I am delighted to have author, James Hartley on my blog today talking about his new book, The Invisible Hand due for release on Friday 24th February, wanting to be an astronaut, and the joy of writing for children.
The Fun Stuff:
What part of the world do you come from?
Not far from you, actually, Shelley. The Wirral peninsular, between Wales and Liverpool. I was born and brought up there but the whole family moved to Singapore when I was seven. I still remember all the neighbours standing in the street waving us off through the back window. That was a big change but it was a fantastic experience. We lived there for five years then moved to Aberdeen on the east coast of Scotland: quite a tough place to be if you´re English. After three years it was out to the middle east, to Muscat, in Oman. When I got to exam age I went to a boarding school which is the model for the one in the books I´m writing now. I continued moving about as I got older and now I´ve lived outside the UK longer than I ever lived there. I live in Spain these days, in Madrid.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A writer, an astronaut, an Everton football player or something to do with making music. I still love books, the universe, music and Everton.
List three words to describe yourself.
James, Jimbo, dad.
Who would play you in a film about your life?
Wow. No idea. Some unknown who walks in off the street to the casting session, hungover, and blows everyone away at the reading.
What’s your favourite snack food when writing?
Don´t eat anything. Don´t drink anything either. I tend to go into a trance. Just write. Get it done, come out of the trance and then eat and drink what I want.
If you had a super power, what would it be?
To find out what type of alien life is out there – just to have a sneak peek. That or X-ray vision so I could see everyone with nothing on.
The Sensible Side:
Tell us a little about yourself. (How did you get started writing? What do you do when you’re not writing?)
I´ve always written. For a long time I thought publishing a book and working as a writer was going to come to me easily; that it was just what I was supposed to do. Since I was young, people have liked what I´ve written: friends, teachers, even judges in competitions. Maybe I took things for granted a bit. I drifted at university, studied journalism, as it seemed the closest thing to writing I could think of, and then spent most of my twenties and thirties writing and sending things off and almost being published.
It has been a strange journey. I´ve always had crumbs thrown to me, though, by the Writing Gods. There have been droughts, dry patches, deserts, and then suddenly something would happen – a crumb – something to keep me going. A prize, a meeting, interest, a way of getting what I was writing out into the world. Through it all I´ve always written but I´ve missed having readers.
Outside writing, I´m an English teacher. I really drifted into that. After university, I didn´t like the way my life was going and I ran away. I caught a ferry to Ireland one night, bus from Liverpool to Holyhead at midnight, alone with a backpack, and washed up in Galway. I worked in a bakery there and drifted on through France (waiter, cook and childminder) and finally decided to get the cert to become a TEFL teacher in Prague. The teachers I met on my travels were better paid than I was and had flats. In France I slept in a tent for eight months, although it did have a great view of Mont St Victoire.
I´ve taught English in Germany, Thailand and now Spain, and I like it. It gives you access to people from all areas of society. I suppose, looking back, it makes sense I´ve ended up doing this. I like our language and I´m lucky that right now it´s so popular. There´s actually more people speaking English as a second language on the planet these days than native speakers.
Where did the inspiration for The Invisible Hand come from?
From being taught Macbeth well at school in GCSE English Lit. I had a great teacher and the play captured my imagination. I got it. I loved the prophecies, the questions about fate and destiny, and the darkness. I always wanted to revisit it and one day it just rolled around. I sat down and it wrote itself, which is always nice.
What do you like the most about writing for a younger audience?
I don´t know. I don´t really think of it as writing for a younger audience. If anything I think of writing for myself back at the age when I read the play: for someone who loves books and worlds and imagination and wants to go somewhere else and have some fun. I don´t really change anything: the characters and situations mean the book will hopefully appeal to younger readers, readers the same age as the characters, but most of the adults who´ve read it have enjoyed it too.
Can you give us a brief excerpt of The Invisible Hand?
Sam climbed out carefully and tried one toe first. The ledge took.
