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Why did I choose to write about a character with mental health challenges?

As a writer, I get asked a lot of questions about my books and about my characters in particular. I was recently asked about why I chose to write about a character who has OCD and is possibly also on the autism spectrum. I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve been working on a new story and creating a new world and set of characters, and this is my answer:

I think that it is really important for readers to be able to see themselves in the characters of the books they are reading. There are lots of children who struggle with various mental illnesses like OCD and I think that they are unrepresented in stories. I wanted to share Felix’s story as a way of showing readers that they are not alone and as a way of helping other students to empathise with their peers. I’m hoping that once someone has read Double Felix, it will help them to understand people around them who are different to themselves and help them to connect in a really positive, inclusive way.

Shouts to The Bestseller Experiment

It was very exciting to get a shout out today from Mark Stay on one of my favourite writing podcasts – The Bestseller Experiment in Episode 140. There is something about this show that provides a serious kick in the pants for any writers who are feeling like slacking off. They make you feel like writing is not just something you do alone, accountable to nobody. Instead, I come away from every episode feeling energised and motivated to write more. It is seriously worth a listen!

100 Story Building

The 100 Story Building is a local initiative in Footscray, Melbourne, where, according to their website, ‘children and young people from culturally and linguistically diverse and marginalised backgrounds are given the opportunity to foster their creative voice and to have their ideas shared and respected’. I love their mission and was pretty excited to support their work through their latest fundraising initiative. To celebrate their fifth birthday, they are selling the 99 Levels below the trapdoor and I couldn’t help but want to become one of their imagination investors.  Whilst the Colossal Bubble Level and the Space Playground Level were a bit out of my reach, I did treat myself to the Basement Plumbing Level.

You can buy yourself a level of the building (maybe next to my level or even next to Andy Griffiths who got the Volcano Island level, the lucky bugger) by visiting https://chuffed.org/project/100-story-sale where levels are for sale for as little as just $5.

Double Felix Blog Tour

Today marks the beginning of the Double Felix Blog Tour! I’m super excited to be visiting each of these fantastic blogs this week to celebrate all things Felix and I can’t wait to see what the writers at each stop think of the story.

Monday – Kirstyes

Thank you to Kirsty Stanley for being the first cab off the rank for the tour. You can read her full review here, but this is my favourite line for sure:

Both Felix and Charlie are fun characters and I loved following their growing friendship. They felt very authentic to their age.

It was fantastic that Kirsty was able to make connections back to her work as an OT and that she identified Double Felix as a great discussion starter for parents, teachers and students about how to best support students with different learning needs.

Tuesday – Miss Cleveland is Reading

Day Two was a stop at Miss Cleveland is Reading. Here’s what she had to say:

I loved the friendship that blossoms between Felix and Charlie as the story progresses, and how it challenges Felix to look at the world through the eyes of other children who don’t need his rules. His sessions with Hugo (Mr Fielding) show that OCD can be managed – there is no easy fix – through a determination to beat it and perseverance to keep trying when the fight feels too hard. The analogy of Basil The Bully is a great way to help readers understand exactly what Felix is fighting back against too.

Thanks for hosting Double Felix, Miss Cleveland. There definitely is no easy fix for these things, but with the right support, we can all walk alongside those challenged by mental illness with empathy and friendship.

Wednesday – An Awfully Big Adventure

It was great that Anna enjoyed Double Felix and I agree that it would be a great read aloud class novel. In fact, I read it aloud to my Year 6 class at school as I was writing it as a test drive!

I will be reading this wonderful book to my class of Y6 pupils. It’s an ideal way of explaining anxiety and OCD to children. It  will be helpful to those who are dealing with mental health issues and will shine a light on their every day struggles to their classmates.

Thursday – Library Girl & Book Book

I agree with Library girl’s comments that this would be a great book to facilitate discussion about mental health, as well as conversations about being friendly towards everyone, even if they seem different to you.

This book has the added bonus of being funny, which makes it the perfect choice as a text to prompt discussion about mental health issues with Key Stage 2 children and raise awareness of ‘hidden illnesses’ as well as being a great read.

Friday – Mum Friendly

I was so excited to read that Double Felix has become one of H’s favourite reads and especially that she finds it as good as her favourite Jacqueline Wilson book.

It’s safe to say, Double Felix has become one of H’s new favourite books. She’s on her fifth or sixth read already.  (whispers – it might have even replaced Jaqueline Wilson’s ‘Katy’ as the new-favourite)

So what was it about Double Felix by Sally Harris that made H go back and read it again? Here’s H (age 8)’s opinion :

I like it. Felix does things twice, he’ll say things twice. He goes to see Hugo Fielding, a counsellor at school which helps him. He’s taught to fight back against the thing in his head – Basil the Bully (named after the Basal Ganglia in the brain).

(Pop back tomorrow to follow along on the tour and I’ll keep adding the links for you here as the week progresses!)

Double Felix gets (top) stars on Toppsta

If you’re a reader of children’s books (and you’re based in the UK in particular), I highly recommend that you check out Toppsta.

It’s an excellent site to check out what is new and exciting in the world of children’s literature and to hear firsthand what readers think about what they have been reading. Best of all, if you are a keen reader, there are a gazillion books being given away over there in return for reviews.

The reviews for Double Felix have just started coming in on Toppsta and here are just some of the great things that the reviewers had to say:

Make sure you check out the current reviews for Double Felix by visiting https://toppsta.com/books/details/double-felix

Hooray! Hooray! Double Felix launches today

Releasing a book out into the wild is one of the most exciting, yet nerve wracking experiences for a writer.

On one hand, it is thrilling to think that something you have worked on for weeks/months/years/feels like an eternity is out there in the world for people to enjoy, yet on the other hand, it is terrifying to think that perhaps people won’t actually enjoy it. This is my third book baby that I’m sending out into the world, and whilst it has certainly gotten easier to share my writing with each book, it definitely is not without some trepidation too. I really hope that you enjoy Double Felix dear readers and if you do, make sure you tell everyone about it. Get some t-shirts made. Send a copy to a friend. Tweet about it. Instagram it, you good thing.

Big thanks to Louise and her team at Wacky Bee Books for making this latest dream happen (and happen so quickly too!) It has been fantastic to work with you. I had a feeling when I first got in touch with Louise back in 2011 that we were destined to work together at some point and here we are all of these years later.

Thanks also to Maria Serrano for bringing Felix to life with her fun illustrations. You did a great job at taking what was in my head and putting it onto paper!

 

Finally, the dedication inside this book reads:

For all the students who kept asking me “And then what happens?” until this book was finished.
Particularly you, Maddy. Far out, you are persistent.

Request a free, personalised book plate for the reader in your life

I know that many of you are proper grown-ups who like to give my books as gifts to the avid readers in your lives. This is completely fantastic and something that I very much appreciate. Well done to you for being the cool adult who likes to give rad presents that make kids laugh and enjoy reading.

If you would like to make giving one of my books that little bit more special, get in touch with me and I’ll send you a bookplate sticker that is personalised for the recipient with a little message from me. You’re welcome to ask for as many as you like and if you’re in Australia, I’ll post one out to you. If you’re overseas, I’ll email it to you and you can print it and stick it right inside the cover.

 

 

How do you organise your personal library?

It seems like everyone on the Internet has been talking about the backwards book trend lately. Personally, I’d go more for travesty or debacle than trend, but like with most things, nobody asked me first.  If you haven’t heard of it, apparently it is a thing for people to want their books to match their interior decor and, if they don’t match, one suggestion is to arrange your books with the spines facing the wall to create a neutral look.

This doesn’t work for me in so many ways, the most obvious being: how can you tell which book is which when you want to read one? And how can people visiting your home check out your collection (and potentially judge you on your reading choices)? Not to mention the impact of all of that direct exposure to sunlight over time, which is surely not good for the pages. And not to mention in the many examples you can see here, they just look like a massive jumble.

Other ways of book arranging that I also don’t understand:
– Arranging by colour. Sure it looks cute, but it says to me that you aren’t the kind of person who cares about the content and I’m not sure if we will be long term friends.
– Arranging by Dewey Decimal System. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
– Not arranging. No way. And how?

This article from Lit Hub looks at how 11 writers organise their personal libraries and I think, if I had to choose from this piece, my preference would be to go for something like the systems of Hanya Yanagihara(just because that room looks amazing!) or Fran Lebowitz (because her system makes a lot of sense to me).

I think I would describe my ultimate book organisation style as ‘grouping’. I like to have books grouped together by author, books grouped together by series, books grouped together by category (like writing, reference, non-fiction, etc.) Alphabetical is not necessarily important – it’s more about where I can visualise the books being kept to go and find what I’m looking for.

Alas, for the time being, I am largely free to sit back and judge the organisational systems of others as our rental apartment has zero bookshelves and instead all of our books are in boxes in cupboards. Yes, it kills me a bit to have them away like that, but when we build our dream house, there will be floor to ceiling bookshelves in many, many rooms and so many opportunities for book arranging.

How would you describe the organisation of your personal library?

The “Therefore …. but …” Strategy

I love coming up with characters, but struggle to give them genuine problems. And then I struggle to find them genuine, quality solutions to those problems.

I find it really, really hard.  Reeeeaaaallly hard. And given that it is the majority of what writing a novel is all about, that can make life as a writer a bit of a nightmare at times.

I recently watched this clip with Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame. They offer some simple, yet amazing advice to writers who are plotting their story. Instead of thinking, “And then …” when you are plotting out the beats of your story, you need to be thinking, “Therefore … but ….” This constantly creates conflict and tension in your storyline and prevents smooth sailing for your characters.

I’m testing it out at the moment and trying to use it on the next piece I’m developing. I wouldn’t say that it is a quick fix, but it definitely helps to stop me creating a simple, linear storyline without much real conflict. If I can’t fit ‘Therefore …. but …” in between my plot points, they probably aren’t exciting enough to be there. Do you agree? Have you tried this strategy and did it work for you?

Pinch me: You can pre-order my new book from Waterstones!

Excuse me while I just have a moment here.

I recently did a spontaneous Double Felix book title Google and I was totally stoked by what came up. (Okay, yes, I Google searched for my own book. Okay, yes, I probably do have better things to be doing.)

Anyway, the listing for Double Felix not only appeared to be showing up in most of the major online retailers, but possibly even more exciting was that it was showing up as being available for pre-order in Waterstones. Like Waterstones, the actual bookshop. Like Waterstones, that I used to visit frequently when I lived in London and Cambridge. (Mmm Waterstones in Piccadilly – just take all of my money now.) How cool is that?

What is also cool is that if you search for Double Felix, it also appears alongside many, many listings for the James Watson and his book The Double Helix. Considering that the very first thing I thought of when I was coming up with the concept for Double Felix was the title – inspired by sitting around bored one day and playing around the phrase ‘double helix’ and wondering what a book with that title would be about – I totally love that these now show up together in Google.