you but a lot of the time it was, I'd show her something and she'd say
"Yeah that looks cool" but then I'd sort of change it the following week. We've got loads of illustrations that we never used for the book as they kind of went through several, so many different revisions, so each character was about 6 or 7 designs that it went through to get to that initial, that end stage. But yeah I'd show you each week, I'd bring loads of sketches round and different things but I think on the whole you were happy to give me the freedom to kind of visualise it."
Tara: "Yeah, because Matt obviously read the story and then he came up with the character ideas and like every time he made a new character I used to think they looked amazing, he's such a good artist, but then a week later he'd do another option and then he'd ask me which one I liked best, so I gave him my opinion with that. It's quite nice because I feel as though I've written the story and Matthew's used his imagination, it's all of what Matthew has visualized, so when he read my story this is what he imagined, it's lovely because this book is encouraging children to use their imagination so, you know, I said at a school session yesterday, "Read the story as well without looking at the pictures and think about what you see"."

How important is it to have that strong female protagonist that you have in The Legend of Everwinter?

Tara: "The thing was, I've always loved princess stories, I've always found the Disney films and all the classic fairy tales with the princess as the heroine, but she's always been the damsel in distress usually. I've been quite inspired by Hermione Granger and also Princess Merida from Disney Pixar's Brave with princess Adreana (The Legend of Everwinter's heroine), and what I wanted to do was I wanted to create a book that was suitable, and appeal to both boys and girls so I didn't want the princess just to be the girls favourite character, maybe the princess could be admired by the boys because of what she does, and you know, with her ideas that she comes up with. It was also important to me to get across the whole 'You don't have to use violence or kill the actual creature' you can actually, you know, through team work and friendship and with going with your gut instinct and using other ideas you can also overcome like Princess Adreana did."
Matthew: "She thinks of other solutions and puts them into action..."
Tara: "She's able to do that and through her I wanted these morels to come through."

At the end of the book there's more than a slight hint there will be a sequel. How far along is that and is it one book? Two? How far do you see The Legend of Everwinter going?

Tara: "We've already started, we've planned the next book and we're working on it now. It's due for release next year hopefully! About the same time. At the moment I've got an idea for two more books, this one and the next one, but we've been told not to limit ourselves so if it is a good series and people enjoy it then we don't know how far it can go. If people enjoy it and its what the public want then, yeah!"

How long did it take you to write this from scratch? From the start date til release?

Tara: "It was 13 months."
Matthew: "Yeah it was quite strange as the actual finished book that people see now was probably only in the last 5 months of production, well you wrote the story fairly quickly within 2 months or something,"
Tara: "Yeah."
Matthew: "That was in October."
Tara: "We started in October 2012 and I got the initial story written within 2 months and then it got sent off for editing to the publisher and it kept getting... it was sent back with little tweaks and stuff and I let Matt carry on with the illustrations."
Matthew: "I kind of had this idea it was going to be a more of a, kind of, realistic fantasy but it really wasn't working, it wasn't really suitable for children it was a bit too dark, the illustrations just didn't match the story, they were quite muted, a bit more real looking so it came to Christmas which was the initial submission deadline and I spoke to the publisher and said 'Look, I want to take it in a different direction, I'm not happy with how it is". I then started to re-plan the whole book, redesign all the characters and actually use a different style for the book. I began that after the Christmas period and then I started all the final illustrations people see in the final version now, around March. The actual finished version that people see now is probably about the 5 months of work before it was sent to be published but it was in production for 13 months or so."

Are there any stories not set in Everwinter that you've got lined up? Or are you simply immersed in Everwinter World?

Tara: "Ha! We're in the Kingdon of Everwinter at the minute because it's our first published book but, you know, I don't know if we'll be able to carry on with Everwinter forever, so, we are looking forward to doing different books in the future as well, like, either one off books or a different series kind of thing, so yeah, Everwinter isn't just the beginning or the end."

Do you see yourself writing other genres and styles, maybe adult books in the future?

Tara: "I'd like to do a few, a couple of adult books maybe, or teen books, but after being at one of the school session yesterday a lot of the children were asking for a horror story to be written so you never know, you never know what we might branch out into!"

On a personal level, you must be happy with the response. It's sold out on Amazon AGAIN, it's obviously going really well!

Matthew: "We're pretty happy, we didn't know what to expect because it's our first book, but we're really pleased with how people are responding. People have been sending us photographs of like..."
Tara: "Including yourself!"
Enjoying Everwinter
Matthew: "...People holding the book, we've kind of had, you know, pictures of all ages as well because we wanted the book to kind of...well, although aimed at children we wanted adults to appreciate the artwork as well so, we've kind of treated it as a piece of artwork, each page, so it's really nice to see adults holding copies of the book but we've also got all the people, the mums and dads who've got children and they're holding their copies and yeah, it's a really rewarding thing to see."
Tara: "Yeah, it's really surreal so far, I mean, this has been my life long dream and to actually see how much of a response we've had, it's been overwhelming for me. I didn't think it would take off as big in, what, three weeks? I've got school sessions lined up, I've got children asking for my autograph, you know what I mean. It's really, really amazing. I'm still in this little bubble right now I'm like 'Oh my gosh'!"
Let's hope it goes on!
Tara: "We're really looking forward to seeing it in a bookshop next as well, on a shelf."
Matthew: "I think initially we've just promoted it online, and online is a fantastic tool to use, it gets to a large audience but I think we really want to see it on the shelves now!"
Well I'd obviously stock it once the shop is open.
Tara: Thank you!

What advice could you give to others who wish to write?

Tara: "I would say, just keep writing. Just keep writing, write as much as you like, if there's a story that you're writing and it's not working scrap it and start again, because there's no point in trying to finish it because it might not turn out the way you want it, you can come back to it once you've got more inspiration. Once you've got a story you're happy with I'd just submit it to a publisher and just see what happens and if nothing happens, try again, don't give up. I'm 24, I never thought at 8 years old at the age of 24 I'd have a book published, two years ago I wouldn't have been able to anticipate that I'd have a book published in 2013, it can be done. Matt and I are real people, we're from...we worked hard at school and things, we haven't...we've not been given everything on a plate, we've worked hard to get where we've got to today and it just shows that if you believe in yourself and you've got encouragement from your family and you work hard you can achieve your dreams no matter who you are."

Many thanks to Tara and Matthew for giving up their time and helping me complete the first Big Comfy Interview.

The Legend of Everwinter can be bought from Hampton Bond International as well as Waterstones and Amazon, plus local bookshops soon.

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