T.C Shelley, author of the wonderful new kids book, The Monster Who Wasn’t, answers some of our questions.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
My daughter and I were watching ‘Tinkerbell’ and she asked me ‘If fairies come from a first laugh, where do monsters come from?’ And so I answered it as fully as I could.
What would you say is the most enjoyable, and the most challenging aspect of writing for children?
The balance of light and dark. Children need to be challenged and presented with real problems (even in a fairy tale cloak), but you can’t weigh them down, there must be joy too, and lots of fun and friendship.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
YES! YES! YES! I can’t remember not loving writing, and I decided I wanted to be published when I was ten. Novels by then, but I’d started off with poems.
The first lines of the book are just wonderful, immediately drawing the reader in and sparking questions. And I love the curious circumstances under which Sam is born – an old man’s last sigh and a baby’s first laugh, brilliant! He is neither monster nor human, neither inherently good or bad. Is this something you wanted kids to take away? That we, as humans, are made up of both light and dark?
Definitely! Also, that humans are a mixture of sorrows and joys. We constantly try to avoid sorrow, but it is the things that we grieve that are valuable to us. In my book, the family grieve for Old Samuel Kavanagh because they loved him. Can you imagine a world without that? We also do wrong things for the right reasons, right things for the wrong reasons. I don’t enjoy books where the hero is never wrong in motivation or consequence. It doesn’t sound real to me.
What do you think are the most important lessons children gain from reading?
Compassion, empathy, and the ability to see that problems are survivable. I often think that reading is practice for real life stress. If we see characters surviving something, coming up with solutions and powering on, we can try it ourselves.
What time of day do you prefer to write?
I’m a morning writer. Before I had my daughter, I could write through the night, but now I’m supposed to be up and pleasant in the morning, so I start early.
How many drafts did it take before you felt the book was ready?
Well, at least five before it was ready for someone else to see it. Another five before I got it professionally edited. A few more before it went through the agent-seeking process. She edited it again. And then I got an editor. Lots.
What do you hope children will take away from this book?
I wanted to make a point, it’s not where you come from that decides who you are, but where you choose to be and how you choose to behave.
What was the publication process like?
It’s been interesting. I have to keep a lot of secrets, which is fun. ‘Don’t tell them we’re doing this’ ‘There’s this happening, but you have to wait until September before you can post about it’. As you can see from the editing process it takes a lot of time and a lot of people have a lot to say about everything, from the book’s name to the cover. To a certain extent, once you hand it over, it is a group project.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t try to be perfect on your first draft. Just write it and then take a break before editing it. Read lots and lots. Reading will give you the tools to see what works in your genre and what doesn’t.
TasWriters thanks T.C. Shelley for taking the time to chat with us.