We recently released the wonderful The Boy from the Snow by Maria Johnson. Earlier this month, we thought it would be a good idea to chat to Maria now she’s a published author, and get a little insight into the world of writing!
What genre is your book? And what drew you to that genre?
The genre of my book is historical fiction, set during the Celtic period of 590AD. I was drawn to the genre because of the story I’d had from when I was a child of a soldier who lived centuries ago and his adventures. After doing some research, 590AD seemed to be the best fit for Daniel’s character and what happened to him.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
My dream has always been to be published, so thanks to Olympia that’s already come true! I can hardly believe the story I’ve had for years is now a book- I know it’s sitting on my spare room desk as I’m writing this and it just keeps bringing a huge smile to my face. The success of The Boy from the Snow has inspired me to write more and I’m currently editing my first draft of the sequel.
Were you good at English when you were at school?
Yes, I loved English! I loved reading and making up stories. In fact, it was probably due to a couple of children’s authors visiting my school that I was inspired that my love of stories could maybe be something I would one day do for myself.
The other thing that inspired me in school was once, I think at the start of Year 9, my English Lit teacher set us a homework about what we were into and what we were passionate about. I think it was a really great idea for her to get to know her students a bit better. I must have had a particularly brave evening when I wrote it, because in it I told her I wanted to be an author and told her briefly about a short story I’d already written. The next lesson I got the homework back and it really was one of the most encouraging things I’ve ever held in my hand. It had a sticky note with huge smiley faces and in it she told me how excited she was to hear about my dream and encouraging me to follow my dream. I’ve never ever forgotten it- it just tells you what a priceless, precious job teachers do of inspiring the next generation.
Do you ever have to do a lot of research before writing?
Yes, I had to do quite a lot of research during The Boy from the Snow! When I started I knew next to nothing about the Celtic period really, but I knew that’s where I wanted Daniel to be. The word ‘research’ might sound a bit boring to some, but I found it quite an exciting process. It felt like entering Daniel’s world and each fact I read helped spark my imagination and it was colouring in and fleshing out the world in my head.
What made you sit down and put pen to paper?
I think because deep down, I knew I’d never forgotten Daniel and I wanted to tell his story. When my brother and I were little, he used to have Lego and he was always the one wanting to build skyscrapers or rockets etc. I was never that interested in building things, a straight brick tower was the best I could do (he probably wouldn’t have let me join in anyway!)
It was pretty soon I realised I wasn’t interested in the blocks themselves but in the little yellow figures he had that he never seemed to bother with. In particular, he had a king character and a soldier character and I used to sneak them into my room and play with them and make up stories. It was during those childhoods years- I was probably about 7- that I first came up with Daniel and also the character of King Cedric, who features heavily in the book.
Then it was when I was a teenager and I really started to love writing stories that I remembered Daniel. I realised I hadn’t ever really forgotten him and I wrote a few little things about him. It’s like Daniel’s a little character in my head I’ve kept with me for years. In my early twenties I seriously tried to write it for the first time and I had maybe half of a first draft- it was simply called ‘Daniel’. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I found myself with a bit freer time when I remembered him again and it was like Daniel wouldn’t let me rest until he was on paper. That’s when The Boy from the Snow was fully written, but really it started when I was just 7 years old playing with those Lego pieces. Of course, Daniel doesn’t let me rest now, either- hence why I’m now working on the sequel!
Do you have a writing schedule?
Not officially no, but I have a few set hours of the week, for example a couple of free afternoons, where I do most of my writing. I’m very involved with my local church and I have a small part time job which is a few hours of the week, so my writing is whenever I have time which is not any of those things! I told a close friend about the book recently (I use a pen name and only close friends and family know about it) and one of the things he was so surprised about wasn’t just that I’d written it but that I had time to write it, seeing as I’m quite busy with lots of other things!
Why did you decide to set your book in Celtic times?
Well as I’ve mentioned I had the character of Daniel first in my head and so it was about trying to find the best place where he fitted. After looking through a few different time periods, I knew it was the Celtic times that would suit him best. Throughout the book is the aspect of warring kingdoms and different kings making alliances and that’s the kind of context I’d imagined Daniel being in. In fact, the more I read up on it, the more it sparked my ideas for other things that could happen in the book and the more I tried to think of how it could tie in to real history. For example, the northwest Kingdom of Rheged (roughly equivalent to Cumbria) really existed, as did the Supreme King of Rheged, King Urien.
If you could visit any time period, when would it be?
That’s a really difficult one, as there’s so many! Of course, I’d love to visit the Celtic period, to have my eyes see what so far I’ve only be able to imagine! As a Christian I’d be really fascinated to visit biblical times. I’d also love the chance to meet Charlotte Bronte, as Jane Eyre has always been my favourite book.
You mention how you love a good cup of coffee; how do you take it?
I love my coffee with milk but no sugar. I prefer ‘real’ coffee, but I’ll happily take instant too. It’s not just coffee, though- I love tea, herbal tea, hot chocolate, the occasional hot squash… I’m a hot drink fiend really! I blame it on my mum, as the kettle is never off at my parents’ house!
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
I used to when I was writing The Boy from the Snow and I also did when I wrote the first draft of the sequel, but not so much whilst I’m editing as that’s rather a different kind of work. I’ve found it ridiculously hard to keep track of word count when editing, as so much has been deleted or edited or, in quite a lot of cases, adding in extra paragraphs and ending up making the whole thing longer. I’ve found it much more helpful when editing to keep a track of what page I’m on and how many pages I’ve edited that day.
If you could review Olympia publishers in a few words, what would they be?
Olympia have been absolutely amazing. To put it simply, they’ve made my dream come true. Not many people can say they can be what they wanted to be when they were or a child, or say that their deepest dream has come true. I’m so awed and humbled that I can say that, knowing how rare it is. Olympia made that happen for me and I’ll always be grateful for that. They’ve been so fantastic too- professional, efficient and always accommodating if there was anything I wasn’t sure about. I know how hard they’ll be working at marketing it too- Olympia has just been brilliant, so thank you so much!
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