Shells Chats with author Karen J. Jones
Some authors have stayed away from writing young adult, or even children books at all. You however, have not. How has writing books for the younger generation helped you as a writer and how important do you feel authors need to look at the younger generation of readers out there?
Prior to my role as a science teacher, I had no desire to write or publish books, let alone with children and young adults as the target readership.
One thing that struck me as a teacher and parent was the lack of reading resources available to secondary school children other than those tailored to helping them pass exams; the ‘boring’ text books that they use for lessons and homework. I wanted to provide something that would grab their attention and, hopefully, spark a life-long interest in science, a passion of mine.
I knew I could deliver effective lesson plans as a teacher, but writing a book was an alien notion to me. I was always told scientists lack creativity. I set about proving the cynics wrong, resigned from my job and set about the task of writing a series of forensic-science themed books for a highly critical audience, children. I enrolled and studied Creative Writing and Linguistics courses with the Open University and never looked back. I strongly believe that encouraging children (older children and teens in particular) to read and write outside of the demands of their school exam topics promotes a lifelong habit, hence the majority of my fiction books are suitable for children, young adults and a potentially wider audience.
I undertake school author visits regularly throughout the academic year; something I would encourage all authors to become involved in, if at all possible. The feedback and interaction is usually constructive and highly rewarding in terms – the opportunity to engage with a child’s imagination is priceless, which is why I have also started writing books for very young children.
Can you tell us a bit about your book Deceptive Encounters?
Deceptive Encounters is the first book in a series of forensic science-themed detective stories featuring the character, Alexia Stermont (a crime scene investigator). It supports the National Curriculum for Science at Key stage 3 (age 11-14) and features a glossary of scientific terms so that a wider readership can be accessed.
A little about the background to the book:
The reason for selecting forensic science as a theme stems from an after school club I used to teach at school, aptly named ‘Murder Club’. This was always over-subscribed, to the extent that other after school clubs were cancelled because most of the children (aged 8 – 14 yrs) were keen to learn about the more gory aspects of crime detection instead. I integrated techniques I had learned from my extensive background as an Industrial Research and Development Scientist alongside those that some children had seen on popular TV programmes such as CSI and NCIS and was intrigued by the level of interest shown and appropriate questions they asked. The subject matter had them transfixed, thus the idea for the forensic science themed books was born.
Deceptive Encounters follows the story of two girls, Emma and Lauren, who played truant from school and subsequently found themselves embroiled in a missing person investigation. The reader follows the steps taken by Detective Constable, Steve Turnbull, and Crime Scene Investigator, Alexia Turnbull, following the discovery of a human foot in a lobster pot by the crew of a fishing trawler. Scientific content supporting the National Curriculum is carefully woven into each chapter, along with an anti-drugs and truancy message. This book has proven very popular during school author visits and has been described as “A great read, a young-person’s Patricia Cornwell”.
There are a lot of 'help' type books out there. How do you feel that your 'help' books can reach people and answer some of their questions, and can you tell us a bit about some of the 'help' books you have written?
I have had two ‘help’ books published, both on the theme of how to win competitions. The first of these was ‘Competitive Edge: Prize Winning Secrets’ which I self-published as a limited edition. This received many favourable reviews and quickly sold across the World. I recently secured a contract with a mainstream publisher, Greatest Guides Ltd, to re-write and publish this as a book of help tips. The new book, The Greatest Guide to Winning Competitions’ was launched earlier this year and is selling well.
These books are a collection of the techniques I have developed and used for winning consumer competitions – something I have been a very successful at since childhood. They are suitable for beginners as well as seasoned ‘compers’. Chasing the ‘big prizes’ has always been something that sparks my imagination, so this is my chance to give something back by helping other people to succeed in a hobby that has given me so many years of enjoyment.
You write poetry as well. How do you feel that adds to you as an author?
Poetry comes naturally to me – I use it for relaxation more than anything else. I find it easier to express my sentiments in a concise form. Like many other poets, I go through periods of thinking in rhyme or memorizing events by word association, this actually makes it easier for me to jot my ideas down and expand them at a later date if I wish to.
On other occasions I may reduce a short story that hasn’t worked well into a poem. This requires a significant effort on my part, though I find it useful as an exercise in reducing waffle, since the poetic form can be so unforgiving. I suppose this is one reason why I have been so successful at writing wining slogans for competitions; I can tell a story in less than ten words!
I published my first collection of poems, ‘Chasing Dreams’, last year, mainly to demonstrate that I am capable of holding my own in several genres, which is always useful when I give talks to writers’ groups as well as at schools and colleges. Surprisingly, this has been my best-selling book to date, which is one reason for initiating an annual poetry competition via my imprint, Baskalier publishing.
What do you feel is your best accomplishment as an author?
For me, seeing my very first book, ‘Competitive Edge’, in print, albeit self-published, was probably my proudest moment as an author, especially as I had intended it to be a gift for my father. To then to have it snapped up with the offer of a publishing contract at the London Book Fair with a mainstream publisher within minutes of casually talking to the publisher and presenting a copy of my book (not by appointment) counts as one of my main accomplishments; it proved that my writing was good enough for the marketplace.
Can you tell us a bit about Baskalier Publishing, where we can find it and why you started the company?
Baskalier Publishing is my own imprint, established two years ago. Initially, I intended to use this solely as a traditional self-publishing facility for my own books in order to have a plentiful supply of books to take into schools during my author visits, however, I have now expanded the aim of Baskalier Publishing to encourage other writers from around the globe to write scientific poetry via an annual poetry competition; successful poets will be published in an annual anthology. Submissions from authors are only accepted via the competition or by personal invitation.
Baskalier Publishing focuses primarily on educational fiction for children and young adults, short stories and poetry.
Further details can be found at www.baskalierpublishing.com
In comparing being an author to a publisher, what is the most challenging of the two and what would you suggest to someone just wanting to go into the publishing business?
I find the publishing side of the business far more demanding than being an author, mainly because the responsibility for producing word-perfect text for books that enter the market place lies with me. The financial risk and book promotion tasks are also mine. Thankfully, the majority of my sales are via author visits, so I can be assured of being paid. There is nothing worse than chasing bookshops for payment of ‘sale or return’ invoices. That said, the rewards of being a publisher rather than just self-publishing make the job worthwhile. To publish new work and release it to the world is a humbling experience; once published and sold it is out there forever.
Setting up a publishing business is the easy part; obtaining ISBN numbers, registering each book with Nielsen, editing, proofreading and cover design. The aspects of the business which need more careful thought are distribution, facilities for storing stock, insurance and contracts for other authors. I prefer to limit publishing to my own work and as prizes in the Baskalier Poetry competitions (hence no formal contracts are needed).
Where can people find out more about you?
Please visit my website for further information on me, my books and work in progress: www.karenjjones.co.uk
Posted by Shells W