Sunday, 28 February 2016

Karin Bachmann discusses 'The Venetian Pearls'

Caroline said I was getting on her nerves and suggested I “do something useful for a change.”
“Like what?” I said.
“Anything. What about that blog thing you used to spend hours on?” I said I couldn’t think of anything to write.
“Oh for God’s sake, writing’s easy. Just ask someone you know a few questions and write the answers down.”
“But I don’t have any friends, not since that business in Brazil…”
So when Karin Bachmann suggested a reciprocal blog visit, I jumped at the chance. I told Caroline not to talk to me, I would be busy for a while, and she said, “Thank goodness for that.”

Some people are just good communicators, and Karin Bachmann is one such person. She blogs, she googles, and she tweets. She also finds the time to write fiction for the teen market. Her recent book The Venetian Pearls was commended in the Writing Magazine self-publishing awards. Karin is a winner of the valuable Swanwick Writing for Children prize. Karin was kind enough to send me answers to my daft questions, so I didn’t have to write very much myself.

I notice that The Venetian Pearls is set in Isles of Scilly. Why did you choose that location?
A few years ago, a friend and I decided to have a holiday in England. We wanted to visit some of my relatives and discover a new spot before going to see them. When the travel brochures arrived, I dropped one. It fell open and revealed the most beautiful seascape. The Isles of Scilly. We spent four days there. Every one of them better than the one before, and I told myself: one day, I'm going to set a story here. I've been to the Isles of Scilly twice more since then. You can't help but fall in love with the place.

Where did you get the idea for the plot?
Several incidents eventually mingled. I went to a talk about precious stones and pearls. Then I cleared out my schoolbooks and stumbled upon the story of Ulysses and the ogre again that plays a part in the solution of the mystery in the Pearls. And I had an encounter with a leg-amputated child when waiting for a train connection. Stuff everything into a hyperactive brain, give it a shake, let it fester for a few nights – hey presto!

Were you able to do any book promotion around the publication of The Venetian Pearls?
Not very much but I did my best contacting English bookshops in Switzerland and Cornwall. There's an amazing number of English-speaking organisations and schools in Switzerland, where I was able to give talks – well at some of them. When the German version came out, I sent brochures to schools, which again resulted in readings and sales.
But best of all, last summer, I returned to the Scillies. I contacted St. Mary's Library in Hugh Town (on Twitter: @StMarys_Library, incidentally the library with the most beautiful view in the world). The librarian was extremely helpful. She organised a workshop for the local writing group, a reading for children, and an interview on Radio Scilly. She also put me in contact with local bookshops who now stock the book.

Having been through the experience of publishing your own book, what advice would you give to someone who wanted to try it themselves?
You have to know that it's hard work. The production process is the smallest part – it's the PR that kills you. So make sure your book is really the best it can be. For example, it pays to have it professionally proofread and to have a striking, stunning cover. The hardest bit is not to get it out there but to get it noticed. Try to befriend locally situated librarians and booksellers – and teachers when writing for children. Such people are worth their weight in gold.

What do you enjoy most about writing for a younger audience?
To be able to feel like a child again, with all the wonder, mischief and enjoyment that involves. But also the fear and helplessness. Trying to see the world from a child's perspective can open up our grown-up-view-of-the-world.
And then, of course, meeting the audience at school readings. Children are very blunt. They'll let you know what they think about you and your stories.

Do you connect with your inner child when you are writing?
Sometimes I'm not sure if I've ever grown up at all. So my inner child is very close to the surface. On the other hand, I was a strange child; interested in history and science from an early age. I've been accused (by adults, mostly editors) to overestimate my readers. I'm not sure if that's true, and rather think adults tend to underestimate children. I remember that one of the most irksome aspects of being a child was being talked down to. That's the thing I try to avoid when writing for children.

Where and when do you do most of your writing?
I work as an optician in an 80% post, so do my writing on Sundays (social media and correspondence in the morning, fiction in the afternoon) and Wednesdays and Thursdays. I can write almost anywhere if necessary – except on trains. That is, I can write on trains but not decipher what I've written afterwards.

Do you enjoy social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and do you count that as writing too?
Being a digital dinosaur, it was very hard for me at first to start with social media. But all the tutors and speakers at the Swanwick Writers' Summer School seem to agree that you have to do that nowadays if you're a writer. I've grown rather fond of tweeting and quite like blogging. Having said that, I do count it as writing and reserve special slots in my writing days for social media.

Do you have a ‘work in progress’? If so, are you ready to tell me about it?
The working title is "The Grandmaster's Sword" but you could just as well name it "Never Ending Story Part 2" because I've been working on it for ages.
It's a sequel to the Pearls and set in Malta. Nicky, Chris and Daniel are on the scent of a precious historical sword. Everybody thinks, Napoleon acquired it on his way to the Battle of the Nile, and that it's exhibited in the Louvre museum in Paris. But Chris' father – a historian – has a hunch that the sword's never left Malta. A mysterious motorbike rider follows the friends and Chris's father in a scary way, as does the shady archaeologist Villard.  When Chris's father is accused of having stolen a priceless artefact, Nicky, Chris and Daniel have to start investigating…

If you could set a novel anywhere in the world, and had to travel to research it, where would you go?
That's a hard one! I'm a travel-addict. I'll go anywhere, as long as the place is interesting – preferably with a historical background. I wouldn't mind a bit of adventure as well such as having to get there on horseback or in a canoe (as long as there aren't too many creepy crawlies).

Are there any authors you return to again and again?
Yes, many. For adult stories, it's Terry Pratchett, Dick and now Felix Francis, Lyndon Stacey, Frank Tallis, Roz Southey and Simon Hall. For children's books it's Eoin Colfer, Roald Dahl, and recently Curtis Jobling and Derek Landy. I'm always thrilled to discover new, exciting books and series.

What is the book you think everyone should read (apart from your own)? Why?
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. It's a brilliant, heady concoction of a gripping mystery in a stunningly authentic historical setting. And the language is great, too. Although I wouldn't know for sure as I've only read the German translation. (And you probably won't believe me that I wrote this answer before his death. I'll miss that writer!)

What advice would you give to someone just setting out on writing a book?
Don’t try to be artistic. Write according to your mouth, as it were. Have fun making up and writing the story, because chances are that your readers will then have fun as well.

Goodbye for now Karin - thanks for dropping by. 

Visit Karin's blog here.

And find out more about Venetian Pearls here.

Who are these people?

The world is divided into voyeurs and exhibitionists... It takes one of each to make a good marriage.

Robert and Caroline Fanshaw are an ambitious young couple trying to make their way in a complex world.

What happens when their private affairs collide with world events and the big issues of our times? Drama, comedy and x-rated scenes.