Slowly he lowered both feet onto it, his full weight, and perceived the long drop down to the icy moat between his legs and felt dizzy. The ledge was so narrow he had to have his forehead and chin pressed against the stone while his fingers remained curled around the window sill.
Don´t look down.
Very carefully and slowly, Sam began to edge his way across the bare wall. The masonry was freezing cold to the touch but jagged and imprecise. There were handholds and nooks and crannies and – as he neared the window he hoped was Leana´s – he placed his fingers in one such a hole and disturbed an owl, which screeched as it flew out past his head, almost knocking him off the wall.
Stay calm! Stay calm!
Sam drew himself alongside the window and heard voices: the metal jamb was slightly ajar. People were whispering: a man and a woman. Sam´s grew jealous thinking he was overhearing Leana with another man but as he listened closer he realised what he could hear were the voices of the Master and Mistress of the castle.
Thinking of turning back, Sam became aware of Lady Macbeth´s voice directly above him and closed his eyes, sure she would look down and catch him. “Ah, infirm of purpose!” she was hissing. “Give me the daggers!” A moment later Sam felt what he thought was rain but looked up to see two glinting knives against the face of the moon: some kind of liquid from the knives had dripped onto his face.
Sam became dizzy again. The conversation he´d overheard, the goo he was examining on his hand – blood! blood! – the height and the coldness and the hour and the ordeal became too much for him.
His fingers simply left their holds and he tumbled down through the air with his eyes wide open, not saying a word.
Which is more important to you – plot or characters, and why?
I don´t know. I´ve been asked this before and I don´t have an answer. I take and write books as a whole. I think I have a strange relationship with all that stuff. I like the weirdest people, the baddies or the horrible people. I´m not impressed by complicated plots but I like surprises. One line can turn a book for me. I like the noise of the words, the rhythm. For me it´s all intertwined. I guess, romantically speaking, I believe stories are already written and it´s my job to just get them down on the page as honestly as I can. Squeezing characters into a plot doesn´t do this and nor does aimlessly following characters around watching them do whatever they do. For me it´s the story; the whole, a synthesis of the two.
The Invisible Hand is the first book in your series. Each book is set in the same boarding school but focuses on a different Shakespeare play. Was there a reason you started with Macbeth?
Honestly, because it´s my favourite of Shakespeare´s plays. I´ve always had a copy with me, wherever I´ve been in the world. It´s a story I´ve gone back to from time to time. I tried to learn some speeches once, at home, alone. Just some weird obsession. As I was writing it I also enjoyed meeting Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. I didn´t know what they were going to be like until I started typing the scenes. That was exciting.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
What can we expect from you in the future?
Hopefully lots more books. Certainly, one or two more in the Shakespeare´s Moon series if people like The Invisible Hand. The next book will be based on Romeo and Juliet. After that, I don´t know. I´m not short of ideas. I love history and most of the books I have either written or which are working themselves out in my mind are based, in some way, on historical events. No fixed plans. These things tend to take care of themselves!
How can we contact you or find out more about your books?
There is a prequel to The Invisible Hand now available on Smashwords and Amazon. Called Heart of Winter, it tells the story of a little girl who goes on to become the Headmistress of the school in The Invisible Hand.
My website is www.jameshartleybooks.com Subscribers to the website get a free story set at St Francis´ School, the school in the books.
On Facebook I´m at www.facebook.com/jameshartleybooks
On Twitter I´m at www.twitter.com/jameshartleybks
On Good Reads I´m at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15801088.James_Hartley?from_search=true
I can be emailed at email@example.com
The Invisible Hand is about a boy, Sam, who has just started life at a boarding school and finds himself able to travel back in time to medieval Scotland. There he meets a girl, Leana, who can travel to the future, and the two of them become wrapped up in events in /Macbeth/, the Shakespeare play, and in the daily life of the school. The book is the first part of a series called Shakespeare´s Moon. Each book is set in the same boarding school but focuses on a different Shakespeare play.
